“After all this research,” one Nairobi resident explained to me, “we still remain the same.” Despite decades of research aiming to “solve Africa’s problems” and billions of dollars in funding, many of those who are studied see little change in their everyday lives. As a site where research data has served an instrumental purpose for generations, Nairobi is at a moment where actors of different epistemological stakes are seeking something more. Against a backdrop of wide public critique of research as exploitative practice, research actors are in search of how qualitative data could be made more productive.
The Open Science movement globally has encouraged the spread and sharing of data, but there is a continued question of open to who and for what. In this dissertation, I track ethnographically how existing norms, technologies, and practices towards qualitative data demonstrate ethical stances and enact relations between researchers and those they study that are often more complicated than Open Science advocates or critics imagine. Focused on shifting data ideologies in Nairobi, this dissertation situates the emergence of interest in qualitative data in Nairobi within the context of intensifying articulations about race and post-colonial white privilege, increasing commercial investments in open science and its infrastructures, and growing critique of higher education. By exploring the potentialities enabled and foreclosed by opening up research data, this work speaks to broader challenges and possibilities of enacting more decolonial knowledge practices.
This is a work-in-progress essay that compiles the various materials and essays generated through and studied as part of Angela Okune's dissertation research project. The dissertation chapters are organized around this analytic question set.