Posts tagged ‘British Institute in Eastern Africa’

BIEA Annual PhD Conference: Centres and Peripheries – Rethinking binaries in Kenya & East Africa, Oct. 31 2015 @ BIEA

Date: October 31, 2015
Venue: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa
Entrance: Free

Scholarship on Africa in the social sciences and humanities has long wrestled with the distinction between centre and periphery, across diverse contexts and historical periods. Whether applied to the broad conceptualisation of the ‘Global South’s’ place in a capitalist world order, or the relationship between African cities and their rural environs, or the significance of what Murray Last and others termed ‘deep rurals’ for a myriad of pre-colonial political orders, trade routes and state systems across the wider region, centre-periphery tensions and confluences have long been a powerful problematic underlying African studies.

Increasing recognition of the historical, social, cultural and political significance of the shifting realities of life across sub-Saharan Africa, the mobility of migrants, and the waxing and waning spread of ideas, religious movements and different forms of political organisation and sociality, has provoked social scientists, historians and archaeologists to look beyond static models of social life in order to understand regional connections, power fluctuations and mutating political thought in Kenya, eastern Africa and beyond. Yet within this broader re-focusing of attention upon ‘trans-regional’ flows, connections and mobilities, ‘centre and periphery’ tensions have shown little sign of going away any time soon. Recent critical theory has framed ‘Africa’ – too often still re-imagined as an undifferentiated whole – as a (peripheral) zone of experimentation for neo-liberal forms of statecraft. In Kenya, in particular, the reality of a new constitution and devolved political structure has revived older discussions of ‘centre and periphery’ in academic and other spaces. Similarly, studies of urban social movements and state power continue to find in notions of ‘centre and periphery’ a model to think through competing forms of protest and governance in Kenya, the region and the wider continent.

If ‘centres and peripheries’ have found new political and social salience in Kenya, and across eastern Africa, through a new politics of constitutionalism and devolution, as well as in activist and protest contexts, they have also had an energising and constraining influence on the process of doing research. What and where is ‘the field’ in which the researcher ‘works’? For what reasons and how are particular ‘sites’ identified and chosen? How does the researcher get there? For whom does the researcher research/write? And to what extent are researchers complicit in the reification of particular boundaries through which specific ‘centres’ and peripheries’ are constantly being reconstituted. These questions are pertinent to anyone who does research in East Africa, concerning as it does, town and country, home and away.

The forthcoming PhD conference will offer emerging research scholars and PhD candidates working in Kenya and East Africa an opportunity to re-consider the legacy, significance and use of notions of ‘centre-periphery’ as they relate to their research. We welcome submissions across a range of disciplines and themes, including, but not limited to: Archaeology, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Geography, Literary, linguistic and Cultural studies.

October 27, 2015 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

Remains, Waste and Metonymy, Oct. 24 2015 @ British Institute in Eastern Africa

remains, waste and metonymyBy approaching stuff as incomplete and emergent, Remains, Waste and Metonymy offers critical scrutiny to the assumed finality, stability and comfort of ‘objects’, ‘persons’ and ‘landscapes’. Always ‘in the making’ remains and waste often appear like unfinished biographies, stories and narrations that promise but rarely deliver entirely coherent meanings, bounded entities and stable wholes. Evoking presence rather than offering meaning (more metonymic than metaphorical) this indeterminacy is creatively explored to reveal the excessive multiplicities of time, substance and space.

The interventions presented are works-in-progress that explore new avenues of collaboration between artists and scholars around these themes of waste, remains and metonymy.

Featuring performances and pieces by:

Syowia Kyambi
Joost Fontein with Fawaz Elsaid and Mandela Samuel
Sam Derbyshire
Jackie Karuti
John Harries
Neo Sinoxolo Musangi
Annie Pfingst
Connie Smith
Sam Hopkins and Simon Rittmeier
Meshack Oiro

With thanks to National Museums of Kenya; Goethe Institute, Nairobi; Professor Stephanie Newell (Yale University)

October 19, 2015 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

Seminar: Safaricom – Technopolitics & Subjectivity in Kenya, Nov. 14 2014 @ BIEA/IFRA

Date: Friday, 14 November 2014
Venue: British Institute in eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa
Time: 11h00

