Personal Profile

Why I do what I do?
I am fascinated by how humanity can move forward out of the long reach of postcoloniality, which seems to stretch ad infinitum, and from under the expansive shadow of neoliberalism, cast ever wider to all parts of the world.  Emerging Global South powers seek, in theory, to repair the damage inflicted by the spread of colonialism, Christianity, and capitalism, and to remake global relations through a shared ethos of care and camaraderie rather than conquest and competition.  It is thus with idealism rather than cynicism I approach scholarly research.  Not doing so would be to shortchange humanity as permanently haunted by unruly pasts that spill over and spoil our collective futures.  Such an endeavour encourages generosity of theorising, actualising and communicating the real potential of an imaginative otherwise: renewed centres of gravity, alternative currency systems, and radical visions of the good life.
My own contribution toward this goal stems from a research trajectory that has followed Africa-China relations since 2008.  My masters fieldwork looked at the growing impact of Chinese traders in Makola Market in Accra, Ghana.  I learned that interactions were not solely mediated by interpersonal connections, but also troubled by their relationships with the goods they transacted, revealing the double nature of affordable but low-quality Made in China goods.  Since then, I remain alert to the extra-human entanglements that shape people’s practices and opinions.
In the years after my masters, the topic of Africa-China captivated both academic and popular attention, and I wanted to return to Accra for my PhD to see what had changed.  I continued, however, to be haunted by a single assertion made by a Ghanaian trader during my masters fieldwork: “We are going to go to China to bring things back.” His portentous provocation prompted my own journey to China instead of Ghana for my PhD fieldwork.  Following their desires inspired new research trajectories for me as I shifted my fieldsite to Futian Market in Yiwu, China, home to the world’s largest small commodities market and an emerging African diaspora in China.   
In Yiwu, I worked with an energetic population of West Africans, primarily Nigerians exporting low-cost goods.  Through multisited fieldwork, I followed traders to different parts of China as well to Tradefair Market in Lagos, Nigeria where their goods were sold. I was curious to explore their experiences in China amid emerging narratives of Global South solidarity and friendship, and against the backdrop of sizeable infrastructural investments and deepening trade relations with African states.  If China was to play a pivotal geopolitical role, I wanted to understand how ordinary Nigerians capitalised on the epochal occasion of planetary power shifts.  South-south relations are paramount to establishing a new world order in the 21st century.  Thus, pertinent research ought to examine questions of race, borders, and culture through non-colonial histories and neocolonial entanglements if alternative courses are to provision new futures.  
What do I think anthropology can do in the 21st century?
Anthropology illuminates how, through diverse means and distinctive tactics, we all share in the same struggle and strive to achieve viable lives.  The strength of the discipline is to animate the minutiae of everyday occurrences in the registers of the various forces, institutions, and powers at work.  Thus, anthropology helps us to see the underlying logic of people’s practices when they are not immediately obvious.  If 20th-century anthropology emphasized cultural comparison, then 21st-century anthropology ought to encourage exploration of culture’s political-economic conditions.  It is a timely endeavour, as culture appears to converge as a collateral of globalization, bringing people closer together, in relationships ever more immediate and intimate, whilst also creating rifts and ruptures.  Yet this is precisely when and where we must look deeper.  Anthropology helps us discern how the same observed practices might not be everywhere similarly derived.  In fact, this is the critical task of anthropology that remains foundational – tracking the different means of realising similar ends.  For example, why is cryptocurrency, a global phenomenon, most popular in places like Nigeria? The naira, Nigeria’s currency, has been losing 10.6% of its value annually against the US dollar since 1973.  Cryptocurrency is thus transformed from what appears to be a volatile asset in the Global North into a safer hedge in the Global South.  The same outcome is guided by a different logic of survival and speculation.  Increasing domestic and international divisions demand the reparative function of anthropology’s sensitivity to nuance and complexity.

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