DirtPol's blog posts tagged with 'dirtpol'

Who is Project Dirtpol?

Mar

28

DirtPol is an international cultural studies research project based at the University of Sussex with Professor Steph Newell at the helm and with all the research currently being done in Kenya and Nigeria. 

 

Meet the Kenyan DirtPol'ers: (l-r) Rebecca, Job, Dr Mbugua wa Mungai (regional coordinator) and Ann.

The Kenya-based DirtPol team, Rebecca, Job, Dr Mbugua wa Mungai and Ann

 

And introducing the Nigerian DirtPol contingent: (l-r) John, Jane, Toyosi and Dr Patrick Oloko (regional coordinator).

Team Lagos

 

For more information on the DirtPol project, please stop by:

// our website at www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

// our blog at dirtpol.wordpress.com

What is meant by "Cultural Politics"? By Professor Steph Newell

Apr

01

For more information on the DirtPol research project, please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

 


I wrote the following in response to a question from John in Lagos, who asked what is meant by "cultural politics"? What follows is a version of my reply to him:

The first thing to note is that “cultural politics” does not signify two separate categories: it is not culture separated from politics. The term cultural politics refers to the way that culture—including people’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs and perspectives, as well as the media and arts—shapes society and political opinion, and gives rise to social, economic and legal realities. To give an example that is relevant to DirtPol: in February this year, President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia described homosexuals as “vermin” who should be tackled like malarial mosquitoes. Over in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s new toughened legislation against homosexuality arises from similar underlying beliefs relating to contamination and disgust (i.e., the category of moral filth). In these two examples, we can see how culture (public opinion, arts and media) imbues politics (government and the law) with perspectives about homosexuality that are predicated on the category of vermin, infestation, contamination. Sexual violence against women often follows a similar discursive pathway.

 

Our project seeks to make visible and understand a multiplicity of similar processes, not always negative nor as extreme as the above case. The case of the media/communications fieldworkers, for example, you can trace a pathway from perception/opinion via the media to the political and social outcome. Thus:

 

Homosexual (a label) =

vermin (a metaphor) =

filthy (a moral/evaluative category used in the media and by politicians) =

elimination (proposed action at social and legal level)

 

In another extreme historical example, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was initiated by a media campaign, especially on RTLM (Radio Télévison des Milles Collines), to “exterminate/crush the cockroaches”. Here you see how the media made use of the “cockroach” metaphor in a similar way to “vermin”: but this time it was used in relation to ethnicity, and the metaphor became murderous. This is “cultural politics” in its most violent manifestation. But it is important to look out for the ways that labels such as “cockroach” can be used satirically or ironically by the very people they are designed to describe (“queer” is an example from the UK where homosexual people regularly describe themselves as “queer”).

 

The above examples are negative and unsubtle, but I hope they show the process of how opinion on the streets enters media/communications/political networks. In other words, the use of particular vocabularies about dirt gives rise to political and legal interventions in people’s social lives. As the website www.culturalpolitics.net states, “cultural politics … [is] an arena where social, economic, and political values and meanings are created and contested”. Creation and contestation are words that sum up the focus of the DirtPol project., In taking a category like ‘dirt’—with its vast spectrum of different connotations, words and interpretations—we can create a starting-point to understand people’s changing definitions of home and the city, and ideas about beauty and ugliness, marriage and sexuality, multiculturalism and migration, the past and present.

 

In the Information for Project Researchers document we circulated when you started your job, “cultural politics” was defined like this: “the ways in which urban identities, encounters and relationships may be marked and transformed by categories denoting dirt. Crucially, the project asks about how the retrieval of local people’s voices and perspectives challenges or changes existing paradigms and methodologies for examining the everyday lives of urban African subjects and the environmental challenges they face,” through popular art forms, the media and ethnographic research.

