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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Week 3: Oxford Street, Accra

This week’s assigned readings were from Ato Quayson’s book Oxford Street, Accra. It begins by introducing Ghana as having one of the fastest-growing economies and in return, it is a very safe and sought after travel destination. The author’s focus on space is highlighted throughout the entire book as it is a look into the history of Oxford Street’s commercial district and how transnationalism and globalization have effected the representation of space and urban processes. “Any temptation to see Oxford Street as a postmodern transnational commercial boulevard is, however, quickly to be tempered by the many signs of cultural phenomena that reach back several generations” (Quayson, 2014, 12). This passage from Oxford Street, Accra depicts the overall feeling one has when they are on Oxford Street because among the transnational, commercialized enterprises, there are more complex elements that bring together cultural elements of writing, images, soundscape and performance. These are further demonstrated in chapters 4-6 of his novel with a focus on vehicular slogans, cell phone advertising, Salsa dancing and gymming.

In chapter 4, The Beautyful Ones, it attempts to understand the characteristics of Oxford Street in relation to how social media and technology is desired and represented in specific discursive environments. Vehicular slogans are a way that Quayson analyzed the collective transcript of responses to social transitions. The slogans were identified as mobile or stationary, depending on whether they were on permanent infrastructure, or vehicles such as tro tros and vendors. These slogans and inscriptions throughout the commercialized community are translations of the local culture onto the processes of globalization. Do you agree that they are translations of the local culture, or perhaps a way for the local community to reject further trends of globalization and transnationalism? Further in this chapter, the delocalization of these slogans is put into perspective when looking into the consumer-based campaigns to promote cell phone usage. Delocalizing the transnational interests of the community served as a benefit in the high rates of subscribers to cell phone companies. Do you think that the high rates of cell phone subscribers is a direct effect of globalization and delocalization of the transnational or simply as a step into modernity, and the age of technology?

The fifth chapter of Oxford Street, Accra, it is a struggle to find balance in Accra’s salsa scene between economic advancement with the hosting of a salsa, and the aspiration of feelings of community when participating in one. It demonstrates the many different interests of people that can clash in a culturally traditional practice. Vera Adu was passionate about salsa and loved the feeling she got from it and the sense of community that came with it. The economic benefits of hosting a salsa came from the mass amounts of people who came to watch, as well as socialize and buy drinks etc. However, the issue arose when venues wanted to start charging for entry and participation, and it was now a very commercialized event. Without the sense of community, the traditional salsa that was celebrated in Accra was altered, and people did not get the same feeling as they did before the economic interest.

Sources

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

Week 3 Post: Urbanism: The Global City

The book Oxford Street: City Life and the itineraries of Transnationalism provide a very insightful look into the history and dynamics of Ghana, specifically “Oxford Street” which is one of Accra’s busiest streets. It is filled with shopping, people and urban development and has become known as one of the most globalized streets. Perspectives on this issue include insights from a philosophy, social theory and an economic background. Ato Quayson is one of Africa’s most prominent literary and cultural critics which were refreshing to be reading his work. Articles from last week especially along with many provided in Global Studies are written by Euro-Western scholars/anthropologists performing ethnographic research in Countries such as Ghana. I found that I was able to read these chapters much more impartially compared to other pieces on Ghana. He outlines a hopeful future of the urbanization of Western Africa.

A term used quite often within this book is African Urbanism. In the introduction Quayson wrote about the street in a geographical sense but also about spatial characteristics of Oxford Street specifically. An example he used was describing different meanings that viewing a sidewalk can bring. When discusses the implications of the sidewalk, he writes, “the first a signal of urban planning crisis and the second a signifier of local entrepreneurial drive.” The vibrant globalization of Accra has done well for the country but when uncovering the true implications which this has brought, is it similar to a revolution? He also discusses the importance and rise of fitness training as well as dancing. The cultural meaning behind dancing can differ greatly between races, culture, countries etc. but I think what Quayson is attempting to is allowing the reader to mend the gap between the West and Accra specifically. The higher class locals of Accra are the ones who are enjoying this type of experience which is easily relatable to places such as New York or Toronto. Though I understand that he is attempting to observe similarities but in hindsight everything is much different.

Reading his approaches on space and culture within Globalization were very interesting to me. His ethnographic method of approaching these issues of documenting and interacting with locals and stripping down the layers of African Urbanism was unique to readings that I have been exposed to in the past. It seemed to be a genuine firsthand experience and despite the certain times that it was obvious the book was made a for an educated Western reason, he did a good job at remaining impartial to Accra.

Discussion: Last week we talked about the involvement of Anthropologists, if this was a Western anthropologist author, would the book have the same impact? Or would it be seen as a tourist experience? Are his comparisons of dancing and fitness training in Chapter 4 essential to the central message of this book or just another way to “mend the gap”?

J Flood

Week 3 Oxford Street, Accra

The book Oxford Street, Accra written by Ato Quayson analyzes the development and transformation of one of the city’s most popular streets into a hub of commercial, pluralistic activity. The development, during this postcolonial period, of Accra into an urbanized space is seen as a result of globalization processes and the influence of transnational corporations and planning systems, which is described within the introduction of the book.

In chapter 4 “The Beautyful Ones”, Quayson examines Oxford Street through a different perspective, one that interprets the street not simply as a geographical but instead as “lively expressive archives of urban realities” (129). Looking at advertisements on billboards, he discusses how such displays fuse local ethnologies with “transnational imagescapes” and provides the example of cell phone advertising and vehicular slogans to demonstrate how the two come together. Quayson makes some very interesting to see just how multinational corporations influence the social realities of Oxford Street but also how the city of Accra has accepted such transnational influences into society. Should we be questioning whether all Ghanaian citizens have accepted these Western influences? Do you think that Ghana has truly reached a post-colonial state despite the fact that Western companies continue to be involved in Ghanaian society? Is the process of globalization seen as a positive or a negative within this situation?

Chapter 5 “Este loco, loco”, focuses on salsa dancing in particular and its relation to ‘gymming’ amoung youth to reinforce the presence of globalization and a global culture within Accra. Quayson notes how such activities have been able to minimize a cultural divide however there continues to be a divide in class lines between the two activities. Quayson goes on to discuss how salsa dancing came to Accra from Costa Rica through transnational and diasporic connections, which provides interesting insight into how different culture pieces are moved from one country to another. Once again we see how Ghana as adopted different aspects of other cultures into their own social fabric. This particular examples seems to be one that demonstrates a positive aspect of globalization, however what are some of the negative aspects that could arise as a result of such cultural flows?

M. Singlehurst 120372730

Week 3 – “African Urbanism: the Global City”

Breeanna Campbell – 110671150

The theme for this week is African Urbanism: the Global City”, for this we were required to read chapters from Ato Quayson’s book titled Oxford Street, Accra. Throughout these chapters (and I imagine the rest of the book), he develops a globalized image of Accra in the reader’s minds. A couple of the ways he does this is through the demonstration of tourist population growth, and the boom in cell phone companies. The inclusion of these cell phone companies aid in the portal of a developing and globalizing city through the use of technologies. However, a question worth pondering is whether this is an accurate portal. In other words, I question whether this isolated industry is a good measure of the overall development of Accra.

Although cell phones do have their evident benefits – for example, they can help to facilitate larger networks and increase employment accessibility and opportunity – they can also way on the economic gap within the society and further segregate it. In addition to this, Quayson discusses Accra’s attempt to close this gap between the upper class and working class through the introduction of salsa dancing and fitness training. He explains how these facilities were opened to the public in order to bring everyone together and create a better relationship between the residents of the city. However, he explains how the salsa classes are, against their objectives, typically occupied by the upper class and the fitness centers are used mostly by the working class -therefore still dividing the society and not building the bridge it was founded to build. This division is rooted in the colonial history of the area, which Quayson explores throughout his introduction. I also question whether the concept of “post-colonial” (used both in this book, and in other resources) is valid.

Finally, I question if using only Oxford Street allows the author to develop an “authentic” description and presentation of this city. In my opinion, in order to really understand the city and in both a local and transnational position one needs to include more. I also wonder if Western influence is beneficial or harmful for this city and its current and future economic, and global, growth. Is this a good city for companies (both foreign and native) to invest in… or is globalization only feeding the existing gap?

Week 3 Blog Post

Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism by Ato Quayson looks at the successes of development, urbanization and modernization in the city of Accra, Ghana. Specifically looking at the cosmopolitan, globalized, modern Oxford Street and the urbanization of Ghana in the move towards modernity. Throughout the introduction and chapters Quayson answers how Oxford Street has become this global modern area in Accra, Ghana, the chapters also give insight on the impact of urbanization and modernization in Ghana. Technology has had a large impact as well as advertising, this has connected the developed world to the forefront of Oxford Street with Mobile Devices and advertisement. Salsa dancing is also proof of this cosmopolitanism taking place where a completely different culture is available and sought by the people of Accra the members of this new global village. Oxford Street conveys the message that with modernization there is a shrinking of the gap between Underdeveloped countries such as Ghana and the developed world. That technology and the cohesion of multiple cultural ideas and practices is the way to development. The cultural ideas that Quayson is pointing to come down to the culture of ‘western’ capitalism.
As Neocolonialism of Ghana proceeds, will Ghana become just another ‘Western’ Country? Is the upside of development worth the cultural shift away from traditional towards that of western ideals of modernity and Capitalism?
In most post-colonial countries such as Ghana there is a sense of cultural affirmation when gaining independence. But what happens now is a neocolonialism society, where the global village and the western modernity and capitalism are the colonist. Development is of course created and these countries are able to enter the global economy. Though the smaller this gap between developed and underdeveloped becomes, there is a loss of traditional culture. Oxford Street is described as a bustling street of capitalism, much like wall street or even King Street in Waterloo. It losses its very own uniqueness and becomes one of the many streets of the global village. The upside is though that poverty and many development issues can be solved. Or is it?
The urbanization in Ghana, and the development of the city of Accra has created a larger Gap between those in the urban and those in the rural. Modernity and globalism has come to the city of Accra, what about the rest of Ghana. Are those people that are not part of the urban left behind in underdevelopment? The neocolonialism culture that is discussed in the writings is focused on one street in one City. What about the rest of the streets, the rest of the country? Success may have an outward effect in the future, but there will be complications. Grassroots cultures will likely clash with Oxford Street culture. There will be issues in creating a hybrid culture that appeals to traditional Ghanian culture and global culture. Like many developing countries there must be a middle ground or there would be a risk of clashing ideas, and a risk of becoming a global village with no distinct identity.

T Knoops – 100693640

Blog Post – Week 3

Mary Crawford – 110209140

This week we were assigned to read an article on Accra, a bustling city in Ghana that has had an urban explosion despite being in a post-colonial area. Although this has become a hip place for international travellers to visit, very few are aware of the underlying problems in the city. This truly reminded me of the Dominican Republic and its ever growing resort town, Punta Cana. It has become one of the most visited vacation destinations in the western hemisphere and yet is also one of the poorest countries, struck with corrupt government. Despite its beautiful white beaches and exotic animals, it is a city ready to crumble. Surrounded with batayes (dominican slums) and Haitians desperately trying to find work across the boarder, the resorts have created an illusion of luxury to all those who come to visit. The similarity between these two cities continue even with the segregation of the people. In attempt to blur the lines and shrink the gap between the wealthy and the poor, salsa classes and gyms have opened their doors to the public. Unfortunately, dancing is normally associated with the upper class and “gym rats” are normally the middle to lower class. In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are considered the scum of the earth (not my words) and often treated poorly by the Dominicans. In attempt to welcome Haitians, they created small communities working on the sugar plantations. In the end, this has only created them to be more isolated and working long back breaking hours in the field. There is little a government can try in order to eradicate the gap or merge two groups of people, this has to come from the population. Over time, cultures will blend and hopefully opinions will change. This can only be done by the people, not through dance classes and jobs.

I believe the author, Quayson, wants the reader to view Accra as a booming and lively city such as New York or Paris but unfortunately has to realize even in these large popular cities, there are huge gaps between the people. The more important issue is dealing with the real problems rather than attempting to cover them up. By presenting an honest telling of the situation, large companies may be more likely to invest in the city knowing that they can provide employment and have plenty of room to grow. Globalization is a wonderful thing but if it is not done properly or put through by a corrupt government, it does not always turn out for the better.

Week 3 Oxford Street in Accra

Francesco Vergari 110622440

Week 3: African Urbanism: the Global City

As Ato Quayson writes in Oxford Street, Accra, the effects of globalisation can be observed in Ghana’s Capital city,. The influence of transnational corporations blending with the needs and desires of Ghanaians. The economy of Accra is of particular interest as Quayson observes practise and trends in both the formal and informal economies. Quayson notes the influence religion plays on commerce and politics as can be observed on the myriad of slogans declared on all billboards, shop stands, wall, cars and all other matters of signage. It is an effort to express spiritual ideas while attempting to connect with a large Christian consumer base in the city. The term “some are sitting well” for example is used to express the criticism of corrupt government officials benefiting from their positions. Quayson discusses many different slogans and their assigned meanings but it is interesting to consider term as an expression of individuality while connecting with other local in a shared culture.

Quayson also discusses the popularity of salsa dancing and fitness training in Accra as appealing to all social classes and bridging ethnic and cultures divides while still recognizing the divergent trends between the upper and working classes in Accra. Salsa dancing appeals more often to upper class citizens as it is perceived as more refined and is perhaps a little more exclusive while the working class tends to frequent fitness centres or “gymming” in order to be active as well as to socialize. This overall trend speaks to the uneven accessibility of opportunity that globalization provides as well as reflecting the colonial legacy of British rule as lower class subjects were more directed to do manual and physical work while the upper class and colonial administrators enjoyed the ‘finer things’ in life.

Quasyons account is interesting to consider the implications of globalizations as there can be observed similarities between Accra and other cosmopolitan metropolises such as London and New York. The salsa dancing much enjoyed by the city’s youth and upper class citizens is a trend that can be observed in other large cities as is the reach of transnational corporations in terms of the products available to those in Accra.

Discussion Question: If we are to draw lines of simile between Accra and other global cities should there also be discussion of the negative aspects such as inner city poverty, gang violence, organised crime, issues with law enforcement etc? As globalization brings many benefits it can also just as many issues if individuals and cities are not equipped t manage them.

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

Week 3: African Urbanism- The Global City

Jessica Slade- 110232060

For the purposes of this week’s blog post, we were asked to read select chapters from the work entitled “Oxford Street Accra” by Ato Quayson. In combination, the Introduction, chapters 4-6 and the conclusion all proved to be very insightful. As a global scholar and a citizen of Ghanna, Quayson’s social location created meaningful paradigm as he is was able to construct a unique discourse through the sharing of this work.

The introductory section of this book raises important thought-provoking questions and provides a much-needed foundation to aid the reader’s historical knowledge of Accra. Quayson posed the questions best when he asked,

“How does one keep focused on the mundane and the apparently ephemeral and from this construct a viable understanding of the African city?  More pressingly, how does one tie these passing quotidian features to questions of historicity, transition, and agency, all three of which cannot be escaped if a proper counter-discursive corrective is to be made against the current crisis-management understandings?” (Quayson’s Blog, 2009)

These questions in many ways became the base to which Quayson wrote about and studied Oxford Street in Accra. After reading the above stated inquiries and completing this week’s required text, do you believe that Quayson adequately developed new ways around the past methods that were used to study Accra? Do you think that studying the social and urban history of Accra from a single street is the best way to get a sense of the development that has occurred, or would you do it differently?

“Chapter 4: The Beautyful Ones” focuses on the distinct themes of transportation and mobility, the place and role of advertising within the streets of Accra. Quayson raises interesting points regarding the creation of delocalized campaigns that are designed to depict cosmopolitan desires. This representation is used to encourage locals to participate in business through the invoking of a particular lifestyle. While each campaign is designed from a place of strategy, it is interesting to review the statistics regarding the market size and the registered rates of consumer consumption. Quayson writes, “To put these figures in proper perspective it has to be recalled that the current population of Ghana is estimated and twenty-five million. With an overall subscriber base of 24,884,195, it is considered one of the fastest growing cell phone markets in Africa,” (Quayson, 2014, pg. 146). In reading this we can see the success story that is economically present in Ghana. In terms of the type of market in existence, we can see that it is a highly competitive, and rightfully so.

In the confirmation of these rates of contractual participation, were you surprised about the inherently Western influence that has been added to Ghanaian society? How do the rates of cellphone subscribers in this case compare to that of our own country? Do you think they compare, is it a globally felt generational shift towards dependence on technology?

“Chapter 5: Este loco, loco” explores the historical and cultural place of Salsa dancing in Accra and confronts the conversational narratives that have consumed the place of Ghanaian society since the emergence of the transnational Spanish inspirations. As someone who is not particularly familiar with cultural influences in Africa as a whole, I was surprised to see the emphasis and place of Salsa as a type of ‘lifestyle choice’ in Accra.Quayson writes about the instrumental and positive effect that the emergence of Salsa has had on the local people- in terms of communication, community building and a means of economic success for local business. Prior to engaging in this week’s material, did you realize the impact that globalization has had on the transformational history of Ghana? Do you think that the addition of Salsa dancing to the Ghanaian culture is an example of Western influential practices, why or why not? Consider the local movement that spread as community members became engaged on their own.


"Lonely Planet Publications: Photobook"

“Lonely Planet Publications: Photobook”

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I went on to do further research and found that during the initial stages of writing this work Quayson was a contributing writer to “Arcade: Literature. The Humanities and the World”. This is a blog founded by Stanford University. Here Quayson wrote about his interpretations, emotions and larger themes that were all contributed to his book. I found this resource to be particularly helpful in creating a sense of clarity as to the types of questions that he was working to get answers to.

Feel free to check out the following link to the blog: http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/user/ato-quayson