Tessa Pijnaker

Tessa Pijnaker

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Styling success: ICT, design and public performance among technology entrepreneurs in Accra, Ghana
Supervisor:and Dr K Skinner, Dr Marco di Nunzio and Dr M Bolt 
PhD African Studies


This project investigates how technology entrepreneurs style themselves and their creative output (especially mobile applications) to engage successfully in Accra’s startup industry. Accra has a dynamic informal sector and is one of Africa’s fastest growing ICT centres. Young startup owners and employees operate in a competitive field, ranging from entrepreneurs and transnational NGOs and corporations to (inter)national government agencies, where success is not available for everyone. This research approaches questions about the use of ICT for development (ICT4D), a topic dominated by the social sciences, from a rare humanities perspective. First, it focuses on two genres of public performance: hackathons and app challenges. It investigates how tech entrepreneurs establish their own value and that of their apps according to standards set by the staff of NGOs and corporations at these competitions. Second, it explores historical Ghanaian ideas about success through redistribution, nuancing global neoliberal narratives about entrepreneurship. Third, it investigates how app design and processes of self styling are a means to acquire social mobility.

My project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Midlands Three Cities (M3C). I am the guest editor of the blog series about African Superheroes on Africa in Words (https://africainwords.com/2018/05/21/african-superheroes-blog-series-introduction-what-is-an-african-superhero/), which aims to give a platform to the producers of African video games and comics. I am also a Senior Fellow at Humanity in Action and the co-author of "Africa's Legends: digital technologies, aesthetics and middle-class aspirations in Ghanaian games and comics" (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21681392.2017.1371617).