In Histories of Dirt Stephanie Newell traces the ways in which urban spaces and urban dwellers come to be regarded as dirty, as exemplified in colonial and postcolonial Lagos. Newell conceives dirt as an interpretive category that facilitates moral, sanitary, economic, and aesthetic evaluations of other cultures under the rubric of uncleanliness. She examines a number of texts ranging from newspaper articles by elite Lagosians to colonial travel writing, public health films, and urban planning to show how understandings of dirt came to structure colonial governance. Seeing Lagosians as sources of contagion and dirt, British colonizers used racist ideologies and discourses of dirt to justify racial segregation and public health policies. Newell also explores possibilities for non-Eurocentric methods for identifying African urbanites’ own values and opinions by foregrounding the voices of contemporary Lagosians through interviews and focus groups in which their responses to public health issues reflect local aesthetic tastes and values. In excavating the shifting role of dirt in structuring social and political life in Lagos, Newell provides new understandings of colonial and postcolonial urban history in West Africa.
List of Abbreviations
Preface. The Cultural Politics of Dirt in Africa (Dirtpol) Project
1. European Insanitary Nuisances
2. Malaria: Lines in the Dirt
3. African Newspapers, the "Great Unofficial Public," and Plague in Colonial Lagos
4. Screening Dirt: Public Health Movies in Colonial Nigeria and Rural Spectatorship in the 1930s and 1940s
5. Methods, Unsound Methods, No Methods at All?
6. Popular Perceptions of "Dirty" in Multicultural Lagos
7. Remembering Waste
8. City Sexualities: Negotiating Homophobia
Conclusion. Mediated Publics, Uncontrollable Audiences
"Stephanie Newell's Histories of Dirt does for this generation what Mary Douglas did with Purity and Danger several decades ago. Focusing on what seems ubiquitous and thus utterly banal—dirt—Newell shows how the phenomenon of dirt is interpretable from a variety of sometimes contradictory perspectives both by local Africans and by the team of researchers that set about investigating the phenomenon. This is a high-order interdisciplinary work, full of fresh insights and with a turn toward what Africans think about themselves that will provide salutary methodological and conceptual lessons for scholars in African Studies and well beyond."
Ato Quayson, Stanford University
“Brilliantly reading imperial discourse against the grain, Stephanie Newell offers compelling dissections of the perspectives, assumptions, privileged subject positions, and framings that characterize imperial thought. At the same time, she gives close attention and consideration to the range of voices of the people of Lagos, producing powerful arguments about the popular, cultural, and social structures that express urban values. With great ingenuity, Newell has constituted an archive of the present that provides local voices and views on subjects initially warped by colonial discourse. Histories of Dirt is an important and major contribution.”
Kenneth W. Harrow, author of
Trash: African Cinema from Below