Minerva

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 35–58 | Cite as

The Rise of Computing Research in East Africa: The Relationship Between Funding, Capacity and Research Community in a Nascent Field

  • Matthew Harsh
  • Ravtosh Bal
  • Jameson Wetmore
  • G. Pascal Zachary
  • Kerry Holden
Article

Abstract

The emergence of vibrant research communities of computer scientists in Kenya and Uganda has occurred in the context of neoliberal privatization, commercialization, and transnational capital flows from donors and corporations. We explore how this funding environment configures research culture and research practices, which are conceptualized as two main components of a research community. Data come from a three-year longitudinal study utilizing interview, ethnographic and survey data collected in Nairobi and Kampala. We document how administrators shape research culture by building academic programs and training growing numbers of PhDs, and analyze how this is linked to complicated interactions between political economy, the epistemic nature of computer science and sociocultural factors like entrepreneurial leadership of key actors and distinctive cultures of innovation. In a donor-driven funding environment, research practice involves scientists constructing their own localized research priorities by adopting distinctive professional identities and creatively structuring projects. The neoliberal political economic context thus clearly influenced research communities, but did not debilitate computing research capacity nor leave researchers without any agency to carry out research programs. The cases illustrate how sites of knowledge production in Africa can gain some measure of research autonomy, some degree of global competency in a central arena of scientific and technological activity, and some expression of their regional cultural priorities and aspirations. Furthermore, the cases suggest that social analysts must balance structure with culture, place and agency in their approaches to understanding how funding and political economy shape scientific knowledge.

Keywords

Computer science Research funding Research community Kenya Uganda 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1257145. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The authors wish to sincerely thank all of the computing researchers and administrators in East Africa who generously gave their time to participate in this study.