 

The key point is that urban encounters and identities—relationships with others, as well as the implementation of environmental and public health policies, and anti-racism initiatives—may be understood differently if they are filtered through concepts relating to dirt rather than to hygiene and cleanliness. The DirtPol project thus asks: what are the implications of locally situated understandings of dirt for current debates about urbanisation, the environment, sexuality and ethnicity?

 

The questions this raises for further investigation in research (especially through questionnaires, focus groups and one-to-one discussions, about which there will be training in Sussex in May, so do start to design draft questions to bring over and work on in May) include:

 

  1.        i.         What words and phrases (including proverbs, jokes, etc) exist in African languages and English to describe the dirt or dirtiness of others? Who uses these words and about whom are they used?
  2.      ii.         What words, categories, proverbs, etc., are used to interpret a) health and environmental issues; b) the topic of sex, sexuality and (im)morality more generally; c) the topic of neighbours and strangers in one’s vicinity and in other neighbourhoods? By whom and about whom are these words/categories used, and how many of them relate to dirt?
  3.     iii.         What words, categories and/or proverbs are used to express positive evaluations of dirt (esp. in the sense of earth/mud), including the artistic transformation of ‘rubbish’ into beautiful or useful objects? By whom and about whom are these words/categories used? What are the social and cultural factors that influence these representations and perceptions?

 

THE POLITICS OF DIRT AND THE DIRT OF POLITICS: DEMOLITION FEVER GRIPS MAKOKO by John Uwa

Apr

15

When the news first hit the Stand that the Lagos State Government of Nigeria plans to demolish the water settlement which goes by the name Makoko, what first came to my mind and all other followers of the event, as I supposed, was the demolition of Maroko in 1989. Like Makoko, Maroko was inhabited by low income earners who lacked some basic social amenities like portable water and waste disposal materials. With the absence of these basic amenities Maroko was tagged “dirty” and marked out for demolition. Today, some the choicest areas in Lagos like Lekki Phase 1 and 2 where top class Lagosians now live is what we have left of Maroko. Makoko is one of the over 40 slums we have in Lagos State (Betty Abah: 2014), and the state government is stopping at nothing to claim this settlement which is situated in front of the lagoon and also boast of a sizeable number of lumber mill, water trading and fishing. With the government’s threat of demolition which has attracted human right activists, locally and internationally, Makoko is now in the spotlight of a serious political debate and litigation between the State Government and other stakeholders. “Dirt” appears to be the main issue of contention. The state government has given two reasons for the attempted demolition of Mokoko. 1. The huge dirt generated from this slum pose serious health and environmental threat; and 2. The master plan and the beautification of Lagos stipulate that such areas of the state like Makoko should be demolished and reconstructed (for who?). On its part, the inhabitants, human right and environmental activists are claiming that the government has deliberately abandoned the area so as to justify its demolition plans.

As a ‘dirt’ researcher, I thought that a visit to this slum would provide some insight into the politics of demolishing and the reclaiming Makoko; and indeed, my visit to this part of Lagos revealed some truth. The area which is situated in front of the Lagoon provides some sort of ambience which can connect one with nature; the same kind of landscape which ‘influenced’ the takeover of Maroko by the State Government. I also thought that the huge waste generated in this slum must be really disturbing when we begin to talk about health and environmental challenges. Incidentally the adjoining water is used for bathing, fishing and defecation. While I was still thinking of this discovery, I realised that the presence of government in terms of public school, health centre, portable water and waste disposal materials is totally unavailable. What came to mind afterward was a series of questions which every researcher of ‘dirt’ may have to ponder upon. Why is the government not making it presence felt? Could the tag “dirty” be used as an excuse to demolish Makoko?  In whose interest is the demolition? Can dirt be used as an index to exclude some people or give advantage to some people over others? What does Makoko need, demolition or government presence?  One thing is obvious; ‘dirt’ appears to have been employed as and index to justify certain action, and to compel recognition.

The attached pictures from Makoko and Otto Ilogbo which were taken in the course of DirtpPol research may provide some sort of semiotic view for further interpretation and investigation.

