Michael Degani

Michael Degani

Assistant Professor

Curriculum Vitae
Mergenthaler 458
Thursdays, 1:30 - 3:30, via ZOOM

Research Interests: African Studies, Urbanism, Energy and Electrification, Infrastructure, Popular Economies, Socialism and Postsocialism, China-Africa Relations, Anthropology of the State.

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, broadly focusing on energy use and infrastructure in African cities. I received my PhD in anthropology from Yale University in 2015. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Fulbright-Hayes Foundation. Most recently I was an American Council of Learned Societies Postdoctoral Fellow (2018-2019).

My forthcoming Open Access book The City Electric: Infrastructure and Ingenuity in Postsocialist Tanzania (Duke University Press, 2022), is an ethnography of Tanzania's electrical grid. Over the last twenty years of neoliberal reform, the national power supply in Dar es Salaam has become less reliable even as its importance has increased. Though mobile phones, televisions, and refrigerators have flooded the city, the electricity required to run these devices is still supplied by an old, socialist-era parastatal characterized by increased tariffs, aging physical infrastructure, and a sluggish bureaucracy.

While some residents contemplate solar power or other off-grid solutions, others repair, extend or tap into the state network with the assistance of freelance electricians or moonlighting utility employees, colloquially known as vishoka (hatchets). Moving from the elite politics of generation contracts and fuel sources down to the street level experience of distribution and consumption, The City Electric explores these complex economies of infrastructural breakdown, and the ways they mediate collective life in the wake of a morally charged African socialism.

My broader interests include the aesthetics of precarity; eco-poetics; Peircean semiotics and anthropological exchange theory, and the politics of renewable energy.

I am currently developing a new project around ecological design in Africa and beyond. From building materials to animal feed, a range of alternative experiments in local provisioning have emerged as the era of cheap nature comes to an end. I am interested in tracking the cultural-political genealogies of these experiments, as well as the modes of dwelling they engender.

Alongside colleagues at Hopkins and collaborators in Baltimore, I am a curator of the Ecological Design Collective. I am also an affiliate of the Ralph S. O'Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI) and the Center for Africana Studies

Cutting Without Cutting Connection: The Semiotics of Power Patrols in Urban Tanzania." Signs and Society, 9 no. 2, 2021.

Air in Unexpected Places: Metabolism, Design, and the Making of an ‘African’ Aircrete.” Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 38 no. 2, 2020.

Fuelling Capture: Africa's Energy Frontiers." Co-authored with Brenda Chalfin and Jamie Cross. Cambridge Journal of Anthropology , 38 no. 2, 2020.

“Shock Humor: Zaniness and the Freedom of Permanent Improvisation in Urban Tanzania.” Cultural Anthropology, 33, no. 3, 2018.

"Disservice Lines." Chokepoints. Limn, Issue 10. 2018.

"La Véranda, le Climatiseur et la Centrale Électrique." Afrique Contemporaine, 2017. (English Translation)

The Electric Fan. In “Our Electric Air.” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology 2017.

"Modal Reasoning in Dar es Salaam's Power Network." American Ethnologist, Vol. 44, no. 2, 2017.

"Race and Electricity in Post-Socialist Tanzania.” The Corridor, Cityscapes 2017.

"Emergency Power: Time, Ethics and Electricity in Postsocialist Tanzania." In Culture of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies, edited by Sarah Strauss, Thomas Love, and Stephanie Strauss, 177-192. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013.

Most Popular #BerghanOpenAnthro Articles of 2020

“Becoming Infrastructural: An Interview with Michael Degani.” Cultural Anthropology, October 2018.

“Shock Humor: Zany Aesthetics in Dar es Salaam.” Video Essay presented at Displacements: Society for Cultural Anthropology Biennial Meetings, April 2018.

“A Frayed-Shoestring Electrical System.” International Electrical Inspectors Association News, October 2017.

“Remaking the City: An #AmAnth2016 Panel Review.” Cultural Anthropology, December 2016.

Rethinking Infrastructure Systems in East Africa, Ardhi University August 2016.