2015-16 Research Report
In the fall semester of 2015, I successfully defended my MA thesis, “Towards Utopia: The Journey Motif and the Vision for an Alternative Society in Katama Mkangi’s Mafuta and Walenisi.” I examined the motif of the journey in Katama Mkangi’s two novels, arguing that he conceives of utopia as a process of social change rather than a destination of perfection. Thus, I utilized the concept of the journey to examine how Mkangi, through the characters’ metaphorical and physical journeys, highlights the sociopolitical problems that exist in Kenya and offers alternatives in a utopian world.
Currently, I am developing ideas for my dissertation research on the concept of friendship and ethnicity in Kenya. The topic is still at the very embryonic stage, and I am exploring its viability as a research project. I hope to examine the dynamics of friendship and its role in promoting ethnic harmony and integration in Kenya’s urban settings, especially in informal settlements. I intend to do an ethnographic study in one of these informal settlements, a slum known as Kibera, examining its residents’ production of songs and street poetry, as well as the games they play. The purpose of this examination is to establish whether these cultural forms reflect and enhance a sense of friendship and people’s perception of these social relations in connection with their ethnic identities, and if so, how. How do the residents in this cosmopolitan setting perceive and talk about friendship? Do their day-to-day cultural productions (such as songs and poems) reflect and enhance friendship among youths? How do perceptions of ethnicity and cultural practices bear on individuals’ friendships with others from different ethnicities?
Existing scholarship on friendship has predominantly been in the field of anthropology and has often studied friendships in the shadow of kinship relations. Given my background in literary studies, I seek to add a new dimension on friendship studies by exploring how individuals deliberate on these relationships through their artistic productions, and how these productions might relate to interethnic harmony. I postulate that the dynamism of urban life in East Africa and the upsurge of technology that connects people across the globe impacts the way youth, in particular, formulate and think about their personal relationships, politics, peace, and security.