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Date and Location

April 8, 2019
12:15 PM - 2:00 PM ET
Cgis (south) Building Room S050 1730 Cambridge Street


STS Circle:  A Rat By Any Other Name:  Practices of Naming and Classifying Rodents in Morogoro, Tanzania Photo

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Abstract Recent histories of Africa have focused on the production of scientific knowledge, whether as part of continental-scale colonial schemes to document nature (Tilley 2011) or the harvest of profitable biopharmaceuticals (Osseo-Asare 2014). These histories implicitly -- and sometimes explicitly -- raise the question of what meanings terms like “African science” or “decolonizing science” may bear (see edited volume by Mavhunga 2017). This paper tells the story of producing rodent science at the Sokoine University in Morogoro, Tanzania, globally recognized for its contribution to rodent taxonomy and ecology. The paper will track changes to the Centre’s research program on rodents as pest and disease carriers, the division of labor between Europeans and Tanzanians, and emerging questions about ownership and leadership of scientific knowledge and materials, such as rodent specimens, during the period beginning in the 1970s until the present day. The themes covered by this paper speaks to ongoing protests in South Africa about decolonizing university syllabi, the acknowledgment of Belgium’s role in the Congo at the newly re-opened Africa Museum in Tervuren, and continuing requests for the repatriation of fossils and artifacts to African nations from museums in Europe. Relying on archival materials and oral history interviews of what was known as the Belgian-Tanzanian Rodent Research Project, and on ethnographic data from rodent trapping and training stints in Morogoro, Tanzania, this paper raises questions for our study of science coming “from Africa” and ultimately what it means for those in Tanzania working to produce “African science.”

References Mavhunga, Clapperton Chakanetsa, ed. What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Cambridge, MA The MIT Press, 2017.

Osseo-Asare, Abena Dove Agyepoma. Bitter Roots The Search for Healing Plants in Africa. Chicago, Illinois The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Tilley, Helen. Africa as a Living Laboratory Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950. Chicago, Illinois University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Bio Jia Hui's research concerns rodents in Tanzania. His research focuses on practices of work, communication, and cognition among humans and other animals in the context of science and technology in the global South. Drawing on methods from anthropology and science and technology studies (STS), he examines human-rodent encounters in Tanzania as part of research projects to produce rodent science and to transform rodents into biosensing technology. He has previously published on the relationship between international aid networks and human rights in Uganda, based on research carried out for his M.Phil. at the University of Cambridge and B.A. at Harvard University.