DirtPol's blog posts for April 2015

My Dirtpol journey thus far … by Olutoyosi Tokun



I have been working as a project researcher on the health and environment aspect of the Dirtpol project in Lagos, Nigeria. Basically I have been investigating all sides of the word ‘dirt’ as it is being used by Lagosians. My study population consists of users and residents of Waste Management Sites, Public Health providers, Public Health users, and Non-Governmental Organisations.

My Dirtpol journey has been an eventful one. At the start of the project it was quite challenging to get study participants to speak about dirt beyond hygiene and sanitation. I had to do some digging on social media and make a list of behaviours, situations and trends that have been described as dirty. This list seemed to help facilitate conversations. From that point the list grew longer and longer as the project progressed.

In the first few months of the project I established communication with a community known as Dust-bin Estate, located in Ajegunle, Lagos. The community is so-called because it was built on a refuse dump. Interviews conducted with residents of this community have been quite revealing; we talked mostly about human interactions within the community. These kinds of discussions have become relevant considering the rate of urbanisation in Lagos.

After obtaining approval from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), I visited the main landfill site in Lagos and other waste management facilities operated by LAWMA. I also interviewed private waste collectors; it was interesting to know how they felt about their job and the attitude of Lagosians towards them as they carry out their duties.

Discussions with public health users and providers have been very rich. Issues such as sexuality, polygamy, the activities of traditional birth attendants in certain areas, skin bleaching, and individual beliefs that influence health-seeking behaviours have been covered. I have been able to gather very diverse opinions on these issues.

Leading up to the general elections in Nigeria that held on the 28th of March and 11th of April, 2015, a lot of data was collected in the form of election campaign materials. It was not unusual for one political party to accuse another party of playing dirty politics. Also certain campaign strategies were simply described as “disgusting” and “repulsive”.

I was surprised to find that the labelled recycle bins provided on campus at the University of Lagos in order to encourage segregation of recyclable waste were not being used appropriately. Hence a quick survey was conducted on campus to investigate the situation. I interviewed Environmental Health Officers, as well as students on campus, and the phrase ‘The Nigerian Factor’ kept coming up as the reason for the situation. It would help to know what ‘The Nigerian Factor’ is all about; meanwhile one of the Environmental Health Officers interviewed on campus told me all about the role of sanitary inspectors during the colonial era. We touched on the ‘White man’s plague’ and other issues prevalent during the colonial era.

It has been a pleasure working on the Dirtpol project; I look forward to reading publications produced based on the data that has been collected. I hope the findings will add significantly to already existing knowledge and pave the way for more study opportunities.

The DirtPol team in Lagos

Say “cheese”!!!!!

The ACT of Transcription by Jane Nebe



Recently, much of my time has been spent transcribing audio recordings collected from interviews and focus group discussions that I’ve conducted during my data collection phase. Transcription isn’t as straightforward as it might first appear and that’s evidenced in theory-heavy literature. Avoiding the theory for the purpose of this article, I will run through my process and pitfalls of transcription.


Most of the interviews and focus group discussions were conducted in English, although interspersions in local languages such as Yoruba and Nigerian Pidgin were common. I use footnotes to provide literal and contextual meanings of these phrases, and separate them in the transcribed text by use of italics, “quotation marks”, ‘inverted commas’ or a different font colour. Interviews conducted in languages other than English are transcribed in the original language and translated.


To begin the process, I load my audio into the transcription software Express Scribe. The software allows for transcription through voice recognition, however this wouldn’t work with the nuances and accents of non-native English speakers so I avoid that function. I type directly into the software, and handily it automatically saves the typed work.


After I create a first draft using the provided writing software, I copy this into a Microsoft Word document. Its editing capabilities are much more advanced so I go through the highlighted spelling errors here. I insert detailed information about the respondents, a reflective commentary on the activity, links to associated materials and a summary of the transcription interview. I also include line numbering for easy referencing.

Editing and Formatting

The first draft is edited initially using the spellcheck, then I start the formatting by placing the interviewer’s statements and questions in bold italics. I then denote the translations of non-English words and statements as described above. Then would begin the final proof-reading which personally I find to be the most challenging part of the process. I listen to the audio data again, paying close attention to the details. This is to make sure the written transcript accurately reflected both the content and the meaning of the audio data. A lot of rewinding, forwarding, pausing, deleting, adding, correcting, punctuating etc. occurred at this stage. Finally, I skim over the entire document to ensure that the page alignment, numbering, highlighted text and footnotes are in order. The finished transcript is then uploaded to the DirtPol archive.


box2The act of transcription is interesting but time consuming; it easily becomes tedious and uncomfortable due to sitting down at a computer for extended periods. It’s therefore important to use comfortable working equipment, including using seat, desk, keyboard adjustments as well as suitable headphones. For me, the major challenges were low quality audio due to background noise or the respondent(s) being too far from the microphone and the complexity of shared meanings or contexts. To overcome this, I sought assistance online and informally to ensure correct translation of meanings in local languages. I also needed to ensure I was doing the transcribing in a quiet environment in which I could fully concentrate. As the aim of transcription is accuracy and reliability, factors that could jeopardise this must be dealt with before, during and after the act of transcription.


