Poggiali, Lisa

Grad Status: 

My research examines how technical infrastructures, such as digital maps, become sites for the articulation of diverse political and ethical claims in urban Africa. My work explores what these claims – and the materials in and through which they are expressed – reveal about understandings and practices of development, citizenship, and governance in Nairobi, Kenya, a rapidly changing African city marked by a vibrant technology sector and extreme inequality. Based on over two years of ethnographic research amongst Kenya’s digital elite and technologically proficient urban poor, my dissertation – Developing Code: The Politics and Ethics of Digital Technology in Nairobi, Kenya – argues that when Kenyan technologists “develop code” they not only create meaningful pieces of software out of a jumble of 0s and 1s, but also intervene in a broader debate about how best to live as a modern, urban Kenyan; digital code and ethical code become commensurable. As the technologies produced by coders circulate, I suggest, they profoundly impact how Nairobi residents of different social classes and geographic locations embody and imagine the socio-technical worlds in which they live. My past research has been generously funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, amongst other sources. I am currently formulating two future projects. The first – The History of Mapping in Kenya - turns to maps in the Kenyan archives to understand whether digital technologies offer intrinsically different political possibilities from analog ones, a claim frequently made by my informants. The second – Power: Connecting to the Grid – explores Kenya’s electricity policy and provision alongside citizens’ access to elucidate the social relations of power on the local, national, and transnational level that enable some urban residents and prevent others from participating in Kenya’s new digital economy.