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Paula UimonenProfessor

About me

Paula Uimonen is specialized in digital anthropology as well as anthropology of art, visual culture, world literature, water and oceans. Her recent publications on world literature include the monograph Invoking Flora Nwapa. Nigerian Women Writers, Femininity and Spirituality in World Literature (2020, Stockholm University Press), and the book chapter “One World Literature with Chinua Achebe and Flora Nwapa”, in Claiming Space. Locations and Orientations in World Literatures (2021: Bloomsbury Academic). She has also co-edited a volume on visual digital heritage, Connect to Collect: Approaches to Collecting Social Digital Photography in Museums and Archives (2020, Nordiska Museets Förlag). Paula’s new research project Swahili Ocean Worlds (2022-2024) explores relationships with the sea and sustainability in fishing communities in Tanzania. The project is funded the Swedish Research Council, grant number 2021-03661.

Teaching

Paula Uimonen teaches social anthropology and global development:

  • GU1001: Global utveckling-en introduktion (basic level)
  • SAM215: Digital antropologi (advanced level)
  • SAM203: Social Anthropological Method (advanced level)
  • Classics in Anthropology (PhD course)
  • Thesis supervision (basic and advanced levels)
  • PhD supervision

Research projects

Publications

A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Anthropological Readings and Literary Gendering in Aesthetic Worldmaking

    2021. Paula Uimonen.

    Conference

    While world literature scholars oscillate between close and distant readings, anthropologists engage in contextual readings, foregrounding the cultural specificities of literary texts. Oftentimes literature is approached as ethnography, read for cultural insights into different social worlds, a method that has been critiqued for its failure to capture the cultural imaginaries of literary fiction. This paper argues that cross breeding anthropology with world literature offers methodological advances for scholarly reading. It uses literary gendering as an example of how a combination of anthropological and world literary readings can offer a more refined understanding of aesthetic worldmaking.  

    The discussion on aesthetic worldmaking focuses on a comparison of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) and Flora Nwapa’s Efuru (1966). These pioneering works were written by authors who are considered to be the Father and Mother of modern African literature respectively.  Both novels focus on social change in late colonial Igbo society, with rather different literary representations of gender. This paper uses the concept literary gendering to probe the cultural intricacies of aesthetic worldmaking in these novels, thus exploring transdisciplinary methodologies of world literary reading. 

    Read more about Anthropological Readings and Literary Gendering in Aesthetic Worldmaking
  • #MeToo in Sweden

    2020. Paula Uimonen. Ethnos 85 (5), 920-937

    Article

    In October 2017, the Nordic Museum in Stockholm launched its #metoo collection. The aim was to capture the viral #MeToo campaign that in Sweden has been likened to a (feminist) revolution. Based on archival research, interviews and media analysis, this article explores public submissions to the #metoo collection and analyses the museum's rationale for collecting what is considered to be difficult cultural heritage. Noting the absence of images in the collection, the article argues that the iconic hashtag #MeToo constitutes an alternative form of digital visuality, here termed hashtag visuality. Hashtag visuality, the article suggests, is an emerging form of visual representation that captures the multimodal logic of social media, blurring distinctions between texts and images. In Sweden, #MeToo hashtag visuality reveals the contradictory prevalence of structural sexism and sexual violence in a country with a national self-image of gender equality and a self-proclaimed feminist government, while affirming feminist agency.

    Read more about #MeToo in Sweden
  • African Women Writers, Creolised Aesthetics and Decolonial Worldmaking

    2020. Paula Uimonen.

    Conference

    Thinking along conviviality at the crossroads (Hemer et al 2020), this paper explores worldmaking through African women’s literature. Scholars have highlighted that African women “write the crossroads,” their literature capturing the ambiguities and paradoxes of “this and that” rather than “this or that” of cultural entanglement (Nnaemekea 1995, 109). The crossroads can be theorised as a site of creolisation, a cultural location of exceptional creativity and historically formed social inequality. Using the concept creolised aesthetics to describe the creative agency and structural constraints of African women writers, this paper discusses conviviality in terms of worldmaking. Worldmaking is currently approached from different disciplinary angles, in world literature (Cheah 2014, Hayot 2011) and anthropology of the pluriverse (Escobar 2018, Ingold 2018). This paper approaches literature as a form of worldmaking that can help us rethink gender complementarity in postcolonial globality (Ogunyemi 1996, Thiong’o 2012), thus heeding the call for more critical perspectives on conviviality through “postcolonial and cosmopolitan synthesis” (Gilroy 2015, 242). To broaden anthropological horizons on worldmaking, the paper explores the creolisation of dominant theory, here exemplified by a cross-breeding of literary and anthropological theory with African womanist theory. While welcoming the scholarly effort to think through current challenges to democracy in Europe and beyond through conviviality, cosmopolitanism and creolisation (Hemer et al 2020), especially the decolonial ethics of creolised conviviality (Rodriguez 2020), this paper recognizes how anthropology can contribute to the decolonisation of cosmopolitanism (Uimonen 2019), to advance decolonial worldmaking, in theory and practice.

