The "Working in Ghana" Project

About the Project

The stories of Ghanaians and expatriates obtained in this project provide candid, penetrating, and otherwise unavailable views of life in Ghana, West Africa at the end of the twentieth century.

Published literature on Africa

The published literature on Africa includes contributions from many academic disciplines. One can readily locate books and articles on the politics, economics, history, geography, art, music, and literature of all regions and of most countries in Africa.

But the social sciences have not, to an adequate degree, dealt with important aspects of the daily lives of Africans. Ethnographers have typically examined very limited populations, such as members of a single ethnic group residing in a village, small region, or urban neighborhood.

Personal statements about everyday life are largely limited to the voices of novelists and the expressions of artists. Although such statements can be quite eloquent and informative, they are at best indirect reflections of the people portrayed. The stories on this website were told by people who themselves performed the tasks, experienced the frustrations, enjoyed the satisfactions, had the aspirations, and lived the work lives of which they speak.

Workers’ Stories

The stories related here inform us not only about the Ghanaian narrators and the jobs they do, but also about their larger society. Much of what we, as Western readers, learn about that society arises from contrasts with our own experiences and with the assumptions and values implicit in our own perspectives. This notion led to an extension of this project--obtaining narratives from expatriates working in Ghana. As they carry out their duties, expatriates have numerous and sometimes very salient encounters with beliefs and practices that contrast with their previous experiences. Their actions and interpretations can thus provide valuable supplementary perspectives on Ghanaian society.

Stories of 50 Ghanaian men and women are available on this website. They represent several regions of the country and a wide range of jobs, from village chief and Member of Parliament to construction laborer and apprentice automobile mechanic. In addition, a handful of expatriates tell their stories of working in Ghana.  Additional narratives from both groups have been collected and may be added to the site in the future.

The procedures used to obtain the stories are related below.  At this point you may choose to continue reading or return to the "Working in Ghana" Home Page.

The Interviewers

Interviewers in Ghana

Three Ghanaian interviewers, Philip Awkeya, Ebenezer Mensah, and Stephen Obiri-Yeboah, and I collected the work narratives in Ghana from the spring of 1993 to the summer of 1995.   (For personal accounts of this work see Researchers' reflections on the project.)

Interviewers conversed with people in selected occupations about their work, emphasizing the activities workers carried out in doing the job. A typical opening question was "what do you do in your work?”  In the course of the conversation, the interviewer brought up certain topics if they were not mentioned spontaneously. These topics included feelings about various tasks that made up the job, physical conditions of the work, relations with work associates, benefits the work provided, worker organizations, and effects of the work on personal and family life. We also asked about their "philosophy of work"--personal perspectives on how people should regard their work and how they should conduct themselves on the job.

The interviewers also asked workers for certain demographic information, including age, marital status, hometown, and living arrangements. And they filed a report that described the conditions of the interview and their personal assessment of it.

The Interviews

The interviews were conducted in English if possible, or, if not, in a language spoken by both the interviewer and the worker. Among them, the interviewers spoke half a dozen Ghanaian languages. Stories that are translations into English are so noted in the introductory paragraph. Interviewers had to travel to workers' homes or places of work (telephone contact was not possible), arrange for a time to talk, conduct the interview and write a report, and make any clarifications or elaborations in the report that I might request. The reports were written from notes taken by the interviewers during and immediately after the interviews. Tape recorders were not used. Thus, strictly speaking, the narratives of Ghanaian workers are reconstructions by the interviewers of the stories the workers told them. Although they are not verbatim accounts, I believe they capture both the flavor and content of the actual conversations.

Our respondents were selected in several ways. About one-third of them were residents of a suburb of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The suburb had a population of about 45,000. We had access to census data on the suburb; the data included occupations, but not the names, of residents in particular dwellings. With this information we were able to go to the houses and contact people known to be a nurse, butcher, apprentice mason, or whatever. By contacting people outside their work settings, we avoided being steered to what managers or others might regard as "model" workers.

In the case of people who were not in the census, I would designate types of workers and ask an interviewer to locate and interview someone doing that kind of work. I wanted to include representatives of a wide range of jobs, from laborers to professionals, including women and men, literate and illiterate, and workers from various regions of the country. Sometimes, what I learned from the interviews suggested other jobs that could be informative. For example, after reading several negative comments about labor unions, I asked one of my assistants to interview an officer of a local union. The interviewers were from three different regions of Ghana, and a number of the interviews were conducted in their home regions.

Our efforts have yielded 97 interviews of Ghanaian workers. Selecting the 50 stories for inclusion on the website has not been easy, because it has meant excluding others that seem equally informative and worthy of distribution. Certainly no claim can be made that the individuals whose stories are included here are statistically representative of Ghanaian workers. But I believe they are representative in another sense. Our respondents have provided authentic representations of their jobs, their values, their culture, and their society. Their stories afford readers a deeper sense of understanding of Ghanaian work and workers than would be achievable by a quantified representative survey, if it were possible to conduct one.

In the summer of 1995, Philip Awekeya, Ebenezer Mensah, and I collected narratives from 30 foreigners who live and work in Ghana. Some of the expatriates in the sample were people I met while living and working in Ghana.  Others were suggested by them or by Ghanaian friends, or were known to the other interviewers. Some were contacted "cold." Most of the 21 expatriate interviews that I conducted were tape-recorded, and the transcripts rendered into narrative format. Only a fraction of these narratives now appear on the website; more may be added in the future.

The stories of Ghanaians and expatriates presented here have been lightly edited to increase readability. I sought to preserve expressions from interviewers' reports and from transcripts while deleting excess words and repetitive information. I also occasionally rearranged text to make the story flow more smoothly, and I corrected obvious misuses of words. Workers' names used in the narratives are pseudonyms.

Allan W. Wicker, Project Director

Last update: 4-4-13