The "Working in Ghana" Project

Suggested uses for the naratives

I suggest here a few of many ways that the work narratives might be read or processed by various readers.

All readers

I hope and expect that all readers will develop a better understanding of working and living conditions in contemporary Ghana, and a closer identification with the Ghanaian people. Many of their values and aspirations match our own, although their daily work lives may differ markedly.

African Studies Students and Instructors

For students enrolled in African Studies courses, these stories provide numerous, concrete examples of issues and topics that their textbooks address in more "objective" and abstract ways. For example, the stories include numerous instances of family and kinship relationships, occupation and social status, gender and age roles, formal and informal sectors, traditional ceremonial practices, urban-rural conflicts and migratory trends. Course instructors may thus select sets of narratives to supplement chapters or books that they have assigned.

Visitors to Ghana

Readers who are planning to visit Ghana or other West African countries, whether for a brief or an extended stay, should find much of interest in these stories. Such readers may include travelers; visiting scholars; Peace Corps Volunteers; study abroad students; mission workers, business people; and development program participants, officers and evaluators. The stories contain information that allows first-time visitors to get beyond the superficial images that many of us take abroad. Latent workings and values of Ghanaian and West African society are revealed. Knowing them can be quite practical. For example, given the importance that Ghanaians attach to family, proper greetings to people should include inquiries as to the well being of their families. And it is useful to know that small gifts have strong symbolic value as expressions of respect. There is also practical value in knowing that when you take your car to a roadside mechanic in Ghana, the young men who congregate around it are apprentices who watch and learn from the master as he interviews the client and investigates problems. Longer-term visitors working in Ghana for the first time may find it helpful to learn some of the values and perspectives of Ghanaians working in their sectors of interest. And the narratives of other expatriates working in similar jobs may help them anticipate situations they will face.

Research scholars and teachers

These stories can also be used as "raw data" for informal or for systematic analyses by students and researchers. I will mention only three of many possibilities.

One approach would be to develop specific comparisons in cultural practices and values of Ghanaian society and another society, such as North America. Such contrasts could include family ties, relations to co-workers, types of work benefits people care about, women in the work place, and philosophies of work.

A second approach would be to search the stories for examples of social science concepts and processes that have been described or researched in the Western literature. To illustrate, instances of social exchange relationships (benefits and costs in interpersonal transactions), or expressions of relative deprivation (believing one is worse off than a reference person or group), or psychological contracts with employers (implied assumptions about what workers and employers owe each other) could be bracketed and analyzed. Further inquiry might explore the fit between the Western constructs or theories and the narrated events, and consider what the fit or lack of it reveals.  For example, are the ways that the Ghanaian workers compare themselves with others the same as in North American society? Does the notion of relative deprivation seem to "work" as well when applied to Ghanaians as to North Americans?

In a variation of the above use, I assigned selected narratives to students in a graduate psychology course, Theories of Social Behavior. Individual stories were paired with particular theories that emphasize processes or variables that can be discerned in the selected stories. I found this a useful way to promote scrutiny of the theories—by having students pass theoretical concepts and other claims through the "screens" of a particular case from a non-Western culture.

A third kind of analysis might take a contrasting approach. Rather than bringing pre-formulated constructs to the stories, analysts might try to develop an empathetic stance that seeks to identify themes, concepts, and patterns that seem to emerge from the people who have been given "voice."