Lecture: Cooking Data: Politics and Culture in an African Research World by Crystal Biruk

February 16, 2017

When: Thursday, February 16, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Williams Hall (Oxford)

Contact:
Danielle Dockery
danielle.dockery@emory.edu

Admission Cost: Free

Description:

School: Oxford College
Department/Organization: Oxford College
Building/Room: Williams Hall (Oxford)
Speaker/Presenter: Crystal Biruk
Cost: Free
Contact Name: Danielle Dockery
Contact Email: danielle.dockery@emory.edu

Crystal Biruk is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Oberlin College in Ohio.

She received a Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her research centers on the ethics and politics of intervention in the global South. She takes interest in how the growing presence of humanitarian, development, and scientific projects in sub-Saharan Africa reconfigures local social geographies, producing new kinds of status, mobility, expertise, and exclusions. 

Biruk is working on a book titled Cooking Data: Politics and Culture in an African Research World that explores how the commodification of health-related data intersects local social worlds, producing new political subjectivities and modes of governance. Cooking Data draws on 18 months of ethnography in Malawi to tell the life story of data itself, tracking its transformation from pencil marks on a survey page into the statistics consumed by policy makers, researchers, and the public. The book uncovers hidden relationships between the knowledge work that produces data and its value to various audiences. She analyzes the consequences and contradictions of accumulative "giving and taking"—of information, blood tests, informed consent, and so on—in survey research encounters between "insiders" and "outsiders" in Malawi. She also shows how research projects that return to Malawi to collect data year after year become important sites of social mobility for the young Malawians they hire as fieldwork supervisors and data collectors.

Biruk is engaged in a second project that takes interest in the emergence of same-sex identities and activism in Malawi, with particular focus on how 'lesbians' and 'gays' in Malawi come to occupy, perform, and know their vulnerability in the context of transnationally circulating LGBT-rights frames and language amid the AIDS epidemic. Alongside this project, she is working with a Malawian NGO to produce a book of Malawian lesbian life histories.

This is an Oxford Studies event.