Photograph by Klein Ongaki
Researcher, Writer, Ethnographic Consultant
Technology, Migration, Borders
I am a researcher, writer, and ethnographic consultant with extensive, on-the-ground expertise in East Africa. Working at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS) and migration studies, I examine problematics related to mobility, digital identity, and biometrics. I have over a decade of experience carrying out archival research, fieldwork, and interviews in multicultural, multilingual settings and collaborating with non-profit groups, artists, and practitioners across the US, UK, continental Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Over the years, I have honed a deep expertise based, in large part, upon listening to people.
In recent years, I have been focused on the human rights and ethical implications of digital technologies, especially biometrics. I am particularly attuned to the impacts of biometric and digital identity systems on migrants, nomadic populations, refugees, and border communities who have historically struggled to access identity documents. I am increasingly interested in the ramifications of mobility and digital identity systems as nation-states and societies transition globally to a de-growth, post-carbon future due to the impacts of climate change and depleting reserves and diminishing returns on fossil fuels.
My interest in the intersections between migration and digital identity evolved out of research for my first book, which examined Somali transnational networks in Kenya. It also stems from listening to my Polish grandfather recount how he survived in the wake of WWII by forging fake documents for himself and others. For years, I've been drawn to stories that illuminate the social life of identity documents. I am now working on a new book project that weaves together ethnographic details from my time spent with undocumented and semi-documented people in the town of Garissa in northern Kenya and Nairobi. It's my belief that there is enormous value in learning about biometrics, border management, and migration from the vantage point of East Africa. Far from being on the margins, Kenya is, in fact, at the cutting-edge of these global developments, prefiguring possible futures for the rest of the world.
In recent years, I have applied insights gleaned from my time in East Africa to broader global questions. I've worked on projects for civil society organizations like Amnesty International and Privacy International that have explored the rights of refugees in the digital age, the growing use of digital technologies for border and immigration enforcement, and the use of biometrics in the humanitarian/aid sector and counterterrorism industry. I am also finishing a moving-image work with filmmaker Edwin Mingard, funded by UCL Culture and Arts Council England, which explores the UK hostile environment.
Having lived and worked in global cities such as London, Nairobi, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, I've learned how to engage with diverse audiences. I’ve published in a variety of forums ranging from top academic presses to popular blogs and have been cited and featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Quartz Africa, and BBC World Service. I also have a successful track record of winning competitive US and UK grants to support my research. My work has been funded by the Fulbright US Scholar program, the American Council of Learned Societies, the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, the Alan Turing Institute, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
To find out more about what I offer and my ethnographic and research consultancy practice, contact me.
Photograph by Anna Marazuela Kim