About the author:  Jane Nebe is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools.  Jane is based in Lagos, her academic background is in pedagogy and she speaks Igbo, Yoruba, Nigerian Pidgin and English.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.


[1] Kowal, S. and O’Connel, D. C. (2004) Analysis, Interpretation and Presentation: The Transcription of Conversations in U. Flick, E. Von Kardoff and I. Steinke (eds), A companion to Qualitative Research, London: Sage Publications, pp. 248 -252.

Perfection Soap



We loved this soap advert from Zimbabwean TV.  What does it tell us about dirt and cleanliness?




About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

From Common Waste to Art with a Message: An Interview with Durodola Yusuf by JOHN UWA, DirtPol researcher



Curious about the shouts of “Oh my God!” coming from outside the DirtPol office at the University of Lagos, project researcher John Uwa decided to investigate. Outside the building on prominent display was a large portrait of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.

The reason this work of art elicits such a strong reaction from viewers is that the portrait is composed entirely of waste materials. Using Coke bottles, sardine cans, children’s toys, shoes, electrical circuit boards, shoe polish tins, and many more discarded everyday objects, the artist Durodola Yusuf put together this remarkable portrait of the VC in 2014 for his final degree show as an undergraduate in the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Lagos.

The portrait was not the artist’s initial idea when conceiving this project, but when he found that he could not afford the materials or time for his original concept--a three-dimensional “documentation” of UniLag Senate House made from metal screws--he decided to find an “icon” to stand in for everything that the building symbolises. What better subject than the Vice-Chancellor himself? Entitled “General Overseer”, the portrait of the VC is made entirely of waste materials. Through it, the artist interprets and represents the VC’s ability to negotiate with different people across the spectrum of the University.

 DirtPol researcher John Uwa interviewed the artist about his motivation and inspiration for creating this striking work of art:

JU: What informed your choice of this picture which you have virtually made from recyclable materials?

DY: As a final year student, my original intention for a project was to document the Senate House of the University of Lagos, such that it will break a Guinness world record. This is because I thought that people leaving UniLag should do things that are quite monumental. The Senate building to me is an architectural masterpiece that I have always wanted to document using screws; but when I took consideration of the timing and the financial implication, I realised that I may not be able to meet up within the specified date for project submission.

JU: O! This is sad.

DY: So, if I am unable to document the Senate building, then I should be able to document someone who works in the building, someone who controls the building and someone who can stand as an icon. Having decided to document a picture of the Vice Chancellor, I then thought of what to do to make the picture amazing; so I decide to use the data around me. These were the basic factors which informed my choice of this image.

Besides documenting an image which represents the Senate building, the picture also illuminates a person who is in charge of the school and its affairs; and this is how I came about the title: “The General Overseer”. The general overseer is someone who oversees the affairs and activities of somewhere or others. As someone who oversees the affairs of the school, I thought that different things should be used to represent the VC as one who oversees every aspect of the school, and to reflect the title of the work. I went round the school and saw how people dump things; how they pick up, use and dump items. This became another source of inspiration.

In an academic environment where various activities like academics, security and a whole lot of things are going on, the General Overseer must be receptive, tolerant, patient and accommodative to successfully manage the institution. He must be ready to accommodate so many people and their divergent behaviours. Having conceived the idea and picture of what I wanted to do, a picture of someone who can take a lot of things, I had to start collecting materials to develop my image. I decided to use ‘dirt’--the disposable things around me, recyclable materials from trash drums. This work which is experimental involves moving round and bringing materials together; and while I was collecting materials for work, both around the art studio and elsewhere on campus, people were wondering and asking, “what do you want to do with waste materials?” This is the whole essence, bringing things together, to recreate another. If you take a look at the book over there in the portrait, it is written: “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success”. 

So the beginning of this work is the collection of waste materials and merging them together. This involves moving around, picking up waste materials and dropping them on the project. The process of attaching the collected materials is what I have termed as keeping together, while working together is the final manifestation of the work which elicits the kind of surprises that you hear from outside your office. 

Interestingly, when I started the project, people asked all manner of questions--Why? What? Is he going to like this? But what was on my mind was to show people that with the right thinking, something can be created out of nothing; that problems can be solved through meditative thinking. So beyond what people can see, I am trying to imply, through this art work, that there may just be relevance behind that which appears to be irrelevant.

