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Learning from Africa's Technology Stories

Curated by Laura Ann Twagira (Wesleyan University)

Africa has long been a space of technological innovation and adaptation despite popular Western media depictions. The pieces included here tell stories of African technological creativity on the road, in the kitchen, and in the hospital. They also examine contemporary debates across the continent about technology's role in economic development and state governance. In each piece, the perspective of "technology-in-use" suggests new ways to think about technological design, users, and infrastructure. The authors also raise important questions about the relationships between urban and rural Africa, a relationship often understood as one of contrasting access to new technologies. It is a relationship mediated by technology but not one so easily predicted. Finally, the authors explore multiple visual, audio, and spatial cultures of technology by examining photographs, machines, cars, latex gloves, and other objects in ways that challenge common theoretical understandings of what actually constitutes technology.

Automobility, Technopolitics, and African Histories of Technology-in-Use in Twentieth Century Ghana
by Jennifer Hart, Wayne State University    
Jennifer Hart examines "automobility" in Ghana from the colonial era to the present with a focus on "pirate" drivers of lorries and trotros. Ultimately, African drivers and their vehicles transformed Ghanaian roadways and society, but the contemporary pirates of the road face new challenges from increased traffic and a new global culture of order in urban infrastructure.

Jennifer Hart is an Assistant Professor of African History at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on transport technologies in Ghana; her work has been published in the International Journal of African Historical Studies. She also writes about automobile cultures for her blog "Ghana on the Go" (

Interrogating the "Machine" and Women's Things
by Laura Ann Twagira, Wesleyan University    
Laura Ann Twagira provides a retelling of "the shock of the old" by contrasting a technology long associated with women in Africa, the mortar and pestle, with new labor-saving "machines." She learns that many women have a problem with technologies seemingly meant to promote women's development. She asks: what's wrong with machines that will do the cooking for women?

Laura Ann Twagira is an Assistant Professor of African and Gender History at Wesleyan University. She focuses her research on gendered cultures of labor and technology, embodied technologies, the environment, and development in Mali. Her work has been published in the journal Gender and History.

Techno-Histories in Mozambique: A Photographic Story
by Drew Thompson, Bard College    
Drew Thompson looks to Mozambique's recent adoption of biometric tracking chips for use in identity documents within a longer history of state surveillance. He asks why an earlier urban public tolerated an older system of identifications cards and mass relocation to the country side, when public opinion now seems staunchly against the newest iterations of state surveillance?

Drew Thompson is an Assistant Professor of Historical and Africana Studies at Bard College. He has published articles on colonial/post-colonial politics in Africa, photography, and visual culture in the journals Critical Interventions, Kronos, and Social Dynamics: A Journal in African Studies.

Wards Apart?: Rethinking the Hospital through a West African Lens
by Tara Dosumu Diener, University of Michigan    
Tara Dosumu Diener explores the meanings of the hospital, an institution with technological practices that may seem easily identifiable, even exportable to Africa. The historical roots of the institution in Africa, however, suggest alternative ways to understand the practices of medicine and its objects. For example, she finds that even the purpose of latex gloves is defined only in their use.

Tara Dosumu Diener is doctoral candidate in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan. Her research areas include maternal and child health in Africa, reproductive technologies, and nursing practice as "expert" knowledge. She is also a registered nurse.

Editor-in-Chief: Suzanne Moon, University of Oklahoma
Associate Editor: Marionne Cronin, University of Aberdeen
Contributing Editors: Gerardo Con Diaz, Yale University; Jenna Healey, Yale University
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