Columbia University doctoral student Amiel Melnick, under the guidance of Dr. Rosalind Morris, will undertake research on traffic accidents and roads in Kenya. Through an examination of the role of traffic accidents in Kenyan policy and public discourse, the regulatory techniques of road safety interventions, and the lived experience of those who travel on roads known as "death stretches," this research will consider the relationship of infrastructure, social practice, and everyday hazards. Focusing on the expert calculation and bureaucratic management of traffic accidents, as well as moral and practical responses on the part of accident victims and their families, religious leaders, and the Kenyan public more generally, this study aims to provide an empirically grounded account of the everyday management of road traffic accidents that will contribute to discussions of infrastructure, contingency, and risk management in African contexts.
The research will involve social science methods such as interviews, participant observation, archival analysis, and GIS mapping in both the capital Nairobi and an accident "black spot" (a stretch of road that sees frequent accidents). The study will both describe the burden of coping with accidental death and injury in everyday life and offer critical purchase on international and local road safety interventions. It will expand the social scientific study of infrastructure with an ethnographic case study of accident-prone "black spots" in Kenya. The project will also rework classic anthropological questions on contingency and hazard, which have traditionally been focused on occult causation, by studying a range of epistemological frameworks for understanding "accidents."
Traffic accidents, which are a leading cause of death and injury in Africa, remain understudied by social scientists. The researchers will share their findings with a broad range of audiences in an attempt to inform road construction and road safety efforts in Kenya and beyond. The project will also contribute to the training of a graduate student.