PCMLP at the 61st annual African Studies Association conference

Last week, PCMLP Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Eleanor Marchant, attended the 61st annual African Studies Association conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, and presented recent findings from her doctoral thesis, Anyone Anywhere: Narrating African Innovation in a Global Community of Practice. The African Studies Association brings together thousands of scholars every year from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, law, communications, history, English literature, and political science from universities across the United States and Africa to discuss contemporary issues in African politics and society. This year’s conference revolved around the theme “Energies: Power, Creativity, and Afro-Futures” and featured presentations that ranged from Black Panther to Chinese involvement in Africa to the role of race in African studies. Among them was a paper titled “Afro Techno Visionaries: The narrative construction of Nairobi’s technology producers” presented by our postdoc, Eleanor on a panel focused on the theme of “Making Futures in Urban Africa.” In her presentation, she illustrated the experiences of two Kenyan entrepreneurs working on new software and hardware developments aimed at helping small Kenyan businesses grow. Eleanor’s in-depth ethnographic work in Nairobi with these and other entrepreneurs showed how narratives about Africa, about new technologies, and about the entrepreneurial spirit both create barriers and openings for these entrepreneurs as they seek to raise money and gain legitimacy among investors and other technology entrepreneurs around the world. For one entrepreneur, narratives about Africa as a continent “in need of help” led him to feel pigeonholed by international investors who saw him only as a “social impact entrepreneur” and not as a “serious businessman”.  While the other entrepreneur was able to leverage narratives about entrepreneurial failure and success common in Silicon Valley as well as the startup pitch style popularized by Shark Tank and Y Combinator to construct a narrative for herself as a successful technology entrepreneur from Africa.