UCL Anthropology


Pauline Destrée

UCL Email: pauline.destree.10@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: https://ucl.academia.edu/PaulineDestree 
Year of Start: 2014 (currently away on research visit at Yale University until December 2017).
Supervisors: Prof. Christopher Pinney (UCL); Dr. Hannah Knox (UCL); Prof. Stephanie Newell (Yale)
Subject: Material Culture
Fieldsite: Accra, Ghana

PhD Research

Fashioning the 'Dumsocracy': Light, power and race in Ghanaian electrical infrastructure (working title)

My current research looks at 'Dumsor' (Twi for off/on) or the electricity crisis in Accra, Ghana, which in 2014-16 became an incredibly creative public sphere of political commentary on governance, postcolonial relations, and infrastructural failure through songs, films, cartoons, tweets. It looks at the relationship between infrastructure and vernacular forms of creative practice and political re-enchantment in the context of a pre-election year in Ghana. It considers the aesthetic and material effects of the electricity crisis in light of local theories of appearances, success, power and prestige, and how this visual 'crisis' of electricity reverberates in demands of political change and strategies of political persuasion and deceit. It situates the current crisis within a racial history of infrastructure and ongoing privatization of the Electricity Company, looking at competing claims of infrastructural rights and legacies, and negotiations of a postcolonial 'civil contract' of infrastructure. This research is based on 15 months of fieldwork in Accra, including placement at the Electricity Company of Ghana, research with key energy sector stakeholders, government ministries and officials, independent think tanks, civil society groups, and Accra residents.

My previous research was concerned with the politics of noise on a London estate.

Research Interests

  • Anthropology of Infrastructure
  • Anthropology of West Africa, urban Africa
  • Popular culture, contemporary art, creativity
  • Postcolonial theory


  • DESTREE, P., (forthcoming). Accra: Beauty Blue. In: Cultural Anthropology, Theorizing the Contemporary. Special Issue: Our lives with electric things.
  • DESTREE, P., 2013. 'Dirty dirt' and sonic relationality: The politics of noise in a London estate community. Ethnographic Encounters, 3(2).

Presentations & Conferences

08/2017 Kpakpakpa: Ghanaian aesthetics of crisis. 12th Annual International Ethnography Symposium: Politics and ethnography in an age of uncertainty. University of Manchester.
03/2017 Panel speaker for the Wellcome Trust Exhibition, Electricity: The spark of life.
04/2016 Decolonizing desire: Jaguar cars in Accra, Ghana. Annual Conference of African Studies: Decolonizing the Academy, Panel: Decolonizing the city. University of Edinburgh.
05/2015 Circulating pleasure in Ghanaian wedding photography: Putting the 'fun' back in the 'field'. Material Culture Research Day. University College London.
05/2014 Noise as 'dirty dirt': Negotiating the home on a council estate. InHabit Seminar, TORCH network. University of Oxford.
03/2014  Sonic conflict: Negotiating the home on a North London council estate. Histories of Home Subject Specialist Network, 6th Annual Conference. Home Atmospheres: Sensing and Feeling at Home. The Geffrye Museum and the University of Nottingham.
04/2013 Sonic relationality and tactile proximity: Politics of noise in London. Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) Undergraduate Conference. University of St-Andrews. 

Teaching Experience

  • 2017-present. Teaching Assistant, Introduction to Material Culture.
  • 2017. Object-based learning for home-educated children, UCL.
  • 2017. TA for undergraduates on UCL Global Citizenship Programme's strand 'Outbreak'.

Education History

  • PhD Anthropology (2014-ongoing; University College London).
  • MSc Material, Visual and Museum Anthropology, University of Oxford (2014; Distinction).
  • BSc Anthropology, University College London (2013; First Class Honours).

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • Yale - UCL Collaborative Exchange - Visiting Scholar (Fall 2017).
  • UCL ChangeMakers Grant (2016-2017).
  • AHRC/LAHP Doctoral Studentship (2014-2017).

Additional Information

Research Group: Visual Evocations.