Current Institutional Affiliation
Senior Research Associate, Cultural and Social Social Anthropology, Universitat Bayreuth

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
'Black Spots': Roads, Accidents, and Uncertainty in Kenya

Traffic accidents have made roads in many parts of Africa into sites of frequent, violent death. One commentator calls the road ‘a huge slaughter slab,’ another decries ‘the death stretches our road have become.’ In Kenya, road crashes are third only to AIDS and malaria as a cause of death and mediate an intense debate among citizens on the vicissitudes of government and society in the post-structural adjustment state. Focused on potholes, traffic jams, blood, and worn-out auto parts, this debate foregrounds the material and temporal uncertainty within which everyday life takes place, as well as the failures of state- and self-regulation. In the context of an international push for infrastructural modernization in Africa, rising numbers of traffic accidents appear as both a consequence of and an affront to modernity. My dissertation research will consider the unintended consequences of infrastructural modernization by examining, on the one hand, the ‘expert’ calculation and bureaucratic management of traffic accidents, and, on the other, moral, political and practical responses on the part of accident victims and their families, civil society, and religious leaders. Building on emergent anthropological interest in infrastructure, as well as interdisciplinary questions about uncertainty, injury, and the everyday, this project examines how traffic accidents both shape and reveal ethical and political dispositions—ways of thinking, feeling, and acting—in Kenya’s uncertain present. In so doing, my research questions the contradictory links between mobility and modernity.