Searching for 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

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

A Cup of Tea with Milk in Downtown Cairo — Introducing our Data Management Assistant, Hadeer El Shafie

Jan

30

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 Cities are like us: They have moods. This is how I’ve always experienced Cairo. I have had the privilege to spend the majority of my childhood years in Cairo, with many, many days spent with my Grandmother, who back then, lived just three kilometres away from Tahrir Square.

When I spent the nights over with Mama Laila, I followed her routine. Every morning, we got up to do a little bit of exercise, followed by a very indulging Chai-Latte making in the kitchen, which we sipped in the veranda. On the stove, Mama Laila boiled water, added about half a spoon of gunpowder black tea. Then, she slowly added fresh milk. “This is the right colour”, said Mama Laila with the teaspoon in her hand. “Slightly dark cream colour. Add the sugar only at the end”.

The distance between the kitchen and the veranda was about 10 meters, but those ten meters marked the mental and emotional separation between the private and the public. From the veranda I could see life happening in the street. Cairo was pumping with life. Honks, school busses parking second rows, passers-by, street vendors, postman wearing his sweaty cap and bending forward with a bulgy duffle bag full of white and brown envelopes, “look, that envelope has the same colour as our tea!”. I always confirmed my milk-tea knowledge to Mama Laila whenever I had the chance. Day after the other, month after the other, this very veranda became my window to city life. From the veranda in my house, I sat there in salience next to Mama Laila and slowly merged into the life in the street.

Everyday, Cairo worked very hard to keep her dwellers, residents, homeless, and hope-seekers alive. She carried all the weight of the asphalt, the concrete, and the much lighter weight of the soil in public parks. She felt the rubber of the wheels too. Some went so fast like cars and busses, others went slowly like bicycles. But I could imagine, for Cairo, nothing felt like the footsteps of all the people wandering in the city.

Cairo heard all the noise, but she only listened to the brief silence every morning when the thin line of sunlight broke the dark skies. It was then that Cairo was able to take a deep breath.

Every day, Cairo experienced a cacophony of aromas: garlic-infused fava beans, the falafel, the rose scented waters in the fridges, and the incense in the Churches and Mosques, and indeed, the dust and the exhaust.

Cairo was alive. The city was pulsating with life. Everything and everyone in it was part of its ecology. 

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I did not know that those precious times I spent with my Grandmother would later materialise into an academic career. Everything in the city became an object of interest: the crowds, the walls, the doorways, the parks, the buildings, the squares, the cars, the Nile, the bridges, and well, dustbins!

Today, I study the dynamics of citizen action in urban contexts. I am interested in how the urban form and citizen action interact. I am especially interested in environmental issues and in what urban societies do in order to improve their environments. How do people perceive of concepts like the environment, cleanliness and nature? How do societies construct their understanding of environmental issues, and how do they create moments when they share a common understanding of a problem? How does this impact their choice of action? Are these social and cultural constructions of environmentalism fluid? Do they change or mutate and why? Do forms of citizen action around single issues evolve over time? What does this tell us about the city as an organic space in which politics and policies unfold? 

After all, cities are the constructions of our imaginations. The experience I had with my Grandmother during my childhood cannot be separated from the way I see Cairo today. I can tell, how over the years, Cairo moved through different phases, or perhaps, moods. In the city, each of us experiences a fluid self that changes and can be changed by the mood of the city we live in.

Hadeer

About the author: Hadeer El Shafie is a new member of the DirtPol team and she will be working with us on managing our increasing archive of collected data. Hadeer is of Egyptian heritage and is currently a PhD student in IDS, already having carried out research in rural and urban Egypt.

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

Dirt attracts ... tourists?

Mar

19

Perfection Soap

Apr

14

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

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.