MediAfrica at ASA 60th Annual Meeting in Chicago

The MediAfrica team was left, right and center at this year's African Studies Association's 60th annual meeting in Chicago.

Katrien Pype chaired and presented in a double panel on Techno-Economic Challenges to Humanism, in dialogue with Achille Mbembe (and last year's Abiola lecture) as well as a series of ground-breaking scholars in African studies. Several of the papers spoke to the role of new media and digital technologies in shaping circulation of goods, ideas, values and people across the continent. 

Nanna Schneidermann and Katrien Pype discussing project plans over lunch

Nanna Schneidermann and Katrien Pype discussing project plans over lunch

Jo Helle-Valle, Ardis Storm-Mashisen and Nanna Schneidermann presented papers in the panel Gender, Concerns and New Media Practices, each in their way beginning to unpack ideas and material generated during fieldwork with the MediAfrica project. 

New media on new media. Jo Helle-Valle presents research from Botswana

New media on new media. Jo Helle-Valle presents research from Botswana

Technology & Witchcraft - new publication on media cultures and religion in Kinshasa

Katrien Pype contributed a chapter to the open access edited volume on Pentecostalism and Witchcraft. Spiritual Warfare in Africa and Melanesia. Co-edited by Knut Rio, Melissa McCarthy, and Ruy Blanes. The full book is freely available here: 

Katrien's chapter, "Chapter 5 Branhamist Kindoki : Ethnographic Notes on Connectivity, Technology and Urban Witchcraft in Contemporary Kinshasa", explores the entanglements of theories of the occult and science, and technology. She explores the analytical value of "connectivity", the modality to connect with (social and spiritual) others in light of sociality in contemporary electronic modernity.

studying digital creation stories - new challenges for media research in Africa - book chapter (2018)

Katrien Pype has contributed a chapter to the book "Palgrave Handbook for Media and Communication Research in Africa", edited by Bruce Mutsvairo, and published with Palgrave MacMillan (2018).

The goal of the volume is to identify new challenges and opportunities for media research in Africa. Contributors work in African universities and beyond.

Katrien's paper is called "The Devil is in the Rumba Text. Commenting on Digital Depth", and deals with the possible meanings of digital clips that circulate in the Congolese digital sphere in which music (and audiovisual clips) of contemporary Congolese rumba musicians are interpreted as embedded in occult worlds, especially the Illuminati world.

The main challenges described are (a) the lack of a generic label for this genre of instructive clips; (b) the inaccessibility of the uploaders and producers (refusal to be interviewed, to identify themselves); and (c) the lack of interest or consideration by many of my interlocutors in Kinshasa regarding the message and intentions embedded in these clips. 

Methodologically speaking, I was inspired by Fabian's proposal (2008) for producing commentaries - as a more appropriate genre of ethnographic writing in the digital era. In Ethnography as Commentary. Writing from the Virtual Archive (2008), Fabian argues that the easy accessibility of empirical data online significantly transforms theory production, ethnography and analysis. 

update (May 16 2018): The chapter has now been published - DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-70443-2_14
In the book: The Palgrave Handbook of Media and Communication Research in Africa, pp.245-262

love over Facebook : transnational connections, digital flirtations and the economy of sexuality - conference presentation - University of Birmingham (May 30-June 2 2017)

Katrien Pype attended the Cadbury Workshop on "Marriage in Africa" organized by the Department of African Studies & Anthropology at the University of Birmingham (UK).

She presented preliminary research findings on sexual play and flirtation in Kinshasa's digital sphere. 

Bolingo ya Face - stranger sociality, digital marriages, and family dilemmas in contemporary Kinshasa

In Kinshasa, social network sites such as Instagram, WeChat, Facebook and Whatsapp are mostly used as dating apps. Kinshasa's youth have easily embraced these new platforms to enlarge their social networks because they play into the desire for stranger sociality so striking for the lifeworlds of Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa). It also leads to an expansion of potential love partners. In the playful digital courting and flirting, the lines between "sexual play" and 'matrimonial commitment" have been blurred. This presentation starts from the premise that electronic networks are epitomizing the possibilities of love relationships that the urban context of the megapolis already offered. Virtual networks now also make the dream of "marrying a djika" (someone from the diaspora) actually possible. The analysis will focus on how electronic marriages come into being, are managed, and very often, dissolve, and how families respond to these new strangers. New dangerous categories of "risky lovers" are identified and debated, especially "mibali ya poto" (husbands from Europe) and "basi ya face" (girls from facebook). The material shows how electronic social networks not only enlarge users' social lifeworlds, but also how these tie into aspirations for "foreign" sexual and marriage partners, and how this leads to new moral debates, social opportunities but also risk.

two-way radio systems in Kinshasa: connecting the rural and the urban - Seminar presentation in Brussels (May 2017)

On May 9 2017, Katrien Pype presented preliminary analysis of her research on CB radio communications in Kinshasa. The presentation was part of the seminar series of the (Belgian) Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences.

