Thinking through time. Large-scale technological innovations in Africa
Date and Start Time 29 June, 2017 at 14:00
This panel looks at technological innovation from the perspective of how time is thought and represented in different ways. Panelists are asked to present empirical work on the unfolding of routines, rhythms, and representations of time in sites of large-scale technological innovation in Africa.
Processes of change in Africa are inextricably related to innovations in social, political and material technologies. Most research has regarded this relation teleologically, based on notions of secularized progress and western political modernity. This panel proposes to understand technological innovation from the perspective of how time is conceptualized and represented in different ways. It focuses on how heterogeneous representations of the future - as a site of desire and anticipation - are entangled with narrations of the past - as the site of memory - and the present as lived and experienced in its "multiplicity of times, trajectories, and rationalities" (Mbembe 2001: 9).
In this panel, we approach the complex constellation of overlapping significations of time, and of the future in particular, through the lens of large-scale technological projects in Africa. If imaginations of the future are mediated within "anticipatory assemblages" (Groves 2016) that operate through specific routines, deadlines, and schedules, what kinds of competing anticipations do these large-scale projects, typically involving actors at all levels of governance, entail? Which (political) rationalities ensue from these temporal overlaps or frictions? What are their effects?
The panel seeks conceptually inspired contributions that provide a critical analytical lens on the temporal dimensions of technological innovation. Panellists are asked to present empirical work on the unfolding of routines, rhythms, and representations of the past, present and future in urban or rural sites of large-scale technological innovation in Africa.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
The Unconnected Time: Place and the Temporalities of Infrastructure in Cape Town's Informal Settlements
This paper draws from ethnographic research to examine the temporality of infrastructural absence, discussing how residents of informal settlements link place to time in articulating persistent material and technological exclusion.
This paper considers the precarious nature of everyday urban life through a discussion of the temporality of infrastructural absence; what we might think of as the unconnected time. Drawing from 16 months of ethnographic research with residents of several informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa, I consider what it means to live with temporary infrastructures for water, sanitation, and electricity that have, seemingly, become permanent. In the extension of informal settlements until an unforeseeable and ever-receding future formality, everyday life becomes an static present, producing developmental, post-colonial "others" defined by exclusion from a material and socio-political modernity. The notions of a fixed impermanence or a constant temporary that typify long-term informal spaces uncomfortably mash together readings of space and time, holding still and in place something meant to be in reliable movement—time itself. The complex overlapping of time and space produced by extended material and technological exclusion are readily articulated by residents of informal settlements, becoming poignant frames for experience within the periphery of the city. Here, discussions of place in relation to large-scale infrastructural absence become discussions of foreclosed futures, endless waiting, and empty promises. What happens to patterns of everyday life and political engagement when the profound orientation towards the future embedded within infrastructural and technological promise ceases to be resonant?
Entangled temporalities in Ghana's biometric identity registration project
With a focus on the temporalities of policy making, the paper examines Ghana's new biometric civic registration project, paying close attention to its fundamental future orientation and the rhythms and schedules of project implementation and financialization.
Biometric identity registration technologies are perpetuating throughout the world. Developing countries in particular have recently been seen to construct biometric population registers in partnership with international donor organizations. This paper traces the temporal entanglements produced by transnational policy mobilities in the inception and implementation of Ghana's national biometric identity registration project. In 2008, Ghana famously introduced the first biometric banking system in Africa (Breckenridge 2014). Yet, the e-zwich payment system marked only the first step towards the current 'craze' for biometric identity registration in the West African country. Among the numerous biometric identity documents circulating in Ghana's national and sub-national institutions, the national Ghanacard is the most interesting identity registration project in the country, both in terms of its population-wide reach and the complex constellation of institutions, actors and ideas competing within the project. With a focus on the temporalities of policy making (Bear 2015, Clarke et al. 2015), the article examines the project's fundamental future orientation, the temporal context of its production with its specific possibilities of imagining and acting upon certain matters, and the rhythms and schedules of project implementation and financialization.
Introduction of modern contraceptive technologies & temporal representations of fertility, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo
Temporal representations of past and present fertility patterns are explored as modern contraception becomes widely available in eastern Congo-DR for the first time. Emerging discourse on ‘the future’ is analyzed as fertility is linked to intimate gendered, cultural and political power dynamics.
Modern contraceptive methods have been introduced by various actors into sub Saharan African contexts for decades. In some settings, however, it is only recently that a variety of modern methods has become widely known and accessible to the larger population, especially in rural areas. Questions surrounding the ownership of gendered bodies and control over fertility are foundational features of social organization. Therefore, modern contraception as a technology necessarily enters into the most intimate spaces of individual and collective gendered, generational, cultural and political power dynamics while also framing the discourse surrounding culturally permissible fertility practices.
During ethnographic explorations of fertility patterns and practices in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, participants often framed discussions surrounding the relatively recent introduction of modern contraception temporally. This paper explores how different individuals view and discuss fertility practices using ambiguously-defined periods in time, providing differing perspectives on fertility norms and the memory of conditions surrounding, producing and changing those norms over time. Discourse on 'the future' includes larger, modern theoretical concepts such as 'development' and interpretations of 'the nation' melding practices from 'before' and 'today' into a narrative about what will and/or needs to be in future. Diverging memories of fertility in the past, representations of fertility in the present and imaginations of the future reveal the actual and/or imagined power shifts modern contraceptives insinuate for different actors and if those actors stand to gain or lose under changing and uncertain future social norms.
Taming the future through the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in the contemporary Karoo resource frontier
This paper discusses how competing representations of the future are produced, normalized, and contested through the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in the contemporary Karoo resource frontier, South Africa.
This paper discusses how competing representations of the future are produced, normalized, and contested in the contemporary Karoo resource frontier. In recent years the Karoo has been the target of a number of globally driven, developmental initiatives in the fields of science & technology, energy, and extractive industries. Among these is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, a globally funded scientific enterprise entailing the design and construction of the world's largest radio telescope. Through the SKA, technological innovation operates to construct the Karoo resource frontier as a space of imagination in which the territorial logic of the State overlaps with dynamics of global capital expansion. The experience of the present is compressed between a past perceived as insufficient and a future waiting to be written as part of a broader civilizing mission. The Karoo is represented as empty and full at the same time, empty of people and histories, but full of expectations and promises for future developments. In the Karoo resource frontier the future is abstracted - constructed as a predictable product of the past; opened - subjected to human shaping and planning; and commodified - defined in terms of its expected economic return in the present. Such representations overlap with other embedded, embodied, contextual and individualized futures which tend to be displaced and rendered largely invisible. As result taming the future is inescapably connected to how political power is used to normalize and institutionalize certain futures over others in the present.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.