Open Ethnographic Archiving as Feminist, Decolonizing Practice

Okune, Angela
Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience

Dubbed Silicon Savannah, Nairobi has become a hot spot of tech development that promises to “save Africa.” Qualitative research—carried out by a tangle of private, academic, and non-profit organizations—is part of the work, promising to reveal how people in Kenya are building and benefiting from a dazzling array of digital products. Amidst the enthusiasm, longstanding problems with ways in which research data in Nairobi is conceived, collected, and shared are easily glossed over. This article advances thinking about the politics of qualitative data, unraveling normative concepts like ethics and transparency by both examining existing data practices and modeling alternatives. I describe the sociotechnical infrastructure underlying the ethnographic project, detailing tactics for deploying an instance of open source software—the Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography (PECE)—to draw research interlocutors into collaborative effort to understand and build decolonized qualitative data infrastructures. Through such processes I learned that collaborating on data not only refreshes the social contract of qualitative work; it can also enhance its robustness and validity. I advise scholars to better document our own knowing practices in order to attend to the inevitability of margins created through all data practices, including our own.