Kevin Donovan

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9276

Approve Date

April 18, 2016

Project Title

Donovan, Kevin Patrick, U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'Making Markets & Margins in East Africa,' supervised by Dr. Gabrielle Hecht

Preliminary abstract: This project examines how value is cultivated and power contested through cross-border exchange in East Africa. It does so at a time when states in the region are energetically pursuing a common market through harmonized tariffs, shared infrastructure, and efficient borders. My project will investigate the calculative practices and material infrastructure of two communities crucial to the formation of a regional market: financiers in Nairobi and traders and smugglers in the Uganda-Kenya borderlands. Financiers and border workers are rarely considered in tandem and, indeed, occupy distinct status and class positions. Yet they are engaged in analogous forms of economic arbitrage and brokerage, making margins at the intersection of distinct legal and cultural regimes. Through ethnography in both sites, I will pursue a symmetrical analysis of both petty and finance capitalism that asks, in particular, how such brokers navigate a variety of transactional infrastructures which link markets across the region. In a Nairobi investment bank trading throughout East Africa, I will study the styles of reasoning and self-fashioning among the bankers who are responsible for investing the promissory capital that is rushing to this newest ‘frontier market’. In contrast to these members of ‘Africa’s emerging middle class’, many in the borderlands report a sense of malaise about the promised benefits of trade. My research will examine the repertoires through which brokers and smugglers use the border to make marginal gains and contest the authority of the state. At a time when many observers believe Africa’s economic fortunes are shifting, this research will analyze the varieties of capitalism through attention to the rhythms, pragmatics, and horizons of participants.