DirtPol's blog posts tagged with 'african studies'

DirtPol's PI Prof Steph Newell shortlisted for Herskovits Award

Nov

17

DirtPol's principle investigator, Professor Stephanie Newell, has been shortlisted for the Herskovits Award, an annual prize given by the African Studies Association to the work perceived as the most important scholarly work in the field published that year.  The award is well established, having been running since 1965 when it was named after one of the founders of the ASA.

"Between the 1880s and the 1940s, the region known as British West Africa became a dynamic zone of literary creativity and textual experimentation. African-owned newspapers offered local writers numerous opportunities to contribute material for publication, and editors repeatedly defined the press as a vehicle to host public debates rather than simply as an organ to disseminate news or editorial ideology. Literate locals responded with great zeal, and in increasing numbers as the twentieth century progressed, they sent in letters, articles, fiction, and poetry for publication in English- and African-language newspapers.

The Power to Name offers a rich cultural history of this phenomenon, examining the wide array of anonymous and pseudonymous writing practices to be found in African-owned newspapers between the 1880s and the 1940s, and the rise of celebrity journalism in the period of anticolonial nationalism. Stephanie Newell has produced an account of colonial West Africa that skillfully shows the ways in which colonized subjects used pseudonyms and anonymity to alter and play with colonial power and constructions of African identity."

 

For more information on the book: http://www.ohioswallow.com/book/The+Power+to+Name

 For more information on the award and the ASA: http://www.africanstudies.org/awards-prizes/herskovits-award

 To buy the book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Name-Anonymity-Colonial-Histories/dp/0821420321/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1416229897&sr=8-13&keywords=the+power+to+name

 For more on Professor Newell's DirtPol project visit: www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Nakedness Disgusts

Dec

18

The recent incidents in Nairobi where some women were embarrassingly undressed in public by some matatu gangs for what they termed scant dressing has made me write my views on the relation between nakedness and disgust. The incidences brought strong reaction on twitter to condemn the action with the hash tag #MyDressMyChoice trending for two weeks in Kenya. A section of other Kenyans advocating for decent dressings had their hash tag #NudityIsNotMyChoice trending for the same period in Kenya.

While I personally condemn these actions of public embarrassment by forcibly undressing women, the disgust expressed in seeing a naked being is not a new thing. Perhaps the matatu goons, as matatu operators are known in Nairobi, were unable to hide their disgust on seeing a scantily dressed lady on the streets. Mary Douglas cites Charles Darwin in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966) as feeling very disgusted when a native touched with his finger some cold preserved meat he was eating, even though the hands of the native did not appear dirty. Could Darwin’s feeling be the same as that of the matatu goons?

While Darwin seems not have translated his feeling of disgust into action, the matatu goons went ahead to attack the ladies. Studies of disgust show that disgust is influenced by cultural background; additionally, disgust is a relative term and people from a shared cultural background may not express it about the same thing, or in the same way. In short: your disgust is not my disgust. Before the lady was stripped, obviously many others had seen her without necessarily feeling disgusted. While disgust-elicitors such as body secretions and decaying flesh are reported as universal, nakedness is not a universal elicitor of disgust.

Sights of nakedness–such as seeing an animal without fur–are likely to elicit disgust. Seeing a naked man on the streets is likely to make one feel disgust and/or fear. In a court case in the UK in which a couple was charged for walking naked, part of the judgement read as follows:

“At least one female member of the public veered out of his way. Evidence from two women was to the effect that they were “alarmed and distressed” and “disgusted” at seeing him naked. One of the women was with a number of children at least one of whom, 12 years old, she reported as “shocked and disgusted”.

In Ezekiel 23:18 in the Old Testament, Noah narrates how Lot uncovered her nakedness and he became disgusted with her just as he had become disgusted with her sister. Several other stories in the in the Bible relate to nakedness and disgust, including Leviticus 18 and 20, which combines the scene of Noah’s nakedness with the story of Lot and his daughters to condemn/rebuke incestuous relationships.

Although the actions of the matatu goons were unwarranted, nakedness is therefore an elicitor of disgust. The advocates of decent dressing (#NudityIsNotMyChoice) could be individuals who easily get disgusted by nakedness.