    Read more about African Women Writers, Creolised Aesthetics and Decolonial Worldmaking
  • Decolonising cosmopolitanism

    2020. Paula Uimonen. Critique of anthropology 40 (1), 81-101

    Article

    This article offers an anthropological reading of the works of Immanuel Kant and Kwame Nkrumah. By doing so it seeks to expose the Eurocentric and racist ontology that lies behind dominant contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism. The article draws attention to the possibility of a more egalitarian vision of the world as one that can be derived from the perspective of an African philosophical viewpoint. Rather than regarding African social theory as a subordinate or subaltern mode of apprehending the world, it places African philosophy on a par with European traditions of philosophical thought. By focusing on some of the central tenets of cosmopolitanism, it argues that Nkrumah, by insisting on freedom and equality for all of humanity, had articulated a more genuinely cosmopolitan ontology than any that can be derived from the philosophy of Kant. The article argues that an engagement with critical anthropology enables us to imagine forms of decolonised cosmopolitanism which are genuinely both inclusive and egalitarian.

    Read more about Decolonising cosmopolitanism
  • Invoking Flora Nwapa

    2020. Paula Uimonen.

    Book

    This monograph explores the revival of Flora Nwapa’s fame as the pioneer of African women’s literature, based on fieldwork at the Efuru@50 celebration in Nigeria. It is written in an experimental style, and shows how literary worldmaking creates possible worlds of human, spiritual and environmental coexistence.

    Read more about Invoking Flora Nwapa
  • Muse and Power

    2019. Paula Uimonen. Anthropology and Humanism 44 (1), 20-37

    Article

    This article explores how women writers in Nigeria and Tanzania use digital media, drawing parallels between infrastructural enablement and literary worldmaking. It argues that female African writers offer insights into the embodied practices and cultural imaginaries of digitally mediated creativity, which can shed light on the paradoxical entanglements of infrastructure.

    Read more about Muse and Power
  • Zuhura the African Lioness

    2018. Paula Uimonen. World Literatures, 129-139

    Chapter

    This chapter probes the multilayered location and multidirectional orientation of a female performance poet in Tanzania in terms of a transnational tangle in world literature. Rather than viewing the cosmopolitan/vernacular in world literature in terms of binary opposites, it argues for a more culturally sensitive approach to elucidate the intricacies of transnational interactions and entanglements. The analysis combines theories on literary worldmaking with anthropological theories on cosmopolitanism, globalisation and digital media.

    Read more about Zuhura the African Lioness
  • "I'm a picture girl."

    2016. Paula Uimonen. Digital photography and everyday life, 19-34

    Chapter

    This chapter focuses on mobile photography in Tanzania, with an emphasis on the materiality of production and circulation. Shaped by the materiality of the mobile phone, a personal artefact that embodies cultural expectations of modernity and social mobility, mobile photography mediates the management of social relations, the performance of cultural identity and the creative agency of self-expression, while fuelling fears of commercial exploitation and loss of control. On the one hand, mobile phones afford possession of a camera device, allowing people to explore and engage in photography in everyday life. In a Tanzanian context, mobile photography is thus a relatively accessible entry point into modern forms of self-representation and self-expression, captured with digital technology and distributed over mobile networks. On the other hand, since mobile phones are personalized artefacts, functioning like material extensions of the self, mobile photography also carries conflicting narratives of loss and control, while the mediated construction of modern subjects is shaped by structural conditions of social inequality and cultural commodification.

    Read more about "I'm a picture girl."
  • "Number not reachable"

    2015. Paula Uimonen. Journal des anthropologues (142-143), 29-47

    Article

    Focusing on infrastructural malfunctioning, this article discusses the visual materiality and political economy of mobile infrastructure in Africa. Building on the anthropology of infrastructure, it argues that contrary to the oft cited notion that infrastructure is invisible until it breaks down, in an African context, systemic breakdowns in infrastructure are taken for granted; they are visibly present, while well functioning infrastructure is visibly absent. The material visibility and malfunctioning of mobile infrastructure are used as departure points for a critical appraisal of what is often celebrated as Africa’s mobile success story. Noting how mobile phones are present in most aspects of daily life, functioning like material extensions of the self, the analysis focuses on neoliberal forms of predatory capitalism that recast citizens as self-regulated consumers while advancing corporate forms of governance. Following the call for theory from the south, malfunctioning mobile infrastructure is contextualized as a state of partial inclusion in the global network society, the structural underpinnings of which is interpreted in terms of Africa’s place-in-the-world in a racialized global hierarchy.   

