Dr Alex Wafer

African Fellow

Dr. Alex Wafer

(School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies)

African Fellow, September - December 2020


I am senior lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. My research work to this point has explored the intersection of everyday material encounters (pipes, taps, bus-stops, houses) and the production of subjectivity. Since meeting Dr Angus Bancroft from the Department of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh in 2017, I have become interested also in what we might refer to as dematerialised encounters, although mediated through the materiality of cheap smartphones and algorithms that decide where to locate cellular towers and apps that re-inscribe the unequal geography of the post-apartheid city.

Due to COVID-19, for the first part of my fellowship at least, I will be a dematerialised presence at the institute. Think of me as a digital disruption. But I am very keen to engage with colleagues, so please make contact with me.

Project: Digital Disruptions - Digital Infrastructures and Informality in South Africa

Brief project description: The project explores the uneven geographies of digital infrastructures in South Africa. The term disruption has been borrowed from systems thinking and design thinking approaches, among other usages, to account for deliberate interventions into social processes. For some this is proposed as methodology. For others, it is suggested as critique of the power of digital platforms to actively ‘disrupt’ social practices. In the context of this project, we use the term to explore three intersecting trajectories: (1) the impact of digital technologies and infrastructures in the everyday lives and livelihoods of people in the margins of the economy; (2) to explore the unequal, partial and interrupted landscape of digital infrastructures themselves (e.g. when people run out of money for data, or when they live in areas with poor digital coverage); and (3) as proposition, to ask about the possibilities for more deliberative intervention into these digital geographies (e.g. through the development of a ‘digital/precarity protocol’ or through the development of digital methodologies).