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EVENT POSTPONED - POLIS, LUBS & LUCAS Seminar: The Somatization of Poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, by Dr Mario Schmidt (Cologne)

Wednesday 29 April 2020, 1-3 pm
1.15 Maurice Keyworth Building (LUBS)

Please note that this event has been postponed. Information about the rescheduled event will be posted as soon as we are able.

The Leeds University School of Politics and International Studies , the Leeds University Business School and the Leeds University Centre for African Studies is delighted to invite you to an insightful seminar from Dr Mario Schmidt (University of Cologne) based on his current research in Kenya. You do not need to book to attend this seminar and all are welcome to attend.

Cruel optimism and the (re)modelling of success: on the somatization of poverty in Nairobi, Kenya

As eternal apprentices of their own future, actors in Nairobi's low-income estate Pipeline rush through cycles of psycho-physical destruction after which they refuse to fail and make new plans for their future. This 'cruel optimism' (Berlant 2011) people engage in is not one of navigating an uncertain and chaotic present, but of persevering through 'worlds of the not yet, again'. Religious aspirations, betting systems, carefully drafted business plans and CVs, trust in social and kin-relations, among other things, allow abjected urban Kenyans to expect something whose existence and nature is certain, b+ut whose date of actualization is unpredictable. Not all people are "bluffing" modernity (Newell 2012), some also 'remodel' it until it, after multiple failures, will arrive.

They do so against the background of an increasing 'somatization' and 'individualization' of poverty. Actors spearheading this process, i.e. national as well as international organizations and NGOs alike, do not consider poverty a result of systemic inequalities, bad policies or historical injustice, but locate its emergence in the psychological inabilities of individuals. The paper builds upon 11 months of fieldwork in Nairobi and suggests that practices in Pipeline reflect three broader factors, constitutive of Kenya's political, economic and scientific embrace of neoliberalism: a) an individual actor receptive for hope, aspiration, stress and pressure coupled with b) an overestimation of one's ability to produce causes that have beneficial economic effects leading to c) an eradication of poverty.


Mario Schmidt is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School of the Humanities at the University of Cologne. He has published in several journals, including Africa, Journal of Eastern African Studies, Ethnohistory, and HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Currently, he attempts to excavate the interdisciplinary potential between anthropology and behavioral economics. He is also interested in scrutinizing the economic strategies of educated but unemployed Nairobians living in tenement housing. Mario's latest book 'Money Counts: Revisiting Economic Calculation', co-edited with Dr Sandy Ross is available here.