About the author:  Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications.  Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his Msc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

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

 

GUEST POST: The Politics of Decay in a Nairobi Council Estate by Constance Smith

Dec

22

The Politics of Decay in a Nairobi Council Estate

On 14 May this year, an article appeared in the Nairobi News with the headline “In Comes Chinese Money, Out Go Eastlands Estates”. The article describes a memorandum signed between Nairobi County Government and two private Chinese companies to demolish current council housing and build 55,000 apartments on the site, as part of the city’s so-called ‘urban renewal’ programme. The Eastlands estates are several neighbourhoods of colonial-era housing in the east of Nairobi, built by the British colonial government between the 1920s and 1960s to provide affordable housing for Africans in Kenya’s rapidly growing capital city. Although today they are dilapidated and in disrepair, tens of thousands of Nairobians still call them home.

According to the article, the new apartments are to be designed, constructed and then sold by the companies, in effect suggesting that this will be the end of public housing in this area of Nairobi. One of the targeted estates, Kaloleni, is the focus of my PhD fieldwork on architecture, history and materiality, where I have been exploring residents’ responses to this looming threat of redevelopment.

Kaloleni

The Eastlands Urban Renewal Strategy was developed as part of Nairobi County government’s plans to combat so-called urban decay in the city.

In Kaloleni, after years of neglect, most residents would welcome some form of state-instigated investment and construction within their estate, but many reject the label of urban decay.

As a policy category imposed by the state, urban decay is a judgement. It implies material and social failure and the condemnation of a whole community, whilst simultaneously allowing those who built or manage the estate to avoid being held accountable. In their refusal to be branded as a site of urban decay, Kaloleni residents object to the state’s evasion of responsibility.

They argue not only that they live in a historically and architecturally important site but that the neglect of their neighbourhood is politically motivated on the part of the local government, as they seek to condemn and redevelop it.

As with so much public housing all over the world that gets labelled as ‘dangerous’ or ‘decayed’ and earmarked for regeneration, Kaloleni was once a model estate, intended to generate a bright future for its new residents. Built in the 1940s and based on the garden city ideals of urban design, it was one of the first estates in Nairobi aimed at African families. It marked a period of British colonial urban planning in Africa that moved away from functional “bed-spaces” for migrant labourers towards a more ideological model that would refashion domestic life and build the exemplary colonial subjects of the future.

By the 1950s and 1960s, Kaloleni was at the heart of a growing urban middle class in Nairobi, and it was an aspirational place: it was the most well-to-do of the African estates, and it was a marker of some success to live there. Today, older residents are nostalgic for a time of order and maintenance, with neat lawns, playing fields, daily milk delivery and a well-equipped music room and library. But from the 1980s, widespread corruption and mismanagement at both municipal and national levels meant that the administration and upkeep of Kaloleni began to decline, and today there is almost no formal state presence in the estate at all. Despite still being council tenants, residents are now largely left to fend for themselves.

Whereas once the council swiftly managed repairs, these days any pretence at maintenance has been abandoned and it is up to the residents to fix their own homes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet there is something of a paradox apparent in Kaloleni. Though residents dispute the label ‘urban decay’ and the ramifications it entails, decay is nonetheless a powerfully affective force in Kaloleni. Homes are dilapidated, previously tarmacked roads have turned to dust. Water no longer runs in the pipes, broken streetlights lean precariously at awkward angles, the bulbs long gone. Rubbish is no longer collected, electricity is intermittent and the sewerage system is at breaking point. Families are now at the poorest end of the spectrum, and the estate has become dirty, congested, and unsafe.

What this makes visible is an important slippage between decay as a governmental category and a material process.

Many residents regard the material degradation of Kaloleni as a political act on the part of the city authorities. They feel that the council are deliberately running things into the ground so that they can condemn the estate as decayed, and so justify the demolition and redevelopment of the site, evicting the current residents in the process. This gives a very different gloss to the visible signs of neglect. These are not neutral processes, the product of some natural cycle of decay, or the consequence of Kaloleni being simply ‘forgotten’ by city authorities. Household maintenance is a political issue for residents, and their practices of management and repair inscribe the houses with their own personal histories. They are not simply repairing their homes for functionality and comfort, but in a small way trying to stem a much bigger tide of institutional neglect, and making a statement about their right to reside in the estate.