JU: That’s quite brilliant! Sometimes we sit up there in the DirtPol office and we hear people, who for the first time are catching a close glimpse of the picture, screaming--“Oh my God, Dirt!”. From what you have said, one of the symbolic implications suggested by your work is that the Vice Chancellor is an administrator who is endowed with the capacity to contend with the varying challenges of the institution. Now, do you by some chance know what the VC, or anyone close to him thinks of your artistic impression of him? Or have you had occasions where you were told by people around you that you didn’t have to do this work?

DY: Yeah, a lot of people said it. Even my supervisor said it, “Heh, in terms of art this is fantastic, this is good, but I don’t think this person will like you using junks like this to depict him”. But as an artist, one of your duties is to project and rebrand the nation. So, beyond using dirt to project the need for national rebranding, I am also using the work to pass on a message to the VC; and that is, he should be ready to take a lot of things and still remain focus.  Talking about focus, people condemned me when I first started this work, asking all manner of questions but I remained focused; and in the end, the same people returned back to sing praises of the finished work. This final acceptance of what was initially unacceptable in an achievement as far as I am concerned.

JU: You have used the word waste to describe the materials you gathered together for this work; and just now, you have also talked about the initial rejection and indifference your effort to put up this masterpiece received.  How would you want to reconcile the idea that something beautiful like this, something aesthetic, can come out of what you call waste?

DY: [Pause] I believe you can get beautiful things from waste materials. It’s about looking at it. As I said earlier, give yourself time to think what you can do. So when I looked at the materials before me, I realised that I can transform them into something acceptable. I realised that I can also inculcate African patterns and motifs, I can look at, say, Coca-Cola cans and introduce lines and motifs so that when people are having a second look at it, they won’t really be seeing waste materials but a transformation of it. People interact with the society the way they see it; immediately they are made to see these junks and dirt differently in the work, they started appreciating it. We should be able to appreciate our environment. That is when we can have peace. Rather than degrading the environment with the way we dispose waste materials, we can begin to say, “Oh, this Coca-Cola I am disposing can actually be used for something else”.  In this way, people’s minds are not only opened up, it also gives the inclination that nothing is really useless. 

JU: There is also a common sanitary clause in Lagos which says: “Keep Lagos Clean” and another one which says: “Keep UniLag Clean”. We notice that some artists are using their works to promote this message by using recycled materials to create art. Do you have that inbuilt intention when you started to put this up?

DY: Yes. Yes, because of recent, UniLag has a waste bin with three different colours. There’s red, there’s green, and there is another one. One is paper, one is can, one is plastic, and so when I’m working on the project if I need plastic, red, I go straight to that one. I think there should be exhibition where art works created from recycled materials and junks are displayed. In this way awareness will be created in people to actually see that what they call waste can actually be put into positive use; and they [the society] can begin to keep these waste items properly. People will start talking to themselves: “this thing might be useful; I shouldn’t damage it or dispose it inappropriately”. So, to an extent, this is another way of keeping the environment clean. And this is the whole idea of rebranding; not necessarily rebranding the environment, but re-branding the mind of people so that they can see waste appropriation as an aspect of environmental management system (EMS). Once they get it right, then the environment becomes free from dirt, and you don’t necessarily have to be there; in fact, you can’t be very where. A perfect example was when I was doing the project; having been well informed of what I was doing, people started picking up waste materials and dumping them at a point near my studio, even when I am not around. All I need to do is thank them, pick it up and put it into use in my work. The mechanism is simple, people saw that what I was doing is good, and without being told, they understand that the solid waste they generate, like Coca-Cola cans, are useful to my work; so rather than dispose it in the usual way, the just routinely drop it near my project work. So if people can be made to understand, if they can have a channel, they won’t dispose their waste indiscriminately. They will dispose or keep it in such a way that people who need it can come and gather it and take it away. That’s the way I’m seeing it.   

JU: Thank you so much. This beautiful edifice and your description of how you were able to put the materials together is referred to as “good housekeeping” in safety parlance- a situation where things are kept properly. Talking about keeping things properly, did you notice that people drop things indiscriminately: paper to rubber, rubber to tin while you went on collecting your materials from your selected bins?

DY: Yes, I saw some waste indiscriminately disposed. I saw papers where I am supposed to see cards; however, I must confess that the whole thing is a gradual process. You will agree with me that prior to the availability of waste bins, people have been dropping waste materials like cans and papers on the floor; but now, they are dropping in the bins, but not in a proper way. Both with time, and with the kind of job artists, like myself, are doing, orientation will change. So I say again, if you want to rebrand, you rebrand the mind, not the environment.

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol