African Urbanism: the Global City

Sarah Virani

In Oxford Street, Accra, Ato Quayson discusses how the street Oxford Street in Ghana has become a city that is embedded with transnationalism and a display of the effects of globalization. In chapter 4, The Beautyful Ones, Quayson focuses on tro-tro slogans and writings that cover the streets of Accra and how advertising has a role within the city drawing upon slogans and large billboards scattered on Oxford Street. By highlighting the connection between the two, he mentions how popular forms of media help to maintain the expansive connections between the traditional and the modern as well as the local and the transnational. By bringing up the campaigns that promote a cosmopolitan identity, Quayson highlights how globalization can influence individuals to achieve a certain lifestyle that is often out of norm and depicts Western values and beliefs.

Chapter 5, “Este loco, loco” highlights how the particular spaces of salsa dancing and gymming exemplify how individuals perform their occupation of urban space in modern day Accra. The author goes on to explain how these spaces are affected by the dynamics of transnationalism. After learning about how the salsa scene has had an influential impact on Accra economy as well as by bringing people together and increasing communication amongst one another, I was disappointed, but not surprised to hear that sense of communal feeling began to diminish following the commercialization of salsa. This is the irrational logic of globalization, by this I mean that even though globalization and transnationalism intends to connect people through the flow of information and goods, it often leads to the destruction of close communities as Quayson mentions in his discussion of the changing salsa scene in Accra.

In Chapter 6 “Pumping Irony” focuses on the idea of gymming in Ghana and how gymming fits in with the vehicular reason of tro-tro slogans discussed in Chapter 4. I found it interesting that the various spatial and extensive overlaps that exist in Accra because of transnationalism, even in the class disparities that exist between the users of working-class gyms and high-end gyms. Quayson discusses how those who attend each gym have specific characteristics that are attached to them and stereotypes that are given to them. For instance, individuals attend high-end gyms to stay fit, while individuals attend working-class gyms to build muscle and sculpt their body. Quayson mentions how the gymmers that he interviewed had a goal of ending up in Hollywood or as a personal trainer for the wealthy in the West. This portrays how globalization has impacted this public sphere and the social understandings associated with gymming.

Evidently, globalization and transnationalism have had an effect on this imagescape and they have become things that can be read and interpreted by society. Kòbòlò, which is a street loiterer and a possible criminal and gymmers, are visible sociological representations of the vehicular reasoning behind the tro-tro slogans, which Quayson discusses in Chapter 4. They depict a certain lifestyle that can be interpreted by society. I found it interesting that globalization and transnationalism have transformed the public sphere in Accra in ways that I did not consider before such as in the salsa and gym scene. While tro-tro slogans have traditionally depicted the values, goals or biblical verses, Oxford Street has become covered in billboards that display the world economy of cultural and aesthetic practices that is often not the norm of the society, bridging the traditional and the modern. I believe that it is important to highlight how Oxford Street has benefited from globalization and transnationalism, however it is also crucial to acknowledge the negative effects that it has had on the city and the ways that it has changed the imagescape.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the negative repercussions of globalization that we can see in Accra? Do you believe that Quayson does an adequate job of discussing the negative effects of globalization?
  • Quayson highlights some of the effects that globalization has had in Ghana specifically with the salsa industry and gymming industry. Do you think that these effects are the result of the influence that Western nations can have? Would you say that these effects are positive or negative?

Sources

Quayson, A. (2014) Oxford Street, Accra. United States: Duke University Press.

 

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