'Got on to the plane as white English and landed in London as Black, Kenyan.’   Construction and Performance of Kenyanness Across Online and Offline Sites.

Kui Kihoro Mackay

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study sets out to understand how Kenyanness is constructed and performed across multiple sites, both offline and online. Adopting a multimethod approach, the study sought to engage with and learn from people in the UK who self-identify as Kenyan and use Twitter and/or Facebook. Beginning in August 2016, initially with a survey that was completed by 71 people and ending in March 2017 I had in-depth conversations with 20 of the 71 survey respondents. These 20 people also agreed to share tweets and Facebook posts generated on or around 3 pre-determined dates/events. These being the 2016 Olympic games; Mashujaa Day (Heroes’ Day) on October 20, 2016; and Jamuhuri Day (Kenya’s Independence Day) on December 12, 2016.

Guided by Black Feminist work and Critical Race Theory, this work positions intersectionality and counter-storytelling alongside theories on translocational positionality and performance to explore Kenyans' lived experiences outside of Kenya. To do this, the research is grounded in Kenyan concepts and theories on the process of identification (mwananchi, Wanjiku, wenye nchi/wananchi, and son-of-the soil) along with Kenyan notions of performance (Harambee, and Nyayoism). These concepts that often sit outside white, Western notions of identities and performance expand the current language of identification, belonging and performance. Through an exploration of Black Twitter and #KenyansOnTwitter (#KOT) this research considers the possibility of a Black Twitterverse as a way to push forward research surrounding Blackness online and digital Blackness.

The findings of this study are contained in three empirical chapters. The first explores re-thinking Kenyanness and finds that this is dependent on where (sites), in whose presence (audience) and by whom (self-and/or others) this process of identification is conducted. In this context Kenyanness is presented as an identity in a constant state of motion. In the second empirical chapter the study uses three elements of Kenyanness (the sites, audiences and self/others) to introduce Kenya as Trinity. The main finding being that Kenyan identities are often constructed and performed in Kenya, for Kenya and by Kenya and this can often complicate other forms of identification such as Blackness. The final empirical chapter centres on the idea of (un)-performance as performance. (Un)-performance is used to consider the difference between the absence of performance and the absence of presence. I use un-performance to define a specific type of performance that is premised on the idea of decentralising the majoritarian gaze.

Finally, a theme that runs through this research is the intention to produce a body of work rooted in an ethics of care that acknowledges my own positionality. My positionality being, a Black Kenyan woman in the UK, researching Kenyans in the UK for the purposes of submitting a thesis to a western and predominately white university. I use hooks’ concept of marginality to situate my voice and this study. Writing from the margins has enabled me to produce a thesis that considers new ways of researching identity that allows for the lived experiences of unresearched and minoritised groups to be centred without being essentialised, further erased or tokenised.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Willis, Katie, Supervisor
  • Barn, Ravinder, Supervisor
  • Kleine, Dorothea, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Aug 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • Critical Race Theory
  • Black Feminist Theory
  • Intersectionality
  • Digital Blackness
  • Black Twitter
  • #KOT
  • Kenya
  • Translocational Positionality

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