Many thanks to everyone who participated and supported the summer 2011 project – your interest and involvement was much appreciated!
(Original notice from July, 2011)
Do you want to learn about the technological and social forces that are shaping one of the most vibrant economies in Africa?
Would you like to know how field researchers develop trustworthy relationships and high-quality insights through the use of local sources?
Are you curious how to get off the tourist track and safely experience local life in a developing country?
Whether you’re a research professional looking to explore new methods for field work, a student who wants to learn how to turn firsthand experience into academic work, or a traveler hungry to move beyond the confines of package holidays and guidebook routes, I’d like to invite you to learn with me this summer on a research project in East Africa. For the month of August, I’ll be working with Social Anthropologist Neil Carrier of Oxford University to explore economic and social networks among Somali communities in Kenya, and we’d like for you to join us.
The research project
Our work this summer will center on the largely Somali neighborhood of Nairobi called Eastleigh, a vibrant commercial hub for the entire region known as ‘Little Mogadishu.’ It’s an area of fascinating contrasts; rough, unpaved streets lined with new glass facade shopping malls, and burgeoning individual entrepreneurship in the face of stifling official neglect. We’re seeking to understand how such a marginalized part of the city settled by many former refugees has become a major East African commercial zone. How have those escaping war and famine come to create such relative prosperity in a foreign country that is at best, ambivalent about their presence?
We hope to combine an intimate view of the lives of Somalis living in this part of the city with a wider look at their patterns of economic participation, tracking networks of Somalis from refugee camps to Eastleigh and onwards to diaspora communities throughout the world. Our August work will focus on photographic documentation and social network analysis in order to find what digital networks can tell us about the relationship of those in this neighborhood to wider Kenyan society, the larger structure of globally dispersed Somali communities, and the impact of new communications technologies on social and economic interactions, opportunities and information flows.
In addition to traditional ethnographic research methods, we’ll also be exploring photographic elicitation methods, social network analysis with NodeXL and Gephi, and data visualization as an aid to participant interviews.
Why open up the process of research?
We’re both dedicated to learning and teaching through research, but believe that the current system limits potential reach and impact. We want to open up the process beyond the presentation of results in narrowly focused academic journals, and share our work with people who might draw ideas from our preliminary steps, findings, and methods. Much as individuals draw value from unexpected quarters of their social networks, we believe that opening the process of research more directly in the early stages can sharpen our own documentation of the experience, and help us benefit from the power of accountability, transparency and collaboration.
We also want to involve students in research at a much earlier stage in their academic lives, and use their involvement and insights to improve the final research products. New collaborative and distance learning technologies are creating a potential for wider circles of participation than have ever been possible in education. Our experiences this summer will hopefully inform new approaches to online learning and distributed research collaboration for future university courses we teach.
We hope to have you along for the trip with us, and look forward to sharing ideas and insights with you soon!
A photo-elicitation / repatriation project in Northern Kenya with Dr. Neil Carrier of Oxford University (now published as a chapter in the book Photography In Africa: Ethnographic Perspectives, by Richard Vokes (ed.), published by James Currey) on Borana communities and archival photographs of their members from the 1950’s.
(All photographs © Kimo Quaintance)