Week 3: Ato Quayson – Oxford Street Accra

In Ato Quayson’s book Oxford Street, Accra the author tells the story of transition for a postcolonial town that has emerged as a bustling cosmopolitan city. Although, as the city expands and attracts tourists from various areas of the globe, many are unaware of the complex and intricate history that made Accra what it is today. With a focus on Oxford Street, the author provides insight on the story behind Accra’s rise to urbanization and the role of space and expression in shaping Accra’s unique and transnational culture.

In his introduction, Quayson provides information on Accra’s history of development and the role that the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) structural adjustment program had in shaping Accra into a globalized commercial district. Here he discusses how this process of intercession impacted the built environment of Accra as a city and how that affected the spatial ecologies and social relations that existed at the time. The development of Accra as an urban space and the resettlement schemes for its surrounding slums has made Accra into the complex and in some ways contradictory metropolis that it is today. However, Accra’s ability for social adaptation to these changes has given it its unique characteristics that make it different from other urban areas.

In Part II: Morphologies of Everyday Life, Quayson elaborates on how Accra’s culture is continuing to develop and transition with the merging of international influences and local traditions. In this way he says that urban centres such as Oxford Street are meant to be interpreted as active and dynamic expressions of urban realities that can be interpreted through their various discourse ecologies. For Oxford Street this can be exemplified in expressions of writing, images and soundscapes that draw on both oral and literary forms of cultural and individual expression. Quayson discusses the role of vehicles and billboards as surfaces for these forms of expressions that articulate the influences of transnational imagescapes on urban culture and identity. As said by Quayson, these surfaces “provide a collective transcript of responses to social transition.” (135)

Another form of interculturalization that demonstrates the transnational influences on local culture is the emergence of Salsa dancing and ‘gyming’ that has become increasingly present in Accra. These hobbies represent how people in Accra are shaping their cosmopolitan identities through aesthetic and social practices. Here Quayson discusses how each of these hobbies play different roles in the socio-economic stratification that exists in Accra and how they reflect on its shifting transnational character in the way that these hobbies have affected social dynamics in the area.

Overall, Ato Quayson’s book tells of the unique relationship between the local and transnational, and how this relationship is expressed in various ways through oral and literary expressions to hobbies and social practices. His main themes of spatial and discourse ecologies demonstrates the complex and intricate influences that are behind what we see and experience. As well as how transnationalism is being adopted and incorporated into social realities that are constantly evolving and adapting.

– M. Thwaites

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