Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Santa Cruz

Living in Liminality: Chinese Migrancy in Ghana


Is the sense of community necessarily something that immigrants yearn? Do migrants necessarily want to settle down or maintain connections to their former homes, or are there other ways of living? This dissertation is an ethnographic account of the Chinese in Ghana that looks closely at their lives to understand the nature of community and stability. For various historical and personal reasons, the Chinese in Ghana are an "invisible population" without a sense of residential and cultural community. Despite many Chinese having lived in Ghana for decades, the desire to settle down is not strong, and at the same time, they do not necessarily want to go elsewhere.

Based upon two years of ethnographic fieldwork primarily in the cities of Accra and Tema, I explore how the Chinese in Ghana live and engage with their liminal status in unexpected ways. I argue that in order to see these kinds of experiences and to understand them, it is necessary to take a person-centred ethnographic approach rather than relying primarily on structural and historical and analysis. I argue that assuming the Chinese in Ghana is a community would obfuscate how their social relations fracture and congeal to produce not community, but malleable social networks which at various times individuals remove themselves from in order to maintain some kind of invisibility and privacy. Paying attention to people's concurrent narratives (multiple narratives that exist simultaneously but may not be revealed at the same time) demonstrate how individuals are contradictory in their understanding of their worlds and their methods of negotiating their lives. The overarching theme in this dissertation is that while many Chinese in Ghana either find their situation less than desirable or sometimes tenable for the time being, many do not want to leave immediately or return to their former homes. Instead, they find a way to live in liminality and they sometimes find this a desirable trait. This study demonstrates the dangers of assuming the Chinese in Africa are fairly homogenous, or that typical migrant narratives of home and community necessarily apply to them.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View