In some ways, there is a sadness and nostalgia to this decay, a loss of pride in an estate which was once desirable and orderly. But Kaloleni should not be regarded as a ruin, a relic of a colonial past destined for oblivion. Much recent scholarship on decay implies ruination, abandonment and desolation. The quintessential image of architectural decay is one of loss, a monumental relic of a ruined past: a decrepit fort, an abandoned factory, a deserted village.

Instead, the processes I have been following suggest that ‘ruin’ and ‘decay’ should not be conflated. Rather than headed for ruination, decay in Kaloleni is more productive: a sedimented history with which residents are increasingly engaged.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ann Laura Stoler has encouraged us to consider the political life of imperial debris, “the material and social afterlife of structures, sensibilities and things” (2008: 194). This afterlife is vibrant in Kaloleni. Far from being abandoned, the population is today many times higher than its original intended capacity, thanks to residents’ construction of ‘extensions’, one room corrugated iron dwellings that they rent out privately. Amidst the decay is also a sense of opportunity, as formality and stricture give way to informality. Where previously economic activity was limited to formal outlets in the centre of the estate, today kiosks, hair salons, cafes, car mechanics and market stalls are flourishing across the neighbourhood. Governmental failure to fulfil mundane responsibilities of maintenance is countered by opening a front door to reveal a dramatic modification and vivid redecoration of a proud resident’s home, whilst many others have hedged and planted beautiful front gardens to create private outdoor space and keep the encroaching rubbish and mud at bay.

What is this kind of decay that is not ruination? In one sense, we could simply say that this is what happens when formality is replaced with informality. The failure of the council to manage their social housing has led to a ‘making-do’ culture, in which residents come up with ingenious fixes and creative solutions to issues such as lack of piped water, unreliable electricity provision and poor sanitation.

Whilst at a certain level this may be true, for me, it doesn’t really get at the social and material implications of such neglect. As I followed the materiality of decay in Kaloleni, tracing what was disintegrating and what was not, and questioning how people felt about it, I began to see decay not as something associated with loss and oblivion, but to see it as accumulation. What I was observing was a build up of material traces, a sedimentation of the remains of lives lived. If rubbish is not collected, broken objects are not removed, houses are not repainted, what we are left with is not less, but rather more – what we might term an excess.

There is no ruined enchantment to these residues, they are not often beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, but they reveal the way in which a landscape can be inscribed with multiple ordinary histories as they accumulate in the estate. I began to suspect that living within and among such sedimented histories generates an engagement with the past, a way of relating to the material structures of the estate that has helped to shape the resentment and rejection of the label urban decay.

front gardenThis was particularly clearly articulated by one resident, Limush. He compared Kaloleni to the new Thika Superhighway, one of the Kenyan government’s flagship infrastructural projects in recent years. He commented how the area bisected by the road has now changed so much that it is unrecognisable to him. It has been cleared, obliterated, all traces of what was once there removed. Importantly, he said not only can he no longer remember what was there before and how it looked, but “I can’t remember what I used to do there”. That is to say, he has lost his embodied knowledge of that area, its location in his lived experience. He said “if the buildings come down, Kaloleni will be gone” – not just physically but gone from history: “without the buildings you cannot remember, you have no memories”.

In this way, oblivion and loss may emanate not so much from decay itself as from its elimination. Once branded as a site of urban decay, that place becomes dead-end, futureless. It is a condemnation, an obliteration of slowly amassed material and corporeal micro-histories. Conversely, by starting to see decay as a process of accumulation rather than loss, new possibilities begin to emerge. Instead of a descent into oblivion, decay remains unforeclosed, an ongoing process of sedimentation. We start to see how the relationship between people and architecture is generative; the accumulated traces of decades of habitation leave their mark – both on buildings and people – in an ongoing process of place-making. Interior - me and Georgio

Constance Smith is a PhD candidate at University College London, a Social Anthropologist specialising in Material Culture

‘IT’S NOW MY TURN!’: ETHICAL CHALLENGES IN FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION (FGD) ENVIRONMENTS by Anne Kirori

