As an anthropologist, I am concerned with the study of marginality and the possibility of justice.
I have carried out research in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and more recently Lagos (Nigeria), Washington DC (USA) and Naples (Italy), investigating the economies of the street, crime and policing, authoritarianism and development, migration, entrepreneurship and micro-finance, the politics of justice, labour and the construction business, professional ethics and architecture practice, planning and the political economy of housing.
My first book, The Act of Living, out with Cornell University Press, is an exploration of what is to live, act and hope in face of failing promises of economic growth and development. I follow the life trajectories of two men, that I call Ibrahim and Haile, as they grew up in inner city Addis Ababa, joined street life and searched for better lives through employment, migration and involvement in the city’s informal economy. Their stories are not isolated, they intertwine with other lives and the urban history of Ethiopia. They reveal how getting by is not just about livelihoods. It is an attempt to achieve meaningful and viable lives.
I am now working on my second book project, provisionally entitled, Conspiracies to Build: The Political and Moral Economies of City Building. Conspiracies to Build focuses on the construction industry, urban development and politics of responsibility in Addis Ababa’s construction booms. It investigates the effects of the growing investment into African cities on how, why and by whom the moral and political ownership of urban development is claimed and maintained. By outlining a critique of dominant notions of the politically significant, the economically sound and the morally just underpinning Ethiopia’s construction boom, this book is intended to be a call for an anthropological commitment to an urban politics of collective responsibility and social justice.
I hold a DPhil in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford and I am currently at the Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. Before joining Birmingham, I worked the Université libre de Bruxelles and at the London School of Economics. In addition to my research work and teaching, I am also the founder and coordinator of OtherwiseMag, a magazine of ethnographic writing and storytelling: otherwisemag.com