I am an anthropologist interested in the production of knowledge about Africa; namely, how “Africa” as a category of thought is produced through material practices across African and non-African sites. The questions my work engages are informed in important ways by my lived experiences in the US, Europe, and West and Southern Africa as a dual Togolese and American citizen. My current book project, Our Grandmothers’ Cloth: Materiality, Class, and Global Membership in the Age of “The New Africa,” traces the trajectory of Dutch Wax cloth (aka African print cloth) between Holland and Togo. Using as its anchor Dutch Wax cloth’s renderings as female wealth, textile design, branded object, commodity, and dress across Holland and Togo, the multi-sited ethnography examines how Africa and Africans’ place in the world is negotiated and articulated at the start of the 21st century, at a time when discourses about Africa’s place in the world are shifting from Africa as site of perpetual crisis to Africa as the future (the so-called “New Africa”). I completed my PhD in MIT's Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society in 2016, where my dissertation research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. I was a Postdoctoral Associate in Francophone African Studies in MIT's Global Studies and Languages program (2016-2017) before serving as Assistant Professor of African Studies in the same department from 2017 to 2019. Prior to joining the academy, I was in the field of public health for six years. I obtained a MSc in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted research on community-based responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a Fulbright Scholar to Zambia, and helped to develop health literacy interventions for vulnerable South African youth and Veterans Affairs hospitals in the US.
My research interests are at the intersection of material culture and African studies. The foundational concern underlying my work has to do with the makings of black African subjectivities: How are black African bodies made, interpreted, lived in? Taking seriously the notion of "African-ness" as a relational category, I consider these questions from a cross-cultural and/or transnational perspective.
My current research, as one instantiation of this set of concerns, grapples with questions such as: what does “Africa” signify besides geographical location(s), what work does the concept do, and how is it given material form? My first book project is a multi-sited ethnography examining how “The New Africa” is produced and enacted along the trajectory of Dutch Wax cloth (a variety of the textile known as “African print”) from its design in Holland to use in Lomé, Togo, where the cloth has long held special significance. The ethnography takes as its object of analysis the practices of textile designers, advertisers, sellers, wearers, and tailors (all "doers" of Dutch Wax cloth) and considers what ideas, social relations, and subjectivities are produced alongside the material outputs of the various actors' practices.
Another project underway with colleagues in Togo and Rwanda/Belgium, thanks to a MIT Global Seed Fund Grant, examines entrepreneurial initiatives undertaken by African “returnees” in their (or their parents’) home countries on the continent. Focusing on entrepreneurship in the creative industries specifically (digital media, fashion, film/music), my portion of the project interrogates the notion of “return” for these hyphenated Africans, and how cultural production mediates their articulations of Africa and African-ness in this historical moment.
My most recent project is a collaboration with Brussels-based NGO Avocats Sans Frontières, on restorative justice for Europe's colonial past in Africa. The project involves documenting the proceedings of Belgium's new Special Commission on the country's colonial past (established in July 2020), and facilitating exchanges among academics, activists, and policymakers across Africa, North America, and former colonial powers in Europe around what justice for the harms of colonialism might look like.
|2016||“Redrawing Power? Dutch Wax Cloth and the Politics of ‘Good Design,’” Journal of Design History, 29 (3): 258-272.|
|In Press 2019||“From African cloth to global luxury: Consumers in the rebranding of Dutch Wax cloth,” in Mehita Iqani and Simidele Dosekun, Eds., Luxury in Africa: Aesthetics and Politics (Bristol: Intellect Books)|
|2019||“Crafting material, being material,” in Marie-Pier Boucher, Stefan Helmreich, Leila Kinney, Skylar Tibbits, Rebecca Uchill and Evan Ziporyn, Eds., BEING MATERIAL (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)|
Africa and the Politics of Knowledge
Africa is not a country, but rather a territory covering one fifth of Earth’s land surface, home to over one sixth of the world’s population, and more than one thousand languages. And yet “Africa” continues to mean something in the world as a place. The aim of this course is to examine how ideas about the kind of place that “Africa” is have been articulated and negotiated from colonial times to the present. So doing, we get a glimpse of the politics of knowledge production across the disciplines of geography, history, biology, political science, and the creative industries. The course is divided into two parts: Being and Becoming. In Part 1, Being, we consider foundational constructions of Africa as a place in the world (what Africa is), through its geographical mapping, debates about its history, and the articulation of race—of Blackness in particular. In Part 2, Becoming, we turn to social science theories, political, and cultural movements from the postcolonial period to the present that have sought to conceptualize Africa’s place in the world after independence (what Africa shall become).
|2020||Everett Moore Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching|
|2019||Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences|
|2018||MIT Global Seed Fund, “Return Migration and African Futures: Togolese and Rwandan Experiences”|