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Preview: Fieldwork on a Ghanaian roadfind

Fieldwork on a Ghanaian roadfind

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Published: 2017-07-24T05:25:08Z


"The world's most dangerous roads"


A SPIEGEL article on "Die gefährlichsten Straßen der Welt" with a series of breathtaking photographs.

Gabriel Klaeger Amoyaw


Das ist mein 'Sohn' in Ghana.
Sein leiblicher Vater - mein guter Freund Kofi Amoyaw, Busfahrer aus Suhum - hat seinem Kind aus Freundschaft zu mir meinen Namen gegeben. Das ist in Ghana eine übliche Sache. Der Mittelname (ausgesprochen 'Klegga') ist auch in der Geburtsurkunde aufgeführt.

Der Kleine macht seine ersten Kletterübungen natürlich an einer ausrangierten Minibus-Sitzbank. - Ganz unten Amoyaw senior.





Road Exhibitions IV



Chasing cars, mocking mates: Movements, emotions and joviality among road hawkers in Accra

Parts of my thesis provide ethnographic insight into the life-world of hawkers on the Ofankor Road in northern Accra. On this busy arterial road, female and male hawkers in their teens and early twenties provide a range of products to travellers passing in the usually slow-moving city traffic. [more]

"The road to prosperity" (Guardian)


The impacts of new roads: "The construction of a super highway through northern Uganda will put Katine on the map and will boost trade. But some remain cautious about its impact on the community" - read The Guardian article

And a Guardian article on why to "Invest more in Africa's roads" with interesting readers comments

Spirit of road tripping (The Guardian)


From Route 66 to camel trekking in Jordan, the entries for the Guardian's March 2009 photo competition captured the spirit of road tripping beautifully.


Anthroad in 'Top 100 Anthropology Blogs'


My blog has just been listed among the "Top 100 Anthropology Blogs" under the 'Fieldwork' category.

Christina Laun from writes:

"It doesn’t matter if you’re studying capuchins in South America or the social interactions in American college bars, there is a blogger out there who shares your interests. University students, academics, professors and those who just love anthropology have helped to create a great assortment of online discourse about the field. We’ve compiled a list of 100 that are definitely worth a read."

Road blocks and emotions



Suhum, the neighbouring market town where I have my second residence, was hot the other day. A corpse was found lying near the highway to Accra – the fifth discovery since last December. And after the District Commissioner’s declaring, on the radio just a day earlier, that there was nothing serious going on in Suhum, the inhabitants reacted with great anger. They went out into the streets to let the world know that, indeed, Suhum had a serious problem. Young men erected road blocks, set them on fire and thus were able to block the entire through traffic for over five hours. At some point the police intervened with tear gas, shot one rioter into his leg and freed the highway again.


People demonstrated in Suhum because, for some time now, they felt let down by local politicians and the police. Rumour has it that ritual murders are being committed but not properly investigated. No one has come out with a full proof yet, but people make all kinds of speculations: about suspects, the murders’ circumstances, cut-off body parts, rituals, and the responsible’s possible involvements. They also speculate about the white guy (maybe a BBC reporter?!) taking pictures of burning tires and the youth singing war songs. [more]

Socialising on the road


Pothole ethnography: why they need to be repaired

Quite easy to tell, these pictures were taken during the rainy season. The trees are lush, the grass on the soft verge asks for serious weeding, and the potholes need to be repaired. Heavy rains - with the help of vehicles constantly bumping into the eroding asphalt - created this particular pothole in front of our house. I was sure, though, that Ofori was filling it with soil for the sake of the passing vehicles: they risk to have their tire or chassis damaged when hitting the whole. Wrong. Ofori is concerned about his own safety. This pothole is potentially fatal, he says, as a driver hitting it could easily lose control and swerve off - right onto the pavement where he spends lots of his free time socialising and watching the road. And who wants to get killed while chatting with friends anyway?

Walking and chatting on the pavement

Road Exhibitions II



Turn thesis into word cloud!



This word cloud is the visualized version of my Africa History Seminar presentation!