A friend recently reflected that, like catholic priests, safaricom is everywhere in Kenya. The wirelessness of safaricom’s cellular mobile networks is compounded by institutional ubiquity, making it the most profitable corporate company in the east African region[1]. This project intends to explore how safaricom, as Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator due to its market share and subscriber base, engenders particular notions of subjectivity. Its networks operate immediately as intimately particular and ultra-global in ways that challenge any conceptualizations of ‘a context’ or ‘the subject’. It is in the wide spectrum between how on the one hand, complete surveillance enabled by the omnipresence of networks and on the other, emancipation made possible by the imminence and volumes of its reach, that analyses of social networks have emerged. And it is within these wider narratives that I place safaricom as manager of networks; a profit driven agent straddling this spectrum. My research will view wireless networks not as empty conduits or modes of transmission but as actors that frame the possibilities of social and political engagement, and question how this wirelessness is articulated institutionally by safaricom, located in the current Kenyan neoliberal political history. This project wonders about the project of wireless limitlessness by exploring whether notions of subjectivity like temporality, intimacy and consumption are refashioning older historical categories like gender, class and citizenship. It is precisely in the interstice of historically resilient categories and new political formations that this project will question subjectivity, itself a theoretically contentious notion.

The primary research method is ethnographic, which includes participant observation at Safaricom offices including the R&D, marketing, call operator departments and shareholder meetings as well as M-Pesa outlets in Nairobi; semi-structured interviews with personnel at the organization, operators and users at the M-Pesa outlets, and other related agencies like the Communications Authority in Kenya and the Kenyan ICT Action Network. It will also consult newspaper and other textual archives.

Noosim Naimasiah is a graduate student at the Makerere Institute of Social Research.
Her work in mainly on political theory and culture. Noosim’s presentation is on her PhD proposal with her field work starting in January 2015.

For more information and to RSVP please contact

November 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

BIEA Seminar: Rain, Power, Sovereignty & The Materiality Of Signs In Southern Zimbabwe, Apr. 16 2014 @ BIEA / IFRA

Rain, Power, Sovereignty and The Materiality Of Signs In Southern Zimbabwe

Date: Wednesday 16th April 2014
Venue: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi
Time: 11.00 am
Entry: Prior RSVP. For more information please contact or call +254 735 260 004

Seminar by: Joost Fontein, University of Edinburgh
Chair: Sinoxolo Neo Musangi, British Institute in Eastern Africa

In 2010 a government meteorologist revealed that for much of the last decade, the Zimbabwean weather forecast had been censored on a daily basis by agents of the President’s Office. ‘This information’ he said ‘was seen as sensitive’. What this ‘sensitivity’ amounts to is the subject of this paper. It is hard to make sense of the government’s impulse to censor the weather forecast in the 2000s without reference to the localized re-configurations of authority over land and ‘re-making’ of the state that fast track land reform provoked. To the extent that fast track offered new opportunities for the realization of a diversity of localised aspirations and imagined futures that turned on access to land and fertile soils in divergent ways, the recurrent droughts and failing harvests of the early 2000s were politically significant because they called into question the legitimacy of land reform, and the broader ‘thirdchimurenga’ project constituted around it. But across Zimbabwe, and the region, rainfall and drought have long been measures of contested political legitimacy in more complex ways not limited to the politics of food, famine and agricultural production. In southern Zimbabwe, this is true not just for spirit mediums, chiefs and other ‘traditionalist’ authorities for whom rainmaking practices are well-established means of demonstrating ‘autochthony’, sovereignty and legitimacy, but also for war veterans, new farmers, government technocrats and others involved in land reform during the 2000s. This is what I examine here. Whilst I focus particularly on rainmaking practices, encounters with njuzu water spirits, and national biras that took place in the 2005-6 when research was carried out, the larger point I pursue is that water acts as an index of power – of the entangled but contested play of legitimacy and sovereignty – across many different registers of meaning and regimes of rule. In making this argument I engage with Keane (2003; 2005) and Engelke’s elaboration of Peirce’s theory of signs (1955), and build upon others (James 1972; Jedrej 1992) who have long argued that rainmaking ‘traditions’ across eastern, central and southern Africa are less a form of applied meteorology and more an idiom of politics and power, in order to argue that they are necessarily both at the same time.