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  • ICT4D Donor Agencies and Networks

    2015. Paula Uimonen, Johan Hellström. The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society; 1: A - K, 1-9

    Chapter

    Information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) evolved as a field of development cooperation in conjunction with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005. Prior to this United Nations summit, few donors were involved in ICT4D, but as policymakers around the world became involved in the WSIS process, ICT4D emerged as an important aspect of the global development agenda. Donors started to recognize that ICT offered a tool for development, not least for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). After the WSIS interest dwindled among leading donor agencies, but resurfaced as mobile technologies became widespread even in income-poor countries and among poor populations and after the digitally mediated social uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring which highlighted the social and political significance of the internet. New actors are becoming involved including philanthropic organizations, while the ICT4D field continues to explore new working methods like multistakeholder partnerships. Meanwhile, ICT is gradually becoming integrated into development efforts, although global patterns of digital stratification still remain to be overcome. This entry focuses on the roles of donor organizations and their networks

    Read more about ICT4D Donor Agencies and Networks
  • Internet and Social Media

    2015. Paula Uimonen. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 600-605

    Chapter

    Generally defined as a network of networks, the Internet has had a profound impact on the social organization and cultural meaning of modern society. Since it entered the public domain in the early 1990s, the Internet has grown exponentially and is now used by one-third of the world population. Anthropologists have studied the Internet from its early social history, especially in non-Western countries. Over time, this research has evolved into the subdiscipline of digital anthropology, which studies the development and use of digital media in different cultural contexts.

    Read more about Internet and Social Media
  • Mourning Mandela

    2015. Paula Uimonen. Journal of Aesthetics and Culture 7 (1)

    Article

    The world united in unprecedented ways in mourning the global icon Nelson Mandela, an emotionally charged historical event in which digital visuality played an influential role. The memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, gathered dignitaries and celebrities from around the world at the First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg, to mourn the passing of Madiba and to celebrate his life work. At the Grand Parade in Cape Town, the event was broadcast on large public screens, followed by live music performances and narrowcast interaction with the audience. Building on recent research on public screens during global media events, this article addresses the mediated mourning rituals at the Grand Parade in terms of a sacred drama. Focusing on social relationality, the article discusses how digital visuality mediated a sense of global communitas, thus momentarily overcoming historical frictions between the global north and the global south, while expanding the fame of Madiba. Paying attention to the public display of visual memory objects and the emotional agency of images, it argues that digital visuality mediated social frictions between the living and the dead, while recasting a historical subject as a historical object. The article further discusses how digital visuality mediated cultural frictions of apartheid and xenophobia, through the positioning of Mandela in the pantheon of Pan-African icons, thus underlining the African origin of this global icon. The analysis is based on ethnographic observations and experiences in Cape Town.

    Read more about Mourning Mandela
  • Mediated agency

    2013. Paula Uimonen. ICT for anti-corruption, democracy and education in East Africa, 11-26

    Chapter

    This chapter explores the use of music and digital media in the Chanjo campaign against corruption in Tanzania, focusing on mediations of agency. Building on Latour (2005), I use the concept mediated agency to refer to a process in which different cultural forms (mediators) bring about social transformation (agency). In so doing I recognize the ‘agency of art,’ especially its embeddedness in networks of social relations and its ‘practical mediatory role’ in processes of social change (Gell 1998). Similarly, I appreciate media and other mediators in the broader sense of ‘social mediation,’ with an emphasis on social interaction and exchange (Boyer 2012). Thus, while understanding agency in the sense of transformative action or practice, I build on anthropological theories of mediation, focusing on social processes of intervention and interaction that include but go beyond different forms of media. In this chapter, I will argue that the Chanjo campaign creates a platform that mediates the agency of participants, empowering them to speak up against corruption. The music itself is of course an important form of mediation, but so is the method of delivery, not least the interaction with the audience, as well as the mobility of the campaign. These layers of mediation intersect in different ways, which enforces the process of social and cultural transformation. Through digital mediations and remediations (Bolter and Grusin 1999), especially through social and mobile media, the campaign expands in time and space, thus extending agency beyond the tour itself.

    Read more about Mediated agency
  • Visual identity in Facebook

    2013. Paula Uimonen. Visual Studies 28 (2), 122-135

    Article

    Seeing your friends in Facebook has become a common means of social interaction, illustrating a visual turn in digital media in general and social media in particular. This article explores visual identity in Facebook, focusing on the use of profile photographs in the performance of digitally mediated selfhood. In Facebook, relationships are increasingly communicated through images, thus rendering the interactive reflexivity of performance rather visible. Based on the profile photographs of students at an arts college in Tanzania, the article discusses the construction of cultural identities through visual communication. By visually expressing their selves through profile photographs, users engage in the social construction of reality, crafting their digitally mediated identities in interaction with their online social relations. The online performance of selfhood is analysed in the context of offline social and material realities, to underline cultural aspirations for global inclusion. Building on anthropological readings of performance, the concept of social aesthetic frame is introduced to capture patterns of digital stratification that encompass the online construction of networked selfhood in the peripheries of the global network society. The article builds on anthropological research on digital media and intercultural interaction at a national arts institute in Tanzania, using a combination of digital, sensory and visual research methods.

    Read more about Visual identity in Facebook
  • Digital Drama

    2012. Paula Uimonen.

    Book

    The aim of this book is to explore digital media and intercultural interaction at an arts college in Tanzania through innovative forms of ethnographic representation. The book and the series website weave together visual and aural narratives, interviews and observations, life stories and video documentaries, art performances and productions. It paints a vivid portrayal of everyday life in East Africa's only institute for practical art training, while tracing the rich cultural history of a state that has mixed tribalism, nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and cosmopolitanism in astonishingly creative ways. While following the anthropological tradition of thick description, Digital Drama employs a more artistic and accessible style of writing. Dramatic, ethnographic details are interspersed with theoretical postulations to explain and make sense of the unfolding narratives. The accompanying website visualizes and sensualizes the stories narrated in the book, unfolding a dramatic world of African dance, music, theater, and digital culture.

    Read more about Digital Drama
  • Social and Mobile Media in ICT4D

    2012. Paula Uimonen. Social Media in Development Cooperation, 20-28

    Conference

    Can Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phones change the world? Obviously not! But there is something to be said for social networking sites, online news feeds, and mobile communication when it comes to ICT for Development (ICT4D). This paper will identify some key features of social and mobile media and relate these to social and political change, while paying attention to global patterns of digital stratification. Spider-supported projects that aim to use blogs and mobile phones in the fight against corruption in Africa will be used to illustrate and concretize opportunities as well as challenges. Reflections on how a networked organization like Spider can benefit from social media will be combined with a self-critical assessment of some pitfalls involved.

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  • African art students and digital learning

    2011. Paula Uimonen. Interactive Media Use and Youth: Learning, Knowledge Exchange and Behavior, 222-239

    Chapter

    Imagine 120 students sharing 5 computers, yet feeling that they are part of an interconnected world. This is the social context framing digital learning for African art students, the material limitations and cultural imaginations of which this chapter is concerned with. Based on extensive ethnographic engagements at TaSUBa, a national institute for arts and culture in Tanzania, this chapter investigates the development of digital media skills. Using the concept of digital learning to cover the acquisition of ICT skills as well as the use of ICT as a learning tool, the analysis spans from early expectations of connectivity to current forms of media engagement. Focusing on the social and cultural aspects of digital learning, the concept hybrid media engagement is introduced to capture the creative ways in which African art students overcome limitations in infrastructure, while exploring new forms of cultural production.

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  • Internet, arts and translocality in Tanzania

    2009. Paula Uimonen. Social Anthropology 17 (3), 276-290

    Article

    This article explores Internet development and use at an Arts College in Tanzania in relation to translocal and transnational linkages. Chuo Cha Sanaa Bagamoyo, or Bagamoyo College of Arts, is the only institute for training of arts professionals in East Africa. The College has a high status on the national art scene and is well known throughout the region and internationally. In this article, the introduction and subsequent use of the Internet is analysed in relation to the social composition and cultural positioning of Chuo Cha Sanaa Bagamoyo. I will argue that the social embeddedness of the Internet represents an intensification of translocal and transnational relations and imageries, while underscoring a sense of locality and national identity.

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  • Lärande i en digitaliserad värld

    2008. Paula Uimonen. Didaktisk design i digital miljö, 54-69

    Chapter

    Vad händer med sociala relationer och konstruktionen av mening när alltfler använder sig av IKT  i sin vardag? I vilken utsträckning påverkar Internetanvändningen våra föreställningar om världen och vad har detta för betydelse för mänsklig samvaro? Är våra alltmer digitaliserade livsstilar avsevärt annorlunda från tidigare sociala former? Detta kapitel belyser samspelet mellan teknik och samhälle ur ett antropologiskt perspektiv, med tonvikt på den sociala och kulturella innebörden av IKT-medlad interaktion, lek och lärande. Kapitlet tar även upp den kulturella betydelsen av dataspelande och virtuella världar, utifrån antropologisk forskning.

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Show all publications by Paula Uimonen at Stockholm University