References

  1. Aydalot, P.H. 1986. Trajectoires technologiques et milieu innovateurs. In Milieux Innovateurs in Europe, ed. P.H. Aydalot, 345–361. Paris: Gremi.Google Scholar
  2. Baryamureeba, Venansius. 2015. They will see him: Memoirs of a remarkable life. KampalaGoogle Scholar
  3. Bisaso, Ronald. 2010. Organizational responses to public sector reforms in higher education in Uganda: A case study of Makerere University. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 32(4): 343–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bright, Jake. 2015. The rise of Silicon Savannah and Africa’s tech movement. TechnoCrunch, July 23, 2015. http://techcrunch.com/2015/07/23/the-rise-of-silicon-savannah-and-africas-tech-movement/. Accessed 29 Nov 2017.
  5. Denning, Peter J. 2003. Great principles of computing. Communications of the ACM 46(11): 15–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. DiMaggio, Paul J. 1988. Interest and agency in institutional theory. In Institutional patterns and organizations: Culture and environment, ed. Lynn G. Zucker, 3–22. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  7. Dorado, Silvia. 2005. Institutional entrepreneurship, partaking, and convening. Organization Studies 26(3): 385–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frickel, Scott, and Kelly Moore (eds.). 2006. The new political sociology of science: Institutions, networks, and power. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  9. Garforth, Lisa, and Tereza Stockelova. 2012. Science policy and STS from other epistemic places. Science, Technology, and Human Values 37(2): 226–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gläser, Jochen. 2001. Scientific specialties as the (currently missing) link between scientometrics and the sociology of science. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Scientometrics and Informetrics, eds. Mari Davis and Concepción S. Wilson, 191-210. Sydney: UNSW.Google Scholar
  11. Gläser, Jochen. 2012. How does governance change research content? On the possibility of a sociological middle-range theory linking science policy studies to the sociology of scientific knowledge. The Technical University Technology Studies Working Papers. TUTS-WP-1-2012. Technical University, Berlin.Google Scholar
  12. Harsh, Matthew, Paul Mbatia, and Wesley Shrum. 2010. Accountability and inaction: Capital NGOs and resource lodging in development. Development and Change 41(2): 253–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kuznetsov, Stacey. 2013. Expanding our visions of citizen science. Magazine: Interactions 20(4): 26–31.Google Scholar
  14. Laudel, Grit. 2006. The art of getting funded: How scientists adapt to their funding conditions. Science and Public Policy 33(7): 489–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lave, Rebecca, Philip Mirowski, and Samuel Randalls. 2010. Introduction: STS and Neoliberal Science. Social Studies of Science 40(5): 659–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Luukkonen, Terttu, and Duncan A. Thomas. 2016. The ‘negotiated space’ of university researchers’ pursuit of a research agenda. Minerva 54(1): 99–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA). 2014. African Innovation Outlook 2014. Pretoria: NPCA.Google Scholar
  18. Mamdani, Mahmood. 2007. Scholars in the Marketplace. The Dilemmas of Neo-Liberal Reform at Makerere University, 1989–2005. Dakar: CODESRIA.Google Scholar
  19. Marchant, Eleanor. 2015. Who is ICT innovation for? Challenges to existing theories of innovation, a Kenyan case study. CGCS Occasional Paper Series on ICTs, Statebuilding, and Peacebuilding in Africa. Number Four.Google Scholar
  20. Mayanja, Muhammad K. 2001. Private funding of public universities: The Makerere case. International Higher Education 25(Fall): 11–13.Google Scholar
  21. Merz, Martina, and Philippe Sormani. 2016. Configuring new research fields: How policy, place, and organization are made to matter. In The local configuration of new research fields, eds. Martina Merz, and Philippe Sormani, 1–22. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mirowski, Philip. 2011. Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moore, Kelly, Daniel Lee Kleinman, David Hess, and Scott Frickel. 2011. Science and neoliberal globalization: A political sociological approach. Theory and Society 40(5): 505–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Muchie, Mammo, Peter Gammeltoft, and Bengt-Ake Lundvall (eds.). 2003. The Making of African Innovation Systems. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Ndemo, Elijah Bitange. 2015. Political entrepreneurialism: Reflections of a civil servant on the role of political institutions in technology innovation and diffusion in Kenya. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 4(1), Art. 15.Google Scholar
  26. NUFFIC. Building a sustainable ICT training capacity in the public universities in Uganda: Final project report for the period 1st July 2004–30th June 2008. https://www.mak.ac.ug/documents/Makfiles/pdf/2004_07_01-2008_06_30_nuffic_finalReport.pdf. Accessed 29 Nov 2017.
  27. Obamba, Milton O., and Jane K. Mwema. 2009. Symmetry and asymmetry: New contours, paradigms, and politics in African academic partnerships. Higher Education Policy 22(3): 349–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Oketch, Moses O. 2003. Market model of financing higher education in sub-Saharan Africa: Examples from Kenya. Higher Education Policy 16(3): 313–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Paulos, Eric. 2009. The rise of the expert amateur: DIY culture and citizen science. In Proceeding UIST ‘09 Proceedings of the 22nd annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, 181–182. New York: ACM New York.Google Scholar
  30. Pickering, Andrew. 1992. From science as knowledge to science as practice. In Science as practice and culture, ed. Andrew Pickering, 1–26. London: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Robinson, Douglas K.R., Arie Rip, and Aurelie Delemarle. 2016. Nanodistricts: Beyond global nanotechnology promises and local cluster dynamics. In The local configuration of new research fields, eds. Martina Merz, and Philippe Sormani, 117–133. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rosenbloom, Paul S. 2004. A new framework for computer science and engineering. Computer 37(11): 23–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shrum, Wesley. 1984. Scientific specialties and technical systems. Social Studies of Science 14(1): 63–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Shrum, Wesley. 2000. Science and story in development: The emergence of non-governmental organizations in agricultural research. Social Studies of Science 30(1): 681–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Shrum, Wesley. 2005. Reagency of the internet, or, how I became a guest for science. Social Studies of Science 35(5): 723–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Slaughter, Sheila, and Gary Rhoades. 2004. Academic capitalism and the new economy: Markets, state, and higher education. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Varghese, N.V. 2004. Private higher education in Africa. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO.Google Scholar
  38. Wight, Daniel, Josephine Ahikire, and Joy C. Kwesiga. 2014. Consultancy research as a barrier to strengthening social science research capacity in Uganda. Social Science and Medicine 116: 32–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. World Bank Indicators. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator.
  40. Zachary, G. Pascal. 2011. Vast and fertile ground in Africa for science to take root. The New York Times, December 5, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/science/fertile-ground-in-africa-for-computer-science-to-take-root.html. Accessed 29 Nov 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Harsh
    • 1
  • Ravtosh Bal
    • 1
  • Jameson Wetmore
    • 2
  • G. Pascal Zachary
    • 2
  • Kerry Holden
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Engineering in SocietyConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.School for the Future of Innovation in SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.School of GeographyQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations