Accumulating History: Dirt, Remains and Urban Decay in Nairobi
In anthropology and related fields, "ruin" and "decay" are terms that are often used interchangeably. By paying close attention to the materiality and politics of dirt and decay in a colonial-era housing estate in Nairobi, Kenya, this article argues for their uncoupling. Instead of implying loss or oblivion, decay is explored as a process of accumulation: an excess that constitutes a material history. Remains, rubbish and dirt continue to be active in the present, effecting and constraining certain atmospheres, attitudes and politics. Drawing a distinction between "urban decay" as a policy category and as a material process, the article also considers what happens if these remains are wiped away in schemes of urban renewal. The loss usually associated with ruination may emanate not so much from decay as from its elimination.