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School of Politics and International Relations

Dr Keren Weitzberg, MA & PhD, Stanford University


Senior Lecturer and Fellow at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences

Room Number: Arts One, Room 2.13
Twitter: @KerenWeitzberg
Office Hours: By Appointment


Keren Weitzberg joined the School of Politics and International Relations in September 2022 as a senior lecturer and fellow at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. Working at the intersection of science and technology studies, migration and border studies, and critical race studies, she examines problematics related to mobility, biometrics, and fintech. She has over 15 years of experience carrying out archival research, fieldwork, and interviews in Kenya.

Keren’s interest in the intersections between migration and digital identity evolved out of research for her first book, We Do Not Have Borders, which traces how and why Somali populations came to be historically perceived as ‘foreign’ to the Kenyan nation-state. We Do Not Have Borders was a finalist for the 2018 African Studies Association Book Prize for best scholarly work on Africa. Keren is now working on a new book project, tentatively entitled Biometrics from the Margins, which weaves together archival research and fieldwork from her time spent with undocumented and under-documented people in Nairobi and Garissa. Using Kenya as a case study, the project examines why the ‘unidentified’ have become an object of global concern and care in recent decades. It also looks at Kenya’s fraught history with fingerprinting, which was first introduced by British colonial authorities in the early twentieth century. The project asks: How are those at the physical and metaphorical margins of the nation (including migrants, nomadic populations, refugees, and border communities), who have historically struggled to access identification documents, navigating the new world of digital identity?

Keren is also interested in the relationship between biometric systems, climactic crisis, and scarcity. Both proponents and critics of ‘green growth’ have tended to focus on technologies intended to replace fossil fuels, overlooking those aimed at rationing and managing its diminishing returns and supplies. Studying technologies like biometrics—which mediate people’s access to resources, services, and freedoms likely to become scarcer and more unequally distributed in the coming decades—allows us to think critically about the risks, possibilities, and pressing challenges of post-growth and post-carbon economies. This includes the future of migration and the politics of social welfare, rationing, and redistribution in an age of resource depletion and ecological and environmental breakdown.

In 2023, alongside a wider research team, Keren will be embarking on a new project: ‘Is identity innovation inclusive? Making digital wallets work for people on the move and wider society’, funded by The Robert Bosch Foundation. As governments around the world step up to regulate artificial intelligence and biometrics, digital wallets aim to disrupt digital identity systems. Designed to help people store, manage, and exchange money and identity credentials electronically, digital wallets are thought to give users more control over their data, including in cross-border contexts, and correct historic power imbalances. But do they? This project aims to assess the inclusionary and exclusionary dimensions of digital wallets and produce a set of policy and design recommendations to ensure that the development of wallets supports migrants’ needs. At this critical juncture for identity and border management, there is an urgent need to ensure policy and technology decisions are informed by the needs, experiences, and perspectives of forced and voluntary migrants.

In recent years, Keren has applied insights gleaned from her time in East Africa to broader global questions. Keren has worked on projects for civil society organisations like Amnesty International, Privacy International, and Campaign Against the Arms Trade that have explored the rights of refugees in the digital age, the growing use of digital technologies for border and immigration enforcement, and the use of biometrics in the humanitarian/aid sector and counterterrorism industry. She has also worked on a moving-image piece with filmmaker Edwin Mingard, funded by UCL Culture and Arts Council England, which explores the UK hostile environment. Her research has appeared in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Quartz Africa, and BBC World Service. She is also book reviews editor for the journal Africa, one of the premier journals devoted to the study of African societies and culture. 


I am currently on leave from teaching.


Research Interests:

Borders and migration

Digital technologies (e.g., digital identity systems and fintech)

Political history of East Africa

Climate technology, degrowth, and low-carbon economies

Archival research

Oral history and ethnography (including elite ethnographies)

Examples of research funding:

Currently funded research projects:

‘Is identity innovation inclusive? Making digital wallets work for people on the move and wider society’, funded by The Robert Bosch Foundation/The Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH (2023-2025)

Previous work has been supported by the following funding bodies/grants:

Human Sciences Research Council (2020-1)

The Alan Turing Institute, Trustworthy Digital Infrastructure for Identity Systems (2020-1)

Arts Council England Project Grant (2020-21)

UCL Trellis: Public Art Programme (2020-21)

UKRI GCRF Digital Innovation for Development in Africa, Research network on datafication in East Africa (2020-21)

Fulbright US Scholar Award (2019-20)

American Academy of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship (2019-20)

Privacy International (2019-2022)

British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant (2018-9)



Weitzberg, K. (2017) We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya. New African Histories series, Athens: Ohio University Press.