 

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MAKOKO

 

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MAKOKO

 

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RIGHT ON THE SLUM. OTTO ILOGBO

 

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OTTO ILOGBO

 

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Defecating right into the water

 

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Floating Restaurant



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

Ethics in the Field by Rebeccah Onwong'a

Apr

23

There are few challenges I have encountered while working in the slums that I would like us to discuss. First, it is important to note that slums vary in one way or the other. For example in Dandora slum, it is not easy to get information because the residents fear talking to strangers. This is because the the gangs in the slums forbid them from talking to strangers and anybody who is seen talking to strangers is “disciplined”. On the other hand, in Kibera slum nobody cares about strangers. So far, I have not heard of any gang operating in the slum. The problem in Kibera is that nobody is willing to volunteer information for free. The informants always insist that you have to give them lunch. They argue that they use their time to take you through the slum.They say that this time could be used to engage in other income generating activities. It is surprising that even the idle ones insist on the “ lunch”. This has forced me on several occasions to hide my identity as a project researcher. Most of the time I pretend to be a college student to avoid being asked for money. It is in this context that I would like us to discuss if it is ethical to lie or give lunch to get the information you want. While responding to the question, it is important bear in mind that if you don’t lie or give lunch, you might not get the information you want.


About the author:  Rebeccah Onwong'a is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in health and environment.  Rebeccah's based in Nairobi, her academic background is in Biology and she gained her Masters degree in Belgium.

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

Reflections from the field: Getting my first ‘NO’ by Jane Nebe

Jun

10

Field work started in earnest for me immediately I arrived Nigeria, after the three weeks training at the University of Sussex, UK, despite the one week Leave given to us all. The reason was not farfetched considering that my portfolio revolved around schools. Schools were already in their fifth week of resumption, leaving me with just about five weeks of school term time before examinations commenced, to meet the target for the pilot study. Fortunately, the letter of approval for research access into the State owned primary schools, was ready before my return. I was taken to the State owned primary school I had mapped out to begin research in, by the representative of the Education Secretary in charge of its Local Government Education Authority. Introductions were made and the reception at the school was very warm and cooperative. I spent the first few days developing a sample frame for the age brackets of interest and a sample matrix that would cover range and diversity to a reasonable extent. Afterwards, I purposively selected my sample, classroom by classroom.

Following the ethical stipulations of the research, I began by introducing myself and explaining the project to the selected group in the first classroom. It was a group of eight, four males and four females, and some of them asked very pertinent questions. Then, the process of seeking their informed and voluntary consent began. I did this by calling each of them separately (I didn’t want a situation where a pupil’s consent or non-consent is influenced by his/her peers), explaining the details of the project again and seeking their consent. Now, this is a first for me – that is, seeking children’s (and parental) voluntary and informed consent in a research that involved them. Prior to this project, I was of the opinion that the school gatekeeper’s consent was adequate and had previously conducted research on that premise. Six of the pupils gave their verbal and written consent, which gave me the permission to begin the process of seeking their parental consent. One of the pupils asked for time to consider the request as well as discuss with her parent. Then, there was the boy who said ‘NO’.

The boy was aged eight but had a smaller body structure compared to his peers. While talking to the group, I noticed that he stayed distracted throughout. In fact, he was the reason I decided to explain the project again when I called each of them separately. As I talked to him, I could see that staying focused on me was difficult for him. I am not a trained psychologist; hence, I would not even attempt psychoanalysis. When I asked him for any questions he might have, he started to speak in English and faltered. Was it a language problem? So, I repeated the explanations in the Yoruba language. Then, I asked him for questions and if he would like to participate in the project. He looked at me for a few seconds and then shook his head in the negative. I rephrased the question, perhaps he misunderstood the question. Again, he shook his head in the negative and this time, emphatically. So, I thanked him and asked him to return to his seat. Yes, I was surprised but I learnt that I should never ‘judge a book by its cover’. Most importantly, I now see clearly the need to obtain voluntary and informed consent from the child. It is not merely because research ethics demands it. It is because the child is a whole and distinct individual, just like me.