Here you can find the abstract of that presentation:

Living with Interference. Ethnographic Notes on Affect in Translocal Connectivity (Kinshasa)

Mobile phone technology constitutes only one, and a fairly recent, platform for connectivity with “elsewheres”. I focus here on radio phonie communication, a technology commonly known as citizen broad band radio, that has ensured long-distance dyadic communication in DR Congo since colonial times, and doubles as a money transfer agency. Recently, this outmoded communication platform has known an upsurge in Kinshasa in order to enable connectivity with regions in the former Bandundu and Equatorial Provinces, areas without cellular coverage. First, I examine phonie connectivity, and especially the affective dimensions of this long-distance interaction and link this tot the position of Kinois as “city-dwellers” trying to cope on the one hand with the socio-economic predicaments of life in an African metropole, and with claims –interpellations- made by relatives or intimate Others residing in the hinterland. Second, I highlight a material dimension to Kinois’ connectedness in order to acknowledge the role of technology in the shaping of modern sociality. Finally, I argue that the publicness of phonie talk – usually acted out in front of other phonie clients and the phonie operator, who contribute to the conversations – offers techniques for living with the interference from the urban into the rural and vice versa. By exploring “interference” as a technical and a social experience that people – not just in Kinshasa, but anywhere, where long-distance connectivity is lived – actively manage, the paper highlights the affective dissonances associated with the reduction of spatial distance through modern communication technologies, and thus brings nuance to the narratives of hope and anticipation, especially expectations for economic and material betterment, accompanying innovation in communication and the trope of global connectedness.

The material thus offers an interesting perspective on the co-habitation of so-called "old" and "new media"; while also bringing to the fore the longue duree of electronically mediated translocal connectivities. 

Katrien is currently transforming the presentation into an academic article to be submitted to the journal of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences. 

Communicating with bofania, sitting in a phonie house in kimbanseke (kinshasa) - april 2017

Communicating with bofania, sitting in a phonie house in kimbanseke (kinshasa) - april 2017

new book chapter on technology and the city

I am very pleased to announce the publication of a chapter in open access. You can find the whole book via this url:

The chapter is an attempt to call for more attention to the cohabitation of techne experts in African societies. In this way, I propose an alternative interpretation of "the smart city". There is considerable attention to the continuation of the social positioning of healers, blacksmiths, media practitioners and engineer students. 

In addition, I explore the linguistic closeness of various forms of knowledge in the urban sphere and the handling of tools.

The endeavor of the whole book is to propose an Africa-centered understanding of technological innovation, going beyond the familiar tropes of appropriation and creativity. The book is the outcome of a workshop at MIT held in October 2014.

The full bibliographic reference for the book chapter is 

Pype, K. 2017. "Smartness from Below. Variations on Technology and Creativity in Contemporary Kinshasa." In: Mavhunga, C.C. (ed.), What do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Cambridge: MIT Press. Chapter 5: 97-115.

A great opportunity to learn about development in Africa

On December the 14th 2016, from 6 PM Morten Jerven, Economist and Professor in Development Studies at NMBU (Norway) and Grieve Chelwa, Economist and Post Doctor at Center for African Studies, Harvard University will meet to discuss economists (mis)understanding of Africa's economic development and what is acutally happening on the continent.

The seminar is open and hosted by Norwegian Concil for Africa and takes place in Kulturhuset, Youngstorget 3, 0181 Oslo.

Do mobile phones set citizens free?

In postcolonial Kinshasa, citizens use mobile phones (and smartphones) are as tools to deceive the state but also to expose fraud. The Congolese government is also strongly aware of the revolutionary capacities of new media. In 2011, text messages were blocked; and in January 2015, the government shut the Internet for a few weeks, gradually opening up Internet while blocking social media platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Viber and Skype.


It is clear that political change on the continent is not only documented by citizens filming and photographing protest and abuse, but these also feed into the ways in which citizens and the state interact. One should however always be careful to situate these mass-mediated interactions within complex postcolonial histories of governance and political communication.

Read more in the blogpost on the SAPIENS website that discusses research on the embedment of mobile phones, and increasingly smartphones, in processes of political change

The blogpost is a summary of the academic article "‘[Not] talking like a Motorola’: mobile phone practices and politics of masking and unmasking in postcolonial Kinshasa" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2016, 22 (3): 633-652)

writings on the wall - phone numbers as markers of belonging - Ndjili July 2014 (copyright Katrien Pype, 2012)

Kinshasa's elderly people dance in TV music shows to counter the negative stereotypes of "African elders"

Fieldwork on media participation among Kinshasa's elderly people has shown that they are not that invisible in the city's popular culture. Rather, TV dance shows in which elderly Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa) perform cha cha cha, bolero and rumba (among others) and in which they speak about the earliest days of Kinshasa's nightlife scene are important platforms through which the elderly communicate with the city at large, and especially with the youth's popular culture.

The study shows that elderly people are not necessarily passive consumers of media content, but actually contribute to TV and radio shows as well. 

The data are discussed in the academic journal article “Dancing to the Rhythm of Leopoldville: Nostalgia, urban critique and generational difference in Kinshasa’s Music TV Shows” 

The following four blogposts provide additional ethnographic and visual material:

1. Old age - Categories

2. Dancing elders

3. Papa Wemba and the confusion of generations

4. Photographing the Bana Leo shows 



filming a Bana Leo show (copyright Katrien Pype, 2012)

Mobile phones as devices for caring in DR Congo

Mobile phones as devices for caring in DR Congo

What kinds of access do elderly people in Kinshasa (DRC) have to new media, and in particular, to mobile phones? Surprisingly, instead of children providing their elderly parents with such devices, it is grandchildren who facilitate access, but sometimes in troubling ways. 

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