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Accra's professionals: an ethnography of work and value in a West African business hub

Kauppinen, Anna-Riikka (2017) Accra's professionals: an ethnography of work and value in a West African business hub. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.mo75z7bl70lb

Abstract

This thesis focuses on Ghanaian young professionals and entrepreneurs whose lives unfold at the interstices of the capital Accra's private sector business scenes. By following professionals to the realm of family, friendship, workplace, religious community and the urban public culture, I show how professional status, and the quality of 'professionalism', emerge as objects of desire that transform into multiple types of value – economic, moral, ethical, and spiritual – within Ghanaian knowledge intensive capitalism. These value transformations are underpinned by Ghana's post 1980s neoliberal restructuring, expansion and privatisation of higher education, liberalisation of the media and the public sphere, increasing popularity of Charismatic Pentecostal Christianity, and the emergence of private sector companies as sought-after workplaces among Accra's middle-class youth. In line with the post-independence vision of Ghana as the promised land of black capital growth, diverse political, commercial and Christian stakeholders construct a public narrative of Ghana as a place where one can access professional status, become middle-class, and – on a broader scale – build 'professional', privately-owned infrastructure of value creation. With the national and historical public culture of professionalism as the backdrop, this thesis documents the uncertain, intimate trajectories of delivering on post-1990s liberal democratic promises of the value of professional qualifications and professional status. In the era of Accra's jobless growth and global imageries, and audit measures, of 'professional quality', professional life becomes a mode of existence characterised by the intensity of co-operative work, circulation of new ideas of productivity and ethical subjectivity, and discordant desires of moral belonging. By attending to how these interlocking processes shape co-operative work in diverse microcosms within Accra's media industry in particular, I show how the ‘desire for professionalism’ ultimately connects with longer genealogies of middle-class social reproduction, namely, the process of being and becoming particular type of citizens, families and communities. This proposition builds on the framework of 'work as mediation', which contributes to anthropology of capitalism by expanding the category of work to include flows of sociality that structure modes of value creation among Accra's professionals. These flows constitute what I propose to call an economy of flow and blockage, which is a particular form of social reproduction that manifests through distinct ethical action and ritual performance. This action includes, but is not limited to, tangible flows of cash and care, eating and feeding, the production of beauty, joking, prayer, and Christian fellowship. From this premise, considering work as a practice of mediation sheds new light on 'capitalisms from the south' by understanding work itself, and knowledgeintensive work performed as professionals in particular, as an object of popular desire. Hence, this thesis argues that new middle-class projects of social reproduction are central to the analysis of the content and form that new economic infrastructures take in a post-colonial African context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Anna-Riikka Maaria Kauppinen
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Engelke, Matthew and Scott, Michael W.
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3706

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