University of Leicester
2018AKPONAHPOPhD.pdf (4.33 MB)

The Social Life of Rubbish: An Ethnography in Lagos, Nigeria

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posted on 2018-11-13, 11:35 authored by Precious O. Akponah
This research calls for a reconsideration of the notion of rubbish; one that does not consider disposal as the final act of the production-consumption cycle but, instead, appreciates the practices enacted around rubbish as constitutive of value creation. Drawing on Henri Lefebvre’s Production of Space (1991) and Rhythmanalysis (2004) this thesis traces the social life of rubbish to understand the social, cultural, political, and economic practices implicated in the organisation of waste. In particular, I employed a sensory ethnographic approach comprising of participant observations, self-reflexive observations, formal and informal interviews. I undertook a six months fieldwork, where I explored and documented the practices enacted by six sets of stakeholder who are involved in the organisation of rubbish in Lagos, Nigeria. Without overlooking the representational aspects (i.e. interviews, visuals) of practices, this thesis contributes to consumer research and the wider marketing discipline by tackling the more-than-representational elements of practices. The research exposes the spatial dynamics, embodied and multisensory experiences and power relations that are negotiated and co-produced when everyday practices are performed around rubbish. In so doing, I question and challenge the notion of disposal as being limited to environmentalism, green consumption and sustainability. I pushed these boundaries by investigating how rubbish acts as the lifeblood that fuels socio-spatial as well as economic relations in both formal and informal economies. This ethnographic study reveals the coping tactics and spaces of resistance that are utilised by marginalised informal operators to 'make-do' and sometimes subvert the strategies imposed by the formal authorities when they attempt to abolish these practices. The findings unmask the processual quality of practices and the recursive nature of objects in terms of their transformation from a state of ‘rubbish’ into valuable categories. It also makes visible the manner in which the practices enacted around rubbish (de)synchronises with natural rhythms such as seasons. The thesis alerts policymakers to the contributions of the informal waste economy to the socioeconomic development of the formal economy. It also suggests that the urge to engage in sustainable consumption practices – recycling and less consumption – can have detrimental effects on stakeholders that rely on the surplus or detritus that emerge post consumption to sustain their socioeconomic livelihoods in developing economies across the world such as Lagos, Nigeria.



Lai, Ai-Ling; Higgins, Matthew

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Management

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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