Africa In Our Lives: Kaden Paulson-Smith

Kaden Paulson-Smith is a Political Science Ph.D. candidate and a Law and Society Graduate Fellow at the Institute for Legal Studies at UW. Kaden has minors in African Studies and Gender & Women’s StudiesTheir research explores the global connections between police and state, raising questions about law and society, gender and sexuality, and decolonial and feminist theories. Kaden’s dissertation examines the relationship between police, state, and identity under colonization and decolonization in Tanzania.  


Tell us about your dissertation project and research process. 

“I study the police as a colonial legacy. In my dissertation, I trace the development of the police under British colonial rule in former Tanganyika.  I use previously classified archival data to identify how policing was expanded—but also resistedduring colonization in former Tanganyika.  I find that policing methods and challenges in Tanzania today are not unique to the present but are persistent legacies of the colonial state.  I theorize that policing institutions have outlived formal colonial rule because the police brought the modern capitalist state into being.  This co-constitutive relationship between the police and state extended colonial technologies, ideas, and practices into the afterlife of empire.  I find that these legacies still continue to shape racialized, classedgendered, and sexualized state control.”

Has COVID impacted your dissertation? What advice do you have for students struggling to research during this time?  

“I was lucky because I completed a significant amount of archival research the summer before the COVID-19 pandemic began.  I had planned to do more in-person research in the UK in 2020, but I have been able to work with the materials that I already had and draw from digitized sources.  My advice to students struggling to do research right now would be to think creatively about how to find other sources of information.  I have found treasure troves of digitized photos and video footage from websites connected to national archives and museums that I had not thought to check before.  I have also come across material in surprising places like Facebook, where former colonial officers or their families post various images and discuss memories.  In another research project I’m working on with Professor Aili Tripp, we have remotely conducted many interviews in a handful of African countries over Zoom, and I have continued to keep in touch with people who shape my research over Whatsapp.  Of course, this is not the nature of everyone’s research methods and data, although I do hope other students are similarly able to find new and unexpected sources that might breathe a different kind of life into their work.”

What inspired your interest in African Studies?  

 “first became interested in African Studies when I was an undergraduate student at Smith College.  got the opportunity to learn Swahili beginning in my first year, and then study Swahili language and culture intensively in Tanzania.  I was fortunate to have had brilliant teachers who stoked my interest through classes on African politics, gender, and the environment throughout those four years.  I am also indebted to mentors who challenged my assumptions about the continent and taught me how to think critically and reflexively about concepts like development, humanitarianism, and white saviorism After graduating, I kept closely following East African politics and wanted to learn more about what led to todays politics around gender and sexuality.  I had questions about colonial legacies (like the European laws that originally criminalized queer relations and that persist in nearly seventy countries today) and about neocolonial influences (like of the U.S. Christian Right’s introduction of similar legislation in African countries in recent years).  This curiosity drove me graduate school to try to connect the dots between these historical colonial legacies and their contemporary manifestations.”

How does your work in East Africa add to interdisciplinary and transnational conversations—such as gender and women’s studies, and feminist theory?  

 “At its core, my work is motivated by a commitment to better understanding systems of power Drawing from feminist theory, I start by locating myself in my work.  As a white American settler currently occupying Ho Chunk land, and as the grandchild and greatgrandchild of white police officers who worked in Jim Crow GeorgiaI am committed to understanding the many ways my ancestors and I are accountable for upholding white supremacy.  Nothing short of an interdisciplinarytransnational approach can illuminate the interconnected throughlines from enslavement, colonization, genocide, and incarceration to the present—and the centuries-old lineages of resistance to them.  Relatedly, I seek to understand my role as a queer and trans scholar in the shared global struggle to dismantle forms of cis-heteropatriarchy that often show up in institutions of state control.  I aim to contribute my research to conversations and movements that are increasingly happening on a global level about how to challenge the carceral state.”

What is the most important thing you hope your students take away from African Studies?

“One of my favorite courses to TA for is the introduction to African Studies survey course because there are many opportunities for growth, both for students and as instructors.  Throughout the semester, students often reflect on how they are bombarded with a “single story” of Africa in the media, by family and friends, and throughout their time in school.  I aim for students to learn how to deconstruct these incomplete and often inaccurate narratives, first by cultivating greater awareness of their own assumptions, values, and identities.  I also hope that they take away new critical thinking and discussion skills so that they can interrupt racist characterizations of the African continent and diaspora with what they have learned from African Studies.

You can connect with Kaden and read more about their work on their website.

Published by Carly Lucas