Brian Ekdale

Associate Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Academic, Blog, Kenya, Publications

New Article: Twitter Hashtags in Kenya

Melissa Tully and I are excited to be included in the latest issue of Information Technologies & International Development. It is a special issue about expanding the domain of ICT4D research to consider leisure and other non-utilitarian activities. As the guest editors Payal Arora and Nimmi Rangaswamy explain in the introduction, “adopting a narrow development lens can miss the actual engagements and ingenious strategies marginal populations use to instate technologies into their everyday.”

Our contribution is titled “Sites of Playful Engagement: Twitter Hashtags as Spaces of Leisure and Development in Kenya” (open access). Here, we look at how Kenyans use hashtags to engage in serious conversations and exchange jokes, often at the same time. Here’s the abstract.

Through an analysis of popular Kenyan hashtags on Twitter, we argue that everyday leisure and entertainment practices interact with development and civic engagement in Kenya. This research draws from participation in the Kenyan Twittersphere, analysis of spaces created by hashtags, and fieldwork conducted in Nairobi between 2009 and 2012. Through hashtags, Kenyans on Twitter unite against perceived government corruption, respond to media misrepresentations of their country, share jokes, and participate in global conversations. We argue that sites emerge through the interaction of playful and serious content and that these sites should be examined within ICTD research. Playful activities should not be dismissed as irrelevant to development, as everyday use of Twitter is often imbued with topics tied to social, political, and economic development.

Check out entire special issue, which is available for free online.

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