Lives in Kenyan Science: Epistemic space and dynamism in research careers

This paper contributes to a recent body of work in STS examining changing conditions of scientific work by examining the careers of natural scientists in Kenya. While scientific institutions globally have become more neoliberal and calculative, impacts of these changes on scientific practice vary by context, and are less explored in Africa. Through qualitative, semi-structured life course interviews, we ask how scientific careers are enacted; how they are co-shaped with social, political, and cultural contexts. In expanding upon recent spatial and affective approaches in STS, we demonstrate how Kenyan stories of research careers help us understand science in terms of what we call epistemic dynamism. Bringing the work of Lefebvre in conversation with STS, epistemic dynamism captures movement in socio-material, temporal and value dimensions of epistemic space. The concept also captures dialectic interplay between energy, spirit or vitality and contrasting notions of ambivalence, uncertainty/precarity as actors recount and perform their spheres of influence, generate knowledge and enact their lives in science. 


Matthew Harsh is Professor of Science, Technology and Society and Director of the Center for Expressive Technologies at California Polytechnic State University. He holds a BSc in Materials Engineering from Northwestern University, and as a Marshall Scholar, earned an MSc and PhD in Science and Technology Studies from University of Edinburgh. Much of his work explores the cultures and governance of science and innovation in Africa. He is the Director of ‘Computing Cultures’, a film about computer science research in Kenya and Uganda, and Senior Producer of ‘Brother Time’, a documentary about political unrest after the 2007 Kenyan election. His academic films have received numerous awards and have been shown at film festivals and events around the world. His publications can be found in many academic journals including Development and ChangeEngineering StudiesGeoforumMinervaScience & Public Policy, and Social Studies of Science.