Refusing to be Data: a case from Nairobi, Kenya

This paper, based on initial fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2017 and daily experiences living and working in the Kenyan tech sector from 2010 - 2015, offers initial insights into how Nairobi residents--many who recognize the broader global regimes of research and “soft” data governance in which they are caught up--strategically negotiate and push back, where possible. Building on Tuck and Yang (2014)’s discussion of refusal as an analytic practice that addresses forms of inquiry as invasion, I am interested in thinking through how we might use the concept of “refusal” to turn our gaze on research practices and processes in Africa and imagine them otherwise. (How) can we re/conceptualize what research should be by understanding how/why it is currently being refused? What kinds of data sharing processes are (and are not) being institutionalized and how do such infrastructures intersect with feelings of research exploitation and extraction (Smith 1999)? Through an analysis of a growing phenomenon of “over-research” including those living in the Kenyan informal settlement of Kibera and those working at one of the flagship technology innovation spaces in Nairobi (Marchant forthcoming), I hope to shed light on the diverse, everyday forms that refusal takes within an African context and the possible implications for building more inclusive knowledge infrastructures.

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