My research centers broadly on humanitarian and peacebuilding interventions in armed conflict; technology and infrastructure; and language and media in east and central Africa. In particular, I am interested in how humanitarians take up vernacular technology and the ways that local actors redefine the sites and modes of international intervention. You can see publications related to my research here. Below are brief summaries of my ongoing and completed research.
Networks of Protection in D.R. Congo: Connection and Insecurity on a Humanitarian Early Warning Network
My dissertation asks how humanitarians operating an early warning network of two-way radios (called radiophonies) mediate understandings of connection and insecurity in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, I move along phonie networks and between local and international NGOs, situating infrastructures of humanitarian intervention within colonial and postcolonial histories and rethinking concepts of remoteness, connection, threat, and security. I show how people build and maintain ties through an infrastructure that is contingent rather than durable and how these nodes become sites of contestation as civilians, NGOs, customary leaders, churches, and soldiers compete over access. I argue that these features—contingent, connective, contested—are not only central to understanding this humanitarian intervention’s place in state and society, but also show how the connections and relations that undergird society more broadly—obligations of care and protection, expectations of coexistence—are similarly unstable and negotiated. Moving beyond the phonie itself to the broader security context, I explore the role of various armed actors from soldiers and peacekeepers to park rangers, community self-defense groups, and pastoralists to complicate narratives of threat and protection and the role of humanitarian knowledge production in mitigating insecurity.
Demobilization as Defection: Peacebuilding amid Counterinsurgency
My next research project concerns the use of broadcast radio programs that aimed to encourage northern Ugandan rebels to surrender. While rebel disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs are conventionally post-conflict peacebuilding interventions, they increasingly occur as targeted interventions during active conflict. From Colombia to Nigeria, attempts to demobilize rebels have become part of state counterinsurgency and countering violent extremism efforts. I study this shift by tracing the case of northern Uganda, where local peace groups used FM “come home” radio programs to encourage rebels to lay down their arms and accept amnesty in the early 2000s. Their work was later taken up by NGOs, the Ugandan state, and even US AFRICOM as they pursued the same armed group into Congo and Central African Republic. Through ethnography, interviews, and analyzing the broadcasts themselves, I ask how peacebuilding has become a tool of counterinsurgency and what this portends for the future of conflict intervention.
Being Real on Fake Instagram: Media Ideologies and Social Media Use
As a side-project exploring the role of media ideologies in social media use, I completed research on the use of multiple Instagram accounts by US women college students. This research looked at the consequences of such practices for how we understand and distinguish between “channels” in media studies and linguistic anthropology, drawing from interview-based data to look at the curating and creative practices that go into posting on Instagram, the logics and objectives behind these practices, and the ways that users turn to secondary accounts to represent themselves in multiple ways.