Graduate student Brian Geyer received a 2019 Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) award to investigate how aspects of Kenya tech sector professionals’ identities—including gender, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status—affect their positions of social, political, and economic power in the sector. This March, Geyer will leave for Kenya and split one year between technology innovation hubs in Nairobi and Kisumu. During this time, he will engage with a diversity of educational and professional organizations, such as computer science programs at several Kenyan universities and tech start-ups.
Currently, international development organizations often take a gender-based approach to projects, due to studies that found improvements in women’s lives correlate to advancements in their communities or countries as a whole. However, such programs do not account for other kinds of vulnerable populations and existing issues within their communities or countries. This deficit may unintentionally exacerbate those problems by intensifying them among professional colleagues. In Kenya, the country’s technology sector has enjoyed a lot of attention from venture capitalists seeking international investment opportunities. Development agencies view the sector’s recent and expected growth as an opportunity to contribute to Kenya’s overall development. Organizations are implementing these gender-based improvement projects in Kenya’s tech sector in hopes of lifting the population overall.
However, Geyer is curious how effective this gender-only approach will be at addressing the needs of disadvantaged Kenyans and how the financial investment by venture capitalists will impact existing inequalities. Through his research, Geyer will investigate several questions, including: do women and men hold significantly different tech sector jobs and to what extent might this reflect different desires for these positions; do differences among jobs found in the industry inhibit one’s sense of professional cohesion; and, how does ethnicity and religious affiliation intersect and influence perceptions of professional cohesion. Geyer believes that examining these questions will shed light on more effective ways to address inequalities, such as taking an intersectional approach to targeting people for developmental support. He hopes his research will contribute to understanding the relationship between aspects of identity and power.
Throughout his studies, Geyer has highly valued the support and mentorship from his advisor, Dr. Chantal Tetreault, whose active encouragement of his research and guidance in writing effective grant applications he greatly appreciates. Dr. Tetreault helped him incorporate the community of practice framework into his research for conceptually organizing participants in a meaningful way, given their geographic, ethnic, and organizational diversity. She also advised Geyer on diversifying his practical experience in digital technologies with respect to education and research.
Geyer’s interest in Kenya stems from his Peace Corps service there as a public health volunteer prior to coming to MSU. Through his graduate studies here, he developed a keen interest in technologists and other tech sector professionals through the department’s Cultural Heritage Informatics fellowship led by Dr. Ethan Watrall, as well as through his former graduate assistant position in LEADR—the digital technology education lab, which is a collaboration between the Anthropology and History departments.
Geyer has returned to Kenya several times to conduct predissertation data collection and international development research. In his time there, he has worked with tech professionals at IBM Research–Africa, college students at several Kenyan universities, and tech innovation hubs. He was also hired by the World Bank as a contractor to start a research project in Nairobi. Geyer has greatly benefitted from MSU’s Swahili language courses, facilitated by several Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships.
After completing his PhD, Geyer hopes to remain in academia as faculty or work at a nonprofit continuing his research.
Follow Brian Geyer’s project through his online open field journal: No Mud Huts nomudhuts.matrix.msu.edu
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