Office: SOC 117
I have extensive experience teaching introductory and upper-level undergraduate anthropology courses. The courses I teach are grounded in and reflect my research interests and teaching philosophy: that students learn best when course material and abstract theory connect directly to issues in their lives. I try to build as many small research assignments into my courses as possible to make students connect course themes with their life experiences.
Since 2001, my research has focused on urban informal economies, the tourism industry, and socio-economic change in Kenya. My 2017 book, The Art of Connection (California), provides a history of Kenya’s coastal tourism and crafts industries and culminates in a discussion of the impact of new digital technologies on small business in the coastal city of Mombasa. Bringing together the studies of globalization, development, art, and communication, the book illuminates the lived experiences of informal economies and shows how traders and small enterprises balance new risks with the mobility afforded by digital technologies. I wished to capture an African ‘grass-roots’ that, to paraphrase James Ferguson, would be not local and communal but globally connected and opportunistic. These strategies often involve the use of Fair Trade stickers and clever branding to balance revelation with obfuscation – or what is revealed and what is not – so that traders can make their own roles as potentially exploitative intermediaries invisible. I have contributed two recent chapters based upon research in Kenya to 2017’s Global Africa (Hodgson and Byfield, eds., California) and the forthcoming The Oxford Handbook of Kenya Politics (Cheeseman, Kanyinga, and Lynch, eds., Oxford).
As an applied anthropologist, I use anthropological insights and methods to address important social problems of today. My ongoing research in Kenya is a collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and is based in Makueni County in an area surrounded on three sides by national park. Working collaboratively with government and community based organizations, we are exploring environmental threats such as deforestation and drought to find means of resolving conflict between humans and wildlife and among conservation stakeholders. Beginning in 2020, I will be working with colleagues at the NMK to direct a field school in eastern Kenya that will train students in methods including biodiversity surveys and ethnographic techniques to help us better identify and address certain issues and misunderstandings, particularly involving the history of human-environmental interaction in the region.
Since 2015 I have worked with USF’s Swahili-speaking students to advise the university’s Swahili Students Organization (SSO). From 2016-2017 we taught informal Swahili classes open to the university community and have been involved in holding social events as well as aiding in research and volunteer work with recently resettled Swahili-speaking refugees here in Tampa.
Since 2016, I have been working with Swahili-speaking refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) here in Hillsborough and in neighboring Pinellas Counties. Beginning as a project on diet and nutrition, our team of faculty and students (including many East African students) have now spent several years conducting research and working on volunteer projects via Hillsborough County Schools, the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force, and several community-based organizations and churches. I received a “Welcomer Award” from the Florida Department of Children and Families in 2017 for my work helping refugees. I have spoken about our work and research at several conferences and in several media formats including podcasts, and I was quoted in a front page 2017 Tampa Bay Times article on the topic of resettlement of refugees from the DRC.
Since early 2018, I have partnered with a local youth group to help produce Swahili-language educational (and fun) videos to both teach young people technical skills and to help them empower themselves by toying with the technology and the representations of themselves and life in America they can produce. Our YouTube channel is called Umoja wa Afrika – Tampa (Africa United – Tampa).
Beginning in May 2020, I have worked closely with colleagues at USF and community partners to investigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic policies on populations of recently resettled refugees in the Tampa Bay Area. Our first report on Congolese household heads was completed in July 2020. We are conducting additional evaluations with Spanish- and Arabic-speaking populations in collaboration with faculty and students at Morsani Medical School. I am also currently Co-PI on a project titled, Pandemic Fallout for Black Refugee Youth: Issues of Health, Education, Race, and Identity, in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, Florida. For more information on these projects (methods, instruments, findings), please contact me directly by email.
Michala Head, Michaela Inks, Nadege Nau, Shaye Wright