Peer reviewed articles and book chapters

Schoemaker, E., Martin, A., and Weitzberg, K. (2023) ‘Digital Identity and Inclusion: Tracing Technological Transitions’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 24(1), pp. 36-45.

Weitzberg, K., Cheesman, M., Martin, A. and Schoemaker, E. (2021) ‘Between surveillance and recognition: Rethinking digital identity in aid’, Big Data & Society, 8(1), p. 20539517211006744.

Weitzberg, K. (2020) ‘Biometrics, race making, and white exceptionalism: The controversy over universal fingerprinting in Kenya’, The Journal of African History. 61(1), pp. 23-43.

Akbari, S.C., Herzog, T., Jütte, D., Nightingale, C., Rankin, W. and Weitzberg, K. (2017) ‘AHR conversation: Walls, borders, and boundaries in world history’, The American Historical Review. 122(5), pp. 1501-1553.

Weitzberg, K. (2016) ‘Rethinking the “Shifta War” Fifty Years After Independence: Myth, Memory, and Marginalization’, in Kithinji, M.M., Koster, M.M. and Rotich, J.P. (eds) Kenya after 50: Reconfiguring historical, political, and policy milestones. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 65-81.

Weitzberg, K. (2015) ‘The unaccountable census: Colonial enumeration and its implications for the Somali people of Kenya, The Journal of African History. 56(3), pp. 409-428.

Weitzberg, K. (2013) ‘Producing history from elisions, fragments, and silences: Public testimony, the Asiatic poll-tax campaign, and the Isaaq Somali population of Kenya’, Northeast African Studies, 13(2), pp. 177-206.

Select blogs and media

Weitzberg, K. (2023) ‘Carbon Fingerprints. London Review of Books Blog, 14 February.

Martin, A., Schoemaker, E., Weitzberg, K., Cheesman, M. (2021) Researching Digital Identity in Times of Crisis. Workshop Report for the Alan Turing Institute. August.

Weitzberg, K. (2021) ‘Gateway or Barrier? The Contested Politics of Humanitarian Biometrics’. Datafication and Digital Rights (blog), 12 January.

Weitzberg, K. (2020) ‘Passing as a Refugee’, Africa is a Country, 10 November.

Weitzberg, K. (2020) ‘Machine-Readable Refugees’, London Review of Books Blog, 14 September.

Weitzberg, K. (2020) ‘Countries Around the World are Using Border Surveillance Systems Against their Own Citizens’, The Conversation, 17 August.

Weitzberg, K. (2020) ‘In Kenya, You Cannot Go Anywhere Without an ID. I Don’t Have One’, Mail & Guardian, 13 April.

Weitzberg, K. (2019) ‘Mobile Credit Expands Mass Surveillance of Ordinary Kenyans’, Coda Story, 11 September.

Weitzberg, K. (2019) ‘Kenya’s Controversial Biometric Project is Shrouded in Secrecy’, Coda Story, 3 May.

Weitzberg, K. (2017) ‘Instead of Building a Big, Beautiful Wall, We Should Rethink Our Idea of Borders’, The Washington Post. Made By History section, 11 August.

Reports for civil society groups

(Forthcoming) Pakzad, R. and Weitzberg, K. Defending the Rights of Refugees and Migrants in the Digital Age. Report for Amnesty International.

Weitzberg, K. (2022) A Very British Problem: The Evolution of Britain’s Militarized Industrial Complex. Report for Campaign Against the Arms Trade. 4 August.

Weitzberg, K. (2022) Biometrics Collection Under the Pretext of Counter-Terrorism: Case Study of Israel/Palestine and Case Study of Somalia. Reports for Privacy International. 28 May.

Public art projects

H is for Hostile Environment (2022), with filmmaker and artist Edwin Mingard. Trailer:


I am interested in supervising PhD students working on topics related to migration and borders, digital technologies, and/or East African politics.

Public Engagement

I have worked closely with a range of civil society groups including MakanPrivacy InternationalAmnesty International, and Campaign Against the Arms Trade. I am on the advisory board for Haki na Sheria Initiative , a non-governmental organisation based in Garissa, Kenya, and was previously a member of the steering committee for Just Tech and Migration Community, spearheaded by Amnesty International.

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