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Accepted Paper:

Disrupting Reproduction: Female Technology, Digital Infrastructures, and Data Flows (Dis)connecting Nairobi’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ and Informal Settlements  
Sarah Seddig (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

As FemTech enterprises increasingly ‘disrupt’ sexual and reproductive healthcare provision to ‘empower’ women in Kenya, this paper asks how digital infrastructures, data flows, and commodified ‘reproductive futures’ are imagined and dispersed across Nairobi's tech-ecosystem and informal settlements.

Paper long abstract:

With the rapid growth of ICT, mobile health services, and ‘empowering’ development approaches in Sub-Saharan Africa (Folaranmi 2014), the recent emergence of Female Technology (FemTech) seems particularly attractive for low-ressource contexts in which women’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services remain limited. Considering pervasive shifts to digitalise and privatise healthcare delivery across Kenya, social enterprises are increasingly filling the void of healthcare provision by framing innovative technologies as ‘empowering’ or ‘disruptive’ solutions to solve women’s SRH ‘problems’. These digital technologies connect patients with clinicians or other patients, access and query health knowledge, and give insights into one’s own health data. As FemTech smartphone apps, wearables, and diagnostic devices (often using algorithms and AI) expeditiously collect, track, and analyse personal data on women’s bodies and behaviour, questions about modes of surveillance, the origin, the ownership, and the value of women’s health data become more relevant than ever (Lupton 2016; Ruckenstein&Schüll 2017; Neff 2019).

Drawing on my PhD project ‘Bodies of Data’ including eight months of ethnographic fieldwork among Nairobi’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ tech-ecosystem and clinics in informal settlements, this paper reveals how digital infrastructures (Larkin 2013; Donovan 2015) and data flows are imagined, created, and dispersed following a rhetoric of ‘empowerment’ and ‘disruption’. It critically interrogates the webs of (dis)connections and conceptualisations of women’s health data deriving from low-resource settings as an opportunity for value-creation. By tracing commodification practices targeting healthcare disparities and socio-economic inequalities in Kenya, it asks how alternative imaginaries of data-driven ‘reproductive futures’ surface in a gender-specific context.

Panel P027
Imagining alternative data futures
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -