Dr Stephanie Diepeveen is a Senior Research Associate with the Intellectual Forum where she collaborates on research into the social and political implications of an increasingly digital world.
Stephanie is a Research Associate in the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and POLIS at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on questions of how power materialises across changing media and spaces. She predominantly explores these questions from a vantage from the African continent as a means towards a more global and nuanced understanding of how digital technology and forms of power intersect. Currently, Stephanie is involved in a series of collaborative research projects that take an interdisciplinary look at the structure and dynamics of digitally-mediated publics. This includes co-leading a mixed-method study into the role of social media in shaping debates around COVID-19 in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. She is also a founding member of a network of researchers, technicians and activists on the effect of datafication processes on everyday public and financial services in East Africa.
Stephanie has a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge, an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge, and a BAH in History and Global Development Studies from Queen’s University, Canada. Stephanie also worked as a research analyst at RAND Europe, focusing on policy-oriented research in the areas of research evaluation, institution building and social policy.
What are you working on now?
I am a Research Associate in the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University, and predominantly focused on two projects, both tied to questions about data, power and the public sphere in Africa. The first looks at patterns around misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. It’s asking what is distinct about studying these dynamics from Africa, and how can we effectively grasp how people make sense of COVID-19 through social media discussions. The second project is part of larger collaborative work on datafication of everyday financial services and public discussions in East Africa. This work connects researchers, technical practitioners and activists.
How has your career to date led to this?
My interests have always lain at the intersection of public policy and politics, looking from a vantage from the Global South. After beginning my studies in Global Development, I spent 3 years working in public policy as an Analyst at RAND Europe, gaining experience in conducting policy-relevant research, looking at diverse policy areas: from welfare programmes to innovation and development, to institutional capacity building. Through this, I became increasingly interested in delving more deeply into questions of power in relation to technological change in Africa. This became the foundation for a new and rich stream of research, exploring questions of power and empowerment through radio, SMS, social media and face-to-face forums in Kenya, and the African continent more widely. The Bennett Institute has provided a home to continue to explore these dynamics, while also linking up to more foundational research on understanding the value of data and digital technology in public policy globally.
What one thing would you most want someone to learn from what you’ve done or are doing now?
The importance of listening with an open mind, and questioning what appears ’normal’. By attempting to push these boundaries we might better understand where the possibilities and limitations lie in our increasingly digital world, and how these manifest differently globally.
What do you think of Jesus College and the Intellectual Forum?
Jesus College was my home during my Mphil and PhD Studies at Cambridge. I’m pleased to be able to return and continue to engage with the intellectual community at Jesus College. I see the diverse mix of interests, expertise and experiences in college more widely reflected in the Intellectual Forum and I’m excited to be part of this.