 

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.  

Talking to a Dustbin by Job Mwaura

Jun

17

On my trip to UK, I took several photos of dustbins whenever I went. Then the other day, I was pondering whether animals have a soul like we humans have. It got me thinking about plants, trees, and insects. Then I began to look a little deeper, if we know that animals, plants, trees talk to each other they must have some form of consciousness, but does that mean that everything around us has a conscious awareness. I mean everything that we have in form of technology come from this earth, therefore we would say that the earth is alive with consciousness; if that is the case, then my dustbin has a consciousness, doesn’t it?

But again, a bin has no life, it just sits in the corner and I doubt many would communicate with it. We speak to our cars or motorbike on the other hand and we yell at them, praise them, and even mourned when they die. All these are just a collection of lifeless parts and only comes to life when life is in it. A dustbin is nothing but a bin full of dust.

Since lifeless parts may come to life when life is in it, I placed my hand inside my dustbin today and spoke to it a little to see if it would respond. I am not nuts, and unfortunately it did not. I wonder if a dustbin would need the same loving treatment like we do to our vehicles. What if it spat out the dust and garbage we fill it with, when it becomes annoyed? But again, does a dustbin have feelings? Below is my collection of dustbin photos.

Picture 1: A dustbin outside Bramber House, University of Sussex.

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Picture 2: Dustbins at University of Cambridge

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Picture 3: Dustbin at Clacket Lane Service Area, Tatsfield, Westerham TN16 2ER, UK

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Picture 4: Dustbin near Chichester, University of Sussex.

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Picture 5: Two dustbins below The Bridge Café, University of Sussex.

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Picture 6: Dustbin at Churchill Square Shopping Centre, Brighton.

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Picture 7: Dustbin at Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton

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 Picture 8: Dustbin at Brighton beach

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Picture 9: Dustbin at King’s Rd, Brighton, UK

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 Picture 10: Dustbin in one of the classes at Fulton, University of Sussex

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Picture 11: Dustbin at Northfield Residence, University of Sussex

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Picture 12: Dustbin at United Nations Headquarters in Africa, Nairobi Kenya

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Picture 13: Dustbin at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi Kenya.

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 These photos can tell many stories and one would have many interpretations of them. I have told my own story with these photos. 

 

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.

Between Prostitution and Polygyny in Africa: The Implication for Culture by John Olatunde Uwa

Aug

07

As a researcher and a cultural archivist sampling perception and conceptions of dirt in Africa, I have had the opportunity of engaging a number of individuals on topical issues that revolve around ‘dirt’ in Africa. Some of these issues cut through the themes of religion, ethnicity, corruption, prostitution, civil partnership, robbery, poverty and such like. On a particular occasion, I had cause to interview a man on the theme of prostitution as a canvas for the collective odium that has followed those who solicit. This fellow made two striking submissions which I thought might be of interest to this forum. The first is that, prostitution is totally alien to Africa; while the second is that, polygyny is a structure that was put in place from primordial time in Africa to check, curb or prevent the practice of prostitution.

Whether prostitution is alien or not is not the question here as prostitution is already a global phenomenon, even in countries where the practice is considered as ‘haram’. What is quite puzzling here is that, between prostitution and polygyny in Africa, there are cultural codes that signify how both practices may be perceived. The former is an abomination; while the Later is a valid cultural practice, believed to have been handed down to prevent prostitution. But since prostitution is a ‘trade’, can polygyny solve the financial requirements of the woman? Of what economic benefit is polygyny to the woman? Even if we assume that prostitution is for sexual gratification, is it possible for a single man in a polygamous union to give all the women in the union the gratification they require? The assumption is that, while the man may be getting all the gratification he wants, some or all of the women in the union are denied total sexual gratification.  

