September 13, 2012

Identity formation in Kenya

Tim Parsons

One of my projects analyzes the influence of imperial rule on the formation of ethnicity and identity.  Beginning with an examination of how the imperial regime used ethnicity in administration, education, labor, and land tenure, this research uncovers the range of African reactions to the Kenyan colonial government's efforts to codify and exploit local "tribal" identities.  To date, I have published a pair of articles that show the complexity of identity formation during the imperial era by telling the stories of migrants who settled illegally in "foreign" native reserves.  Some were willing to be "adopted" into their host tribes, while others defiantly rejected assimilation.  My research shows that ordinary people had a range of options in deciding how to identify themselves and could assume different political and social roles by invoking one or more of them at a time and in specific circumstances.  I am currently working on a companion piece to these essays that seeks to better understand the consequences of the Kenyan government's "detribalized native" policies.