April 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm Leave a comment

Seminar: Digital Kitambo—Taking the Past into the Future, Jan. 30 2014 @ the National Museum

The BIEA in Collaboration with The National Museums Of Kenya Joint Seminar: Digital Kitambo—Taking the Past into the Future at the National Museum with Dr. David K. Wright and Kristina Dziedzic Wright.

Chair: Dr. Edward Pollard, British Institute in Eastern Africa

Date: Thursday, 30 January 2014
Time: 02.00 pm
Venue: The National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi

Lake Turkana has long been recognized as a critical incubator of human cultural evolution. Although much attention has justifiably been placed on researching the nature of our early hominin ancestors, the region also hosts a rich record of fishing and early cattle herding cultures as well. Due to the long and storied traditions of archaeological research near Lake Turkana, a rich collection has been accumulated in the Nairobi National Museum. However, legacy archives need to be digitally curated and integrated into computer databases as the pace of archaeological research in Kenya accelerates. The “Digital Kitambo” project has begun developing an integrated archaeological database using early food producers of northern Kenya to develop the template for future digitization efforts within the museum. The project involves conversion of analogue collections into a relational database, photographing archaeological artifacts and creating 3-dimensional scans of selected artifacts. The Nairobi National Museum hosts one of the deepest records of the human past in the world, but will lead the way into the future in access and usability of collections databases.

Dr. David K. Wright
David K. Wright is Assistant Professor of African Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Seoul National University in South Korea. Dr. Wright is a geoarchaeologist with specialties in human-environment interactions, sedimentology, evolutionary archaeology and prehistoric African cultures. He has conducted research in eastern Africa and the American Midwest, Plains, and Southwest. He is co-PI on the Malawi Early and Middle Stone Age Project (MEMSAP) studying the behavioral transitions in hominids and early modern humans in northern Malawi. Dr. Wright also conducts research near Lake Turkana, Kenya and in the Mandera Mountains, Cameroon on human adaptations to Holocene environmental change and is the lead PI on a project in the middle Gila River Valley, Arizona called “The Archaeology of Dust.”

Kristina Dziedzic Wright
Kristina Dziedzic Wright teaches art history and writing at Seoul National University in South Korea, and works as a freelance curator. She is the author of Art, Culture, and Tourism on an Indian Ocean Island: An Ethnographic Study of Jua Kali Artists in Lamu, Kenya (2009) and recently co-curated the exhibit Sanaa ya Makaratasi (African Paper Art): Process, Substance and Environment at the Nairobi National Museum. Her academic research ranges from informal sector art and cultural commoditization in Africa to media art and the international biennale phenomenon. Over the last ten years, she has participated in a number of archival and digitization projects for the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission in Illinois, USA

For more information please contact or call +254 20 815 5186

January 24, 2014 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

Seminars: Embers of Empire – Towards A World History Of The End Of Britain, Dec. 6 2013 @ BIEA

Embers Of Empire: Towards A World History Of End Of Britain

Date: Friday, 6 December 2013
Venue: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa
Time: 10.30 am
Entry; prior Reservation


Since the 1970s, writers, historians and journalists have reflected widely on the impending “Break-up of Britain“, a theme that has acquired new momentum in the light of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Equally, there has been a tendency to link the crisis of Britishness with the decolonization of the British Empire, as though these two processes were somehow intrinsically linked. But rarely, if ever, is this link established in any coherent or convincing way. These papers offers new perspectives on an old problem by looking at Britishness as the world’s first global civic idea, which ran into increasing difficulties after WWII as the credibility of its transnational reach was increasingly called into question by the pressures for global decolonization. By studying the fate of British civic culture around the world, from Africa to Australasia, the Caribbean, South Asia and Canada since the 1950s, we can gain a new purchase on the problems of national cohesion and civic purpose that have erupted periodically in Britain and elsewhere since that time.

This seminar focuses on two talks by Prof. Stuart Ward and Christian Damm Pedersen, both historians from Copenhagen University, Denmark. Both speakers are part of a collaborative research project at Copenhagen University on ‘Embers of empire: The receding frontiers of post-imperial Britain’, funded by the Velux Foundation.

For more information on this project please visit:

Seminar by: Professor Stuart Ward & Christian Damm Pedersen, University of Copenhagen
Chair: Professor Ambreena Manji, British Institute in Eastern Africa

December 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

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