The promise of free money: the potentials and pitfalls of unconditional cash transfers in Western Kenya

This project analyses the implementation of unconditional cash transfer (UCT) and universal basic income (UBI) programmes in Western Kenya, one of the hotbeds for such kinds of socio-economic experiments. Fueled by capital from Silicon Valley and inspired by the philosophy of “effective altruism”, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations view UCT and UBI policies as solutions for a future without work, and––with the help of randomised controlled trials and other experimental methods––try to produce ‘evidence’ that these programs are superior to other social assistance programmes. Instead of criticising or applauding UCT and UBI programmes theoretically, “The promise of free money” focuses on how such programmes and the accompanying scientific studies are interpreted by recipients, politicians, church leaders, scientists, and local field officers in rural Western Kenya.

  • a.    (in publication, with Martin Fotta) “Cash transfer.” Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology.
  • b.    2022 “‘The Gift of Free Money’: On the Indeterminacy of Unconditional Cash Transfers in Western Kenya.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 28 (1): 114-29.

Men under pressure: migrants, masculinity, and the expectation of success in high-rise Nairobi

This project focuses on how male migrants experience, deal with, and challenge the experience of encompassing economic pressure in Nairobi. Understood as an affective state resulting from a highly gendered assessment of a disbalance between expectations and aspirations and the (in)ability to fulfil them, migrant men experience pressure as a state of suspension between relaxation and bursting, depression and activity, optimism and despair that results in somatic experiences of ulcers, sleeplessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Pressure, furthermore, co-produces practices of “de-pressuring” such as drinking alcohol, male violence, or working-out in gyms. Carving out how pressure differs from other concepts such as poverty, marginalisation, or stress, this project suggests that one of the pillars of Kenya’s neoliberal capitalism lies in the production and subsequent exploitation of men’s pressured bodies and minds that are squeezed into “Pipeline”, one of Africa’s most densely populated high-rise estates.

Selling economic choices: labour and ethics in a Kenyan behavioural science organisation (with Adrian Wilson, University of California, Berkeley)

This project analyses epistemological and ethical challenges that emerge when Western behavioural psychologists and economists interact with and study the inhabitants of an informal settlement in Nairobi by inviting them to participate in behavioural economic experiments. Based upon roughly four months fieldwork in a behavioural science organisation and dozens of interviews with scientists and experimental subjects alike, “Selling economic choices” highlights how a situation characterised by extreme economic inequality, political hierarchy, and epistemological barriers risks both exploiting as well as failing to understand the “other”.

  • a.    2021 “Incommensurate Abstractions and the (Re)quantification of Monetary Amounts: How Western Kenyans Measure and are Measured in a Behavioral Economic Experiment.” Journal of Cultural Economy 14 (1): 70-86.

The category project of the Durkheim School – An anthology (with Johannes Schick, Ulrich van Loyen, Martin Zillinger)

At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, a group of French sociologists started a project that aimed at decentering Western philosophy and would have repercussions in almost every social science well into the 21st century. Led by Émile Durkheim and his nephew Marcel Mauss, the Durkheimians argued that the categories of our thought (space, time, quantity, etc.) have their origin in social practices. As many anthropologists and social scientists are not aware of this unique collaborative effort spanning almost half a decade from around 1900 to Mauss’ death 1950, I am currently editing an anthology of German translations of crucial texts of the “category project” by Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Henri Hubert, Stefan Czarnowski, and other members of the Durkheim School (together with Johannes Schick, Ulrich van Loyen, and Martin Zillinger).

  • a.    (2022, with Johannes Schick and Martin Zillinger) The Social Origins of Thought: Durkheim, Mauss and the Category Project. London: Berghahn.
  • b.    2022 (with Johannes Schick and Martin Zillinger) “The Durkheim School’s “Category Project”: A Collaborative Experiment Unfolds”. In: Johannes Schick, Mario Schmidt and Martin Zillinger (eds): The Social Origins of Thought: Durkheim, Mauss and the Category Project. London. Berghahn, 1-26.
  • c.    2022 “Experimenting with Social Matter - Claude Bernard's Influence on the Durkheim School’s Understanding of Categories.” In: Johannes Schick, Mario Schmidt and Martin Zillinger (eds): The Social Origins of Thought: Durkheim, Mauss and the Category Project. London: Berghahn, 113-27.
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