Lynsey Farrell

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Lynsey Farrell

farrellMatriculated September 2003

Lynsey Farrell’s research is focused in the cosmopolitan capital of Kenya, Nairobi—where seventy-five percent of urban residents live in unplanned settlements and shantytowns (UN-Habitat 2006). In these spaces access to clean water, adequate and sufficient healthcare, quality education, and good sanitation is often lacking. The municipal and national governments have not been able to keep up with the rapid influx of rural migrants and general high population growth, and many services are provided by an informal, marginal economy. In the wake of rapid urbanization, social structures, support networks, and family patterns are disrupted, adapted, and redefined.

Lynsey’s dissertation research will be situated in the informal and marginal community of Kibera, a large shantytown nestled in the middle- and upper-class suburbs of Nairobi’s Westlands. Based on preliminary observations and the work of scholars and writers who have attempted to describe the urban phenomenon in East Africa, Lynsey embarks on this research intending to look at a generation of youth and the new urban culture they are creating. A Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina, calls them the Sheng Generation (National Geographic 2005). The newspapers refer to their practices as matatu culture. Young people, aged 15–30, make up over a third of the population of the country and seventy-eight percent of the country is under the age of 35 (U.S. Census Bureau 2006). Despite the gerontocratic traditions of Kenya, these numbers signal that greater political and social change might emerge. Already there is evidence in Nairobi that young people are trying to reform and redefine what it means to be a Kenyan, an urbanite, and a youth.

To examine the emergence of a new unity and a changing ideal of urbanism, the research will observe and record open-air cultural events in Kibera. For analytical purposes, these events will be called festivals, though they tend to vary in type and purpose. The umbrella term festival will, therefore, include events sponsored by a local non-governmental organization that seeks to educate Kibera residents about sexually transmitted diseases, or it will include the drama and dance competitions that are organized by a wide swath of youth-run organizations seeking to entertain rather than educate the crowd. Other examples of festival events include puppet shows on human rights, church-sponsored gospel sing-alongs, rap contests, and play performances. As Kibera lacks formal venues where these events could take place, like community halls, church buildings, or school gymnasiums, the events are opened up to all youth, regardless of ethnic identity, class position, or church affiliation. They are events where youth cultures mix and new forms emerge, all contested on a public stage. These festivals, therefore, offer a bounded space in which to watch the public production of youth culture, and explore its creation, consumption, and potential for unification.

Lynsey’s primary research objectives, therefore, are as follows:

  • To explore the public “festivals” in Kibera as places where ethnic, social, and religious mixing takes place.
  • To evaluate whether the production of youth culture is unifying young people, contributing to a new kind of nationalism or the creation of a new ethnicity.
  • To explore and determine the positive effects of cultural activities of young people in an urban African environment in contrast to the prevailing notion (both scholarly and otherwise) that urbanization leads to cultural decay.

In addition, Lynsey is currently directing a study abroad program for American University in Nairobi, Kenya. View the blog.


  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship
  • Long-Term GRAF Fellowship