Perceptions of the night in Nairobi, Kenya


Hanna Lena Reich

Research Area:


Whereas the night is examined variously in popular media, literature, art and music the (African) night has been almost neglected within social sciences. Therefore, this project aims to make a conceptual, empirical and methodological contribution to the young field of the Anthropology of the Night.

The eternal shift from night to day and from day to night has nothing to do with human agency or social construction; it is nothing but the result of the intrinsic rotation of the earth. Though the night has been perceived as a natural phenomenon within all societies it clearly contains socio-cultural dimensions. How people experience the night, how they use it, how they think and talk about it is by all means culture-specific. This is the starting point of my PhD project about nocturnal lifeworlds in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The central hypothesis of my research is that the night cannot be understood as a mere prolongation of the day, but rather as a specific time and space. Furthermore, I assume that people conceive night and day as different realms of experience and this is due to the fact that they are not only diverse natural phenomena, but night and day are also culturally perceived as counter poles.

Following Schnepel’s concepts of a) "hyper nights" and b) "hypo nights" (SCHNEPEL 2005: 10) this research project will examine different lifeworlds which represent these two. In hyper nights we find that actors are seeking to turn the phenomena, things, beings and actions of the nocturnal into something which is more intensive and vibrant and which represents an alternative or even counterpoint to the day. Hyper nights are nights which offer spaces for rebellious and even revolutionary forms of behaviour, spaces in which the normal, diurnal form of life, with all its behavioural patterns, norms and moral values, is questioned, mocked and even transgressed. They are characterized by the fact that in them, human beings tend to achieve, experience and feel more than is possible during the day. Contrary to this, hypo nights are the result of the human desire to tame the night, to “colonize” it and control its dangers. It is a more conservative approach to the night. Within hypo nights, the otherness and the particularity of the night shall be minimized and diminished to make it closer to the day.