 In spite of these burning questions, proves abound to show that about 90% of Nigerian women would rather be involved in a polygamous union than get involve in prostitution, when faced with the two variables. This is mainly due to their cultural and religious orientation more than what they are truly capable of doing. These cultural orientations which manifest themselves in taboo, abomination, witchcraft etc. tends to act as a strong restriction against the activities of the id. However, there is a latent content that becomes operational beyond the limit of social conformity.  Beyond this limit of social conformity in which culture and religion gives no answer, and in which ‘prostitutes’ find themselves, every woman become capable of soliciting. In other words, there is a limit to which every human can be in social conformity and there is a limit to which culture and religion can provide answers; and beyond this point, there is an ambient in which humans are capable of anything, and prostitution is not an exception. It is at such point that women are also capable of exhibiting the same tendencies that can make a man crave for more than one wife or woman.

Elsewhere in the world, especially among some nations of Europe, polygyny is unacceptable; however, it is an ‘accepted’ norm in Africa. Considering this paradox and the influence of a dominant culture, which is propelled by financial crunch, in a new global order which African is part of, what is the place of a primordial culture that is believed to prevent prostitution? What is the future of prostitution as we push towards the limit of social conformity and beyond? While it may be easy for us to keep theorizing, it must be must be noted that a culture that is inelastic is like a carved deity who becomes vindictive to those who provide it with palm oil and other libations; he is either reminded of the tree from which he was carved out, or turned into firewood while other deities are erected in ‘his’ place.      

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

What We Call Dirty by Olutoyosi Tokun

Sep

01

In the last couple of days I have been combing through popular blogs and online forums in Nigeria in search of representations of dirt, and it has been quite an experience. It has been interesting to read the opinions of the average person on happenings in the society. I would like to share this striking comment;

Topic being discussed: Malawi Officially Suspends Anti-homosexuality Laws.

A participant’s response to another participant’s opinion:

“Your thought process is premised on a faulty data, so I can understand your limitations. Gay and Lesbian should never be left alone. They are dirt thus most be cleared. Nobody wants a dirty society? Would you be fine if you see your kids watching two male adult kissing on TV? Protect the society!”

During my search, I found out that topics like politics, skin bleaching, homosexuality, spirituality, Nollywood gay movies, illiteracy, other ethnic groups, scamming (advanced fee fraud), the bring-somebody-down syndrome have been described as dirty. These representations of dirt have been good starting points for discussions and in-depth interviews.

 

 

About the author: Olutoyosi is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is our Lagos-based researcher looking at health and the environment.

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

New Kenya bill wants gays stoned in public

Sep

04

In the course of my data collection, I came across this issue where there is a bill seeking to have foreign gay people stoned to death in public in Kenya and it is is now before the National Assembly through a petition by a political party. According to the draft bill, there is a proposal that a foreigner who commits a homosexual act be stoned in public, while Kenyan nationals found guilty will be jailed for life. The draft bill also seeks to criminalize sodomy, with offenders earning life imprisonment.

The petitioner of the bill argues that there is need to protect children and youth who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technology, parentless-child developmental settings and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption, foster care or otherwise.

This draft bill further prohibits all forms of sexual relations between people of the same sex.The draft bill introduces the term "Aggravated homosexuality" which the petitioner says includes committing such acts with a minor where the offender is HIV positive. The petitioner of the bill proposes such persons should be stoned to death in public.

The purpose of the draft bill according to the petitioner is to provide a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the cherished culture of the people of Kenya, legal, religious and traditional family values against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Kenya.

While homosexuality has been condemned in many quotas in Kenya and other African countries, it will be interesting to watch the progress of this draft bill in Kenyan Parliament. Civil groups and pro-homosexual rights groups have their sleeves rolled up to ensure this bill does not become law.

What is your view about it?

 


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.

Follow us on Twitter: @ProjectDirtpol

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