Brian Ekdale

Associate Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Academic, Blog, Kenya

Dissertation? Check.

A few weeks ago, I successfully defended and deposited my dissertation. I have since moved from Madison to my new home, Iowa City, where I am now an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at The University of Iowa. I am excited and humbled to have this opportunity, to say the least.

My dissertation, as now filed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School is titled “Creativity and Constraint in Self-Representational Media: A Production Ethnography of Visual Storytelling in a Nairobi Slum.” Here’s the abstract:

This study is a media production ethnography of members of a marginalized community constructing and telling stories using visual media. It is based off of 10 months of fieldwork in Kibera, a sprawling slum located in Nairobi, Kenya. In this study, I make three central claims. First, I argue that the dominant discourse about Kibera that is constructed and circulated by authors, journalists, NGOs, and unawares is hyperbolic and simplistic. I explore this discourse by speaking with Kibera residents about the disconnect they see between their lived experiences and the representations of their community offered by non-residents and the media. The prevalence of this discourse results in a valuable opportunity for community media producers to introduce counter-discourses that challenge dominant representations and prioritize the multiple perspectives of community members. Second, focusing specifically on the work of two community-media organizations in Kibera, I argue that media production by economically marginalized people is important both because of the counter-discourses offered in their media products and because the process of producing fictional films, documentaries, and news packages about their community is meaningful for those involved. These media products challenge the dominant discourse by drawing attention to otherwise unreported topics and reframing issues to emphasize community perspectives. Also, participants in these projects find value in this work and often redefine who they are in light of their efforts. Third, I argue that authorship and creative expression in self-representational media is complicated by a number of factors operating at the industry, community, organizational, and individual levels of analysis. While it is tempting to claim broadly and optimistically that these projects enable marginalized groups “to tell their own stories,” what occurs during the process of producing this media is much more complicated and interesting. Creative and constraining factors and forces impact the production of individual media texts as well as the larger systems in which such media are produced. While media production research often focuses on either structural constraints or individual creative expression, I argue scholars need to account for the complex and surprising ways these two forces interact with each other.

I am incredibly grateful to the members of my dissertation committee: Greg Downey, Neil Kodesh, Kirin Narayan, Hemant Shah, and especially my chair, Jo Ellen Fair. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to those I met and worked with in Kenya and my friends and colleagues in the U.S.

Feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning more about my dissertation. I will continue to work with this research as I prepare it for future publication.

Now, about that tenure process…


  1. Simone Bazos

    November 9, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Hello, my name is Simone Bazos. I am a student at Columbia University. I wanted to get in touch with you about a project I am working on in Kibera. It is a film about Pamoja FM (the community radio station in Kibera) and Jah-Army (an economically self sustainable arts collective in Kibera). The film will follow Pamoja and Jah-Army through the creation of a radio campaign and event which will aim to show art can bring positive change to the community. I am currently working on raising funds so we can complete the project, and spreading the word to the world via the web. It would be so greatly appreciated if we could get into contact and perhaps if you have any ideas for people/places to send the project. Also any reblogging about the project would really be amazing. You can check our blog at and our kickstarter at

    Thank you so much!

    1. Brian Ekdale

      November 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

      Hi Simone, I see that we know a lot of the same people. I’ll get in touch so we can talk more about your project.

  2. mel

    December 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Brian,

    I just attempted to send a note to your email address (the U of Iowa one) but it bounced back. Here’s part of the msg:

    I discovered your blog roll last night while doing some background research on a High Rise project in Soweto-East, Kibera. Besides a piece that Marie Huchzermeyer wrote, I’m actually find very little that has been written about the project (- a project of the National Housing Corporation (NHC) in the early 1990s) and wondering if you might have come across anything interesting in your own research.

    I’m a student at McGill University in Montreal, QC (Canada) and have lived in Nairobi in 2006-2007; I’ve been back and forth since. I’ll be returning in March, briefly, and then in the summer for a longer period. Any resources you might pass along would be appreciated. I love the title of your dissertation and wouldn’t mind reading it if you’re willing to share? Anything that questions “development discourse” is interesting.


  3. Faith

    February 27, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Brian, your work is very thought provoking and the angle you chose is even more interesting. I would be interested in getting into contact with you. I am a Kenyan student in the UK and have just started my PhD in the media and communication department. I will also be conducting an ethnography in Kibera(on ICT4D). Just like Mel, I find your dissertation unique as it questions development discourse. I am available on or

  4. Charles

    May 27, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Hi. I would be glad to get a research assistant-Somebody well versed with the area and also certain research papers on projects success in Kibera. Kindly contact me.

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