AO: These orals documents are framed around Fortun’s conceptualization of discursive risks and gaps (Fortun 2012). Fortun writes that the contemporary Late Industrial period is characterized by complex conditions for which there is no available idiom, no way of thinking that can grasp what is at hand. Fortun calls these “discursive gaps” and its opposite -- “discursive risks” -- emerge because of a tendency to rely on established idioms and ways of thinking nonetheless. Discursive risks or the established ways in which a particular phenomenon is discussed again and again can set ethnographers up to miss key aspects of the dynamics. Therefore, I borrowed a structure of ten analytic questions initially designed by Fortun for a project on air pollution in cities (unpublished manuscript) to develop ten analytic questions to help unsettle and unpack the nested problem space of tech development research data sharing in Nairobi in order to study its discursive gaps and risks.
The ten questions (detailed in my full research proposal) are employed to help tease out different scales of the phenomenon and to help guide me in identifying my own discursive risks and gaps in approaching the object of study. I have employed modified versions of these questions to query three sets of diverse literatures (on STS in Africa; investments in the notion of an “African university” and research collaborations). I also used these core grounding questions to develop related fieldwork data gathering questions. I currently plan to structure my analysis and write-up of my dissertation around these questions. I fully expect these questions to shift and change throughout my fieldwork and project.
On Developing Analytics:
AO: I had experience designing analytic questions with Kim and other UCI graduate students as part of an STS Across Borders initiative which we worked on from January - August 2018. As part of this process, I became familiar with PECE, PECE vocabulary and the style of analytic structures. In July 2018, my collaborator James Adams and I used this knowledge to draft a modified version of the analytic questions which we envisioned would help structure our joint querying. We reviewed this first draft of questions with Kim and based on her feedback, revised the questions to more closely follow the different levels of “sedimented questions” to help us address and identify the discursive risks of the work we would be querying. I developed a revised set of analytic questions for my other STS in Africa and "Decolonizing the University" documents based on this “final” list of questions for the Collaboration document. As I read and annotated, new analytic questions emerged (for example, this question to more explicitly capture any binaries and metaphors being used). When new questions arose, I added them to the set. I did not delete any questions since the changes in questions themselves are an interesting and noteworthy part of the process.
Summary of Work Flow and Methodology:
AO: I compiled a “final” bibliography (of between 50 - 100 references) for each of my orals document. They each have their own zotero folder. (For STS in Africa, 76; for Decolonizing University, 71; for collaboration, 90). I put all references and analytic question probes into a Google document (one annotated bibliography doc per orals doc). All of the references were inputted into PECE as artifacts. Find the style guide here. To upload them as artifacts, I found the articles/books, review the abstract and quickly reviewed the piece. I wrote a critical commentary or used the existing abstract and input the various meta data fields. Once all were inputted, I then chose approximately 20 - 25 from each orals doc set to query in more depth. These were the ones that I annotated using a structured analytic set of questions (one analytic set per orals doc). I foregrounded the annotations in the STS in Africa essay; I foregrounded the artifacts in the decolonizing university essay and in the collaboration essay we did both. I used the annotations as well as the critical commentaries that I put in to draft the extended narratives which are my current understanding of the discursive gaps and risks of these various problem spaces (investments into the African university and education from a variety of actors; science and technology studies in Africa; and scholarship on collaboration in the research process).
Detailed Decolonizing African University Methodology and Timeline:
Decolonizing the University has a slightly different format from the other two as it was the first essay done and therefore was the experimental “flag bearer” which I used to then learn and develop a better idea of “best practices” for doing an orals document in the PECE format. As part of the iterative learning curve and process of reading-revising the analytic questions-reorganizing-learning more about the conceptual framework (through discussions with Kim)-honing in on my project, the organization of these essays shifted significantly. The first iteration was developed over the course of Spring 2018 (April - June 2018) and submitted in June 2018 to Professor Kavita Philip in fulfillment of final course requirements for History 290 “Decolonizing Histories of Science and Technology” (UC Irvine). Initial feedback from Kavita noted that it was important to distinguish the author’s voice more explicitly in the text and led to me using my initials prior to all text that I wrote. This “best practice” later proved to be particularly helpful when working with James on our collaborative orals document together.
In this first attempt, I organized the essay more thematically over a period of time rather than analytically by questions (as I did in the STS in Africa orals document). I curated a reading list (available here) and then uploaded the artifacts to PECE. I initially had two separate essays - one for the "artifacts" and one for the "insights." However, while developing the textual content I questioned how it was any different from a "traditional" orals document, albeit in an online form. If the idea was to enable a more polyvocal, kaledescopic approach to the orals, then this approach was not doing it. So I paused this and worked on the STS in Africa exhibit. Returning to the essay a few months later with greater experience working in PECE enabled me to rearrange the essay, using the textual "narratives" I had written as the "introductions" to the materials rather than authoritative summaries. With more time, the next interation of this essay would focus on developing greater annotations of the texts and inputting them within the sub-essays.
Especially for this particular body of work, part of the analytic work was in the curation and development of the essay(s) organization. By holding the diverse materials together in one “frame,” I was able to observe initial similarities and differences across colonial, post-colonial independence, structural adjustment, neoliberal, and contemporary techphilanthropic logics. The textual narratives were developed out of these insights as I read (although the explicit annotations may not reflect this as directly as the other two orals documents).
Future iterations of this essay could and should forground the latest analytic questions that have since been developed (as of July 2018). A shift in the analytic questions -- from generally querying text (initial drafts) to more nuanced project specific queries -- emerged over the Summer 2018 as my own object of inquiry became clearer. I have left the initial questions since some of them were used in early annotations. Noting these shifts in the analytic questions being asked is part of the iterative process of developing an ethnographic research project and because of the design of PECE is able to be captured. This is one way that PECE differs from what is traditionally thought of as “coding,” which seeks to move towards settling into established categories. Instead, PECE enables and open up new areas of inquiry (iteratively over time) and expects new analytic questions to continue to emerge over time as both the project and contextual terrain dynamically shifts. Such shifts require the ethnographer to return to texts iteratively, pulling out new insights with each reading as the analytic gaze sharpens and changes over time.