Commoditizing Shit: An Anthropological Guide to Combating Health Problems with Business

Start date: 14 January, 2012 End date: 30 May, 2012 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A16391 Countries: Ghana Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Christopher Peter Furlan Total grant: 10,000 DKK


As more and more people organise themselves into urban settings, sanitation becomes a significant and complex challenge. In many developing countries infrastructure is unable to match the sanitation needs of the population. Ghana like many of the countries on the African continent is faced with such a problem and is behind on meeting the sanitation targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for water and sanitation. As a result people are getting sick, leading to wider social issues. A current method aimed at improving the sanitation landscape in Ghana is to use business and marketing to promote investment in household latrine systems. This technique aims at meeting coverage by having each household purchase an appropriate latrine system, thus improving the over all health situation. This thesis is written with this approach in mind, and in collaboration with the Sustainable Sanitation project — Ghana (SUSA). SUSA is a Danida sponsored project taking place in Prampram a rapidly urbanising poor Ghanaian fishing village with a high rate of open defecation. The original aim of this thesis was to employ ethnographic methods to provide inputs into marketing strategies by exploring the motivations and barriers for household latrine uptake.

However, fieldwork in Prampram revealed a fundamental flaw in using latrine uptake to improve the health situation concomitant to sanitation — people who had invested in private household latrines were not necessarily using them, instead continuing to defecate openly. Further fieldwork revealed a myriad of paradoxical and unique practices surrounding people who had invested in private latrines, including exclusion, forms of social defecation, and preferences for open defecation. Moreover, the continued construction of public facilities in Prampram provides an alternative to private latrine investment. Currently there is a high demand for these facilities although they are not widely utilised. Whilst, people with and without access to private facilities almost all complained about embarrassing situations arising from open defecation, however they continued to place themselves in these situations rather than use the public facilities that would alleviate the suffering they felt.

What these practices reveal is that there are significant social and cultural issues influencing sanitation, which are equally as important as technology. Whilst using marketing to get people to construct latrines in their households will help in meeting the MDG targets for sanitation, it will not necessarily improve the health problems that arise from poor sanitation. Viewing Prampram as an emerging market, thesis employs interaction analysis, developed in design anthropology, to examine how people interact with the sanitation landscape in Prampram in order to provide inputs into a health relevant business approach that has its starting point in people rather than latrines. By locating people, rather than latrine technologies at the centre of sanitation, behaviours with existing technologies and the wider sanitation landscape can be seen as a dialogue or ongoing negotiation between people and the technologies associated with the universal need to defecate. This can then be engaged with by implementing contextually derived sanitation solutions, moving away from coverage and instead focusing on practices of defecation.