Personal Profile

My ethnographic work is highly situated in Kaleko, a small market centre in rural Western Kenya, where I have conducted fieldwork since 2010. After completing a project on how local foodways have changed since colonial times, I became particularly fascinated by how actors classify, categorize, make use of, and understand money in both its qualitative and quantitative aspects. What does it mean, for instance, when local economic actors call money “sweet” or “bitter”? What are the quantitative thresholds between “enough”, “much”, and “endless” money? In the last three years, my focus has shifted towards how these local understandings of money clash with, on the one hand, international development aid interventions focused on unconditional cash transfer and universal basic income, and, on the other hand, behavioural economic experiments that make use of money’s numeric nature to measure individuals’ economic preferences.

My project, The promise of free money: the potentials and pitfalls of unconditional cash transfers, scrutinizes how the contrast between a relational understanding of the economy and a neoliberal and highly individualistic notion of economic actors produces misunderstanding and rumours centering on a conceptualisation of UCTs as “free” money. In my second project, Selling economic choices: labour and ethics in a Kenyan behavioural science organisation, I focus on how behavioural science’s adherence to quantitative methods and value-free knowledge production conflicts with local understandings of money’s quantity as qualitative and ethical.

Lastly, and based upon my decade-long involvement with Kaleko, I started a project on men who migrate to Nairobi from rural Western Kenya in order to become economically and socially successful. Men under pressure: migrants, masculinity, and the expectation of success is particularly interested in how male migrants cope with their own and others’ expectations of economic success in Pipeline, Nairobi, one of the continent’s most densely populated settlements. Related to this, I am currently developing a project on Kenyan “masculinity consultants” who offer men solace and solutions to their economic and romantic frustrations. Tentatively entitled Restoration, reform, or revolution of patriarchy: Masculinity consultants in contemporary Kenya, the project analyses these masculinity consultants’ social media activities, their self-help books, as well as in-person workshops on fatherhood, male sexuality, and marriage that they organize.

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