I am a filmmaker and PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology (defended March 21, 2022) and Certificate Program in Culture and Media at New York University.
My research interests include social imaginaries, transnational mobilities, cosmopolitan knowledges, media worlds, and the "Africa-China relationship" writ large. My dissertation examines shifting social imaginaries and consequences of the Africa-China relationship in Chinese and Kenyan contexts through a focus on educational and volunteerism programs in Nairobi, Kenya designed for young Chinese nationals. Coursing throughout my dissertation is an emphasis on the triangulation of Western institutions in these programs and practices, leading to an argument that questions the exceptionalism of "China in Africa" in the contemporary moment. This project has been funded by the Social Science Research Council, New York University (NYU Africa House, NYU Center for the Humanities, and NYU's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), Association for Asian Studies, and the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
My filmmaking centers on transnational connection and fissure, media, mediation, social imaginaries, and the senses. My films have screened in a variety of venues, including festivals such as the African Diaspora International Film Festival, Africa World Documentary Film Festival, Margaret Mead Film Festival, and Ethnografilm, as well as symposia and universities.
I am currently in post-production on a film based on my dissertation fieldwork, produced by Zippy Kimundu, founder of Afrofilms International.
I hold a BA in East Asian Studies and Literature from NYU and an MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University. My writing and photography have been published in both academic and popular outlets, including China Brief, The Diplomat Magazine, Explore Parts Unknown, Roads & Kingdoms, Slate, Society for Cultural Anthropology Visual and New Media Review, Visual Anthropology Review, and the edited volume China-Africa Relations: Building Images Through Cultural-Cooperation, Media Representation, and Communication (Routledge).
Email: melissaflefkowitz [at] gmail.com
Untitled Kenya-China Project (forthcoming)
Swim Lesson (2018)
China Remix (2015), co-dir. Dorian Carli-Jones
Mombasa Railway Station, Roads & Kingdoms article, "Riding the Madaraka Express" (2017)