Chap. 2: Inhabiting the roadside: Practices, appropriations and commercialisation


  • Walking, watching, gossiping: quotidian roadside practices
  • Street jams, rituals and roadblocks: manipulating roads and traffic
  • Money from busy roads: hawkers, traders and other entrepreneurs
This chapter explores the tangible and creative ways in which the residents of roadside communities inhabit the AKR in everyday life. One focus is on the quotidian practices of using the roadside for walking, chatting, observing, etc. Another focus is on the commercial activities in which people engage, as well as on the specific entrepreneurial strategies that some employ to make more money from travellers and passersby. Finally, I deal with incidents during which residents actively appropriate the asphalt of the through road, such as by manipulating traffic through roadblocks in order to publicly stage a particular agenda. For the exploration of roadside inhabitations, I draw from encounters with residents, hawkers and traders in towns and on road sections located on the southern part of the AKR.

This chapter then looks at people’s road experiences and practices from a primarily stationary (‘road-residential’) perspective, whereas Part II and III of the thesis considers how the AKR is used, experienced and embodied in a mobile mode, namely by road travellers and commercial drivers.


More details:
The second chapter of my PhD thesis is kind of a mini-ethnography of people living alongside the Accra-Kumasi road. In Kyebi, the roadside community in which I spent the first part of my fieldwork, I resided in a household located just a few steps away from the main road. Soon I got fascinated by the various ways in which inhabitants make use of 'their' road, talk about it and occasionally mis-appropriate it:

(1) As part of their quotidian routines, people walk, stand, sit and, through that means, socialize on the road. What I enjoyed most was my friends' roadside gossip when observing familiar pedestrians and travelers from beyond the local.

(2) The tangible presence of the road in people's life gives rise to narratives, discourses and imageries. There's much talk about dangerous strangers and spiritual forces at accident-prone road sections. Incredible road rumors are highly revealing too.

(3) Finally, the road being used, even manipulated, as platform for entertainment, as public arena for claiming religious and political authority , and for staging protest, fears and emotions.

[Overview Chapter 2]

Chap. 4: Passengering - Caring for the moving body


  • Heat, rust and tough speed: The sensory constraints of road journeys
  • Searching for safe rides? The limits of choosing a proper driver, vehicle and seat
  • Coping with challenges: overcoming disillusions, disputes and discomfort
In the second chapter on travelling, I develop the notion of ‘passengering’ by delving into how people travelling on public minibuses face the multiple constraints and challenges along the journey. I first depict the exigent bodily and sensory impacts that various features of a journey – such as vehicle condition, driver behaviour, the AKR’s environment, etc. – can have on passengers. Claiming that, in principle, individual travellers do care about the integrity of their life and body, I then describe passengers’ attempts to choose a driver, vehicle and seating position which they deem appropriate for their trip. However, since the search for a safe ride comprises various limitations, passengers are confined to simply cope with the journey’s challenges, and I illustrate various instances and practices in/through which they try to overcome disillusions, disputes and discomfort, but also drivers’ indiscipline

Chap. 3: ‘Go and come!’ The socio-cultural dimensions of travelling


  • Travelling to Accra: modalities, status and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Framing journeys: everyday practices, customs and encounters
  • The importance and significances of travelling
The first chapter on travelling takes into account the social, cultural and economic contexts in which common road travel in southern Ghana is embedded. I begin with depicting the motivations, modalities and financial means which people travelling by public transport (trotros, minibuses) consider before setting off for trips. This involves a look at the changes in travel habits which have occurred in recent years due to growing availability of mobile phones. I then explore how road trips are embedded in various quotidian, but also customary (ritual-like) practices that involve people in complex acts of communication at the outset and the end of their trips. What emerge in the course of trips, through interaction and communication, are a particular sociability and a sense of ‘mobile community’ among passengers. I finally look at the significance and importance of travelling in a society that views the physical appearance/presence of people, in some contexts, as highly meaningful and that regards travelling as linked to status, consumption and modernity.

[Overview Chapter 3]