Social mobility: selling transportation and modernity in independence-era Ghana
Reynolds, Jonathan T.
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During the period of the 1960s and 1970s, a considerable amount of scholarly energy was devoted to studying the process of "modernization." Scholars, particularly political scientists and anthropologists, theorized extensively over exactly what modernization was and debated how it could best be quantified and measured.1 By the 1980s, however, the very notion of the "modern," along with its antithesis, the "traditional" was falling out of favor. Indeed, by declaring the new era "post-modern," the academic avant-guard signaled that the concept of modernity had effectively been relegated to the past. The past, however, is the turf of historians, so perhaps now that the concept of modernity has become old-fashioned it is time for historians to take their turn at examining its meaning. This paper will approach the concept of the "modern" by examining the role of advertising in creating notions of modernity in independence-era Ghana. Ghana, at the time of independence in 1957, was a country of supreme optimism about the future. Not only did Ghanaians see themselves as being on the cutting edge politically (as the first sub-Saharan colony to achieve independence), but they also believed that independence would bring a new era of economic development and wealth. Ghana, as a country, was "going places." The new nation's optimism found many manifestations, but this paper will focus on only one aspect of this exuberance—representations of transportation as modernity in the advertisements and articles of Ghana's premier newspaper, the Daily Graphic. As stated before, early scholarship on modernization was concerned primarily with developing a way of measuring the demise of the traditional and the rise of the modern. Such studies focused on examining populations of "traditional" or "transitional" peoples to attempt to discern just how "modern" they had or had not become. What the previous studies did not consider, and what this paper seeks to examine, is exactly how modernity was presented to and by such populations. No single factor seems to represent modernity more than motion itself—be it actual movement across space or be it social and economic change. Indeed, Daniel Lerner, the prominent scholar of modernity, defined the key aspect of being modern as having... [TRUNCATED]
African Studies Center Working Paper No. 256
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