Research

My current research explores the fiscal and financial politics of West African cities, and most of my recent fieldwork has been focused on one small, densely-packed urban peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic ocean: Dakar, Senegal. In two linked research programs, I analyse how officials, experts, and popular movements are today re-framing old problems of economic development and political liberation in new fiscal and financial terms.

My first research program examines the fiscal politics of democratic decentralization. Development experts today argue there is a persistent mismatch between political and fiscal decentralization in which constitutional limitations and electoral opposition regularly confound access to much-needed municipal wealth. This problem of the municipal fiscal gap is emerging as a central framing of contemporary global development in The Urban Age. In this research, I follow diverse publics as they form in response, and at times in opposition, to a suite of fiscal devices which have emerged in municipalities across the Dakar peninsula to fill in the fiscal gap. This research has grown out of my work with two urban geographers: Liza Rose Cirolia (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town) and Cheikh Abdou Lahat Ngom (Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar). I’m currently writing a book based on this research titled “Communal liberation: the monetary politics of municipal democracy”.

In a second research program, I investigate an emerging form of pan-African economic development that originates on the African continent, in African institutions, and is financed with African capital. Euro-American financial institutions are declining in status and importance across the continent and are today being challenged by indigenous investment banks, domestic stock exchanges, regional credit rating agencies, and a new politics of monetary sovereignty. At stake for these financial actors is rejecting Euro-America’s historic control over finance in Africa and advancing the continental capacity to know and to plan for a pan-African future. This work has so far been mostly conceptualized and written alongside Kevin P. Donovan (University of Edinburgh) and a group of equally amazing anthropologists.

These two research programs are new takes on my longtime interest in the technical politics of economic alternatives. Rather than critiquing economy from afar, I analyze how people are already doing economic life differently, for better or worse.