Jan

05

During one of my many field visits to XXX School in Nairobi, I had an interesting experience. I thought it better to share and get opinions from the others who get a chance to read this. As part of a data collection exercise for the DirtPol Research Project, a focus group discussion was scheduled to take place […] at the school bus park. This focus group discussion was pre–planned and the different participants were expecting me at 9am on a Monday morning. I prepared well and at 8:30am I walked into the school and was received by A., the leader of the sub-ordinate staff. A. was the one who had organized the FGD and he was pleased to tell me that the participants were ready and eager to start. I thanked him and went ahead to greet the 15 members who had been gathered in one of the school buses for the FGD. I informed the participants that we would start in 10 minutes time and this gave me some time to relax, reflect and go through my topic guide just to refresh my memories. I noticed that all my participants in the interview were male. This did not bother me but I knew it would be a memorable one because it was the first FGD that I had done that was male–dominated.

10 minutes later I walked into the bus and was shown where to sit. This was at the front of the bus. A crate of soda which was turned upside –down was my seat. There was total silence as my participants looked at me waiting for what I would say. Once seated I greeted them warmly. I could sense the tension in the room. Everyone did not know what to expect including myself. I looked at all the participants and observed that they were from different age groups. Their age ranged from 25 – 60 years. We had a round of introductions which was done by A. who then handed the ball back to me. I took this opportunity to explain to them briefly about the DirtPol Project and the reason why we were gathered there. Most of them acknowledged to have seen me in the school for several months now. I went ahead to seek their voluntary informed consent to have the group discussion recorded. A. also informed me that he had briefed them earlier on about being recorded and they were okay with it.

I started the discussion going by asking them their opinion about Ebola disease. This was an issue that was being aired on media frequently for the past weeks. This set the discussion going and as we progressed other topics such as foods & eating habits, housing, politics, house chores, cleaning practices, occupation, lifestyles, culture, city life and challenges were discussed. 30 minutes later, one of the participants excused himself and went out. He was replaced by a new member 3 minutes later just as I was starting a discussion on cleaning practices. The new member fitted into the discussion very well and provided very useful insights together with the others. I did not mind since the change did not affect the flow at all. 10 minutes later, another member went out and just as in the first case was replaced by another new member. The discussion continued. This second new member was talkative and would motivate the quiet ones to talk as well. He seemed to have the energy and influence on the others. This trend of participants walking out and being immediately replaced by some ‘new’ others went on throughout the 3 hour session. By the end of the discussion, I had 14 new members, different from the ones I started with. The only constant participant was A. who was my contact person and was responsible for organizing the entire FGD. The number of members remained 15. I was amazed at this turn of events and also by the fact that the constant turn-over of participants did not affect the quality of data (but see Comment on Ethics, below).

At the end of the session everyone seemed happy and wanted to take part in a similar exercise next time. I ended the discussion and promised to be back. Once everyone was gone, I called A. aside in an effort to understand how the ‘turn-over FGD’ came to be. A. seemed disappointed in his people and could not also understand how it happened. According to him, the sub–ordinate staff in XXX School are 40 in number and he had randomly selected 15 of them to participate in the FGD. He struggled to understand how 14 new members got involved. I told him not to worry, thanked him for the effort to organize the group and went away. I took time in the evening to listen to the interview once more while and later reflected on the day. I only came to one conclusion that more than 15 sub-ordinate staff wanted to be involved in the FGD but since their leader, A. only selected 15 of them, the rest decided to come up with a plan of getting involved. This plan had to be implemented in collaboration with the selected sample. The aim was to ensure the sample size remained as 15 while at the same time ensuring that 30 participants got a chance to get involved. It worked!! Everyone was happy and I collected my data. My conclusion is just an assumption and I could be wrong. The big question remains. “Is this type of methodology acceptable in modern research?”

About the author: Anne Kirori is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools.  Anne's based in Nairobi, is 26 years old and fluent in Kiswahili, English and German.

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

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

The ACT of Transcription by Jane Nebe

Apr

20

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.

boxLanguage

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.

Software

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.

Process

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.

Summary

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.