Current Institutional Affiliation
Democracy, Data and Technology Specialist, USAID

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Stanford University
Testimony and Texting: Mobile Phone Technology and Emergent 'Publics' in Contemporary Kenya

My project examines Kenya’s burgeoning technology sector in light of its ever-changing political climate. As a response to the inability – and some say unwillingness – of the Government of Kenya to adequately meet its citizens’ needs, developers in Nairobi’s tech community have designed mobile phone platforms aimed at generating political participation and ethical responsibility. Kenyans who witness troubling events – ranging from political violence to traffic violations to medical stockouts - are invited to document them by sending text messages. These “digital testimonies” are then collected, plotted on Google maps, and re-circulated to other Kenyans via mobile phones. They both produce and rely upon the presence of a Kenyan witnessing public, and, crucially, obviate the Kenyan state. My preliminary research reveals that Kenyans are using this new technology in unprecedented numbers, yet its effects have yet to be studied. In eighteen months of ethnographic research, I will analyze the production, distribution and use of “digital testimony”. Methodologically, I will focus on the technical and cultural practices of both developers and users, as I understand “technology” to be a production of developer/user interaction and collaboration. As the first full length ethnographic study to draw attention to the convergence of mobile phone technology and practices of testimony, my research will speak to the role of mobile phone technology in narrative practice, and the forms of political participation, social formation, and technical innovation that such practice makes possible.