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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Literacies, Language, and Technological Transformation in the New Ghana

  • Author(s): Flamenbaum, Rachel
  • Advisor(s): Ochs, Elinor R
  • et al.

This dissertation engages with the classic linguistic anthropological question of literacies in the context of the rapid technological shift in Ghana, West Africa. It examines the slippage between widespread claims of technological transformation made by global tech entrepreneurs and their local partners on the one hand, and the uneven practices through which students at different levels of socioeconomic access are socialized into digital literacies on the other. Specifically, it considers the role of shifting local notions of hierarchy and epistemic rights in the uptake of digital literacies.

Situated as a response to the dearth of research into digital literacies in contexts outside of the post-industrial world, this dissertation argues for greater attention to the pedagogies through which such literacies are taught, in the face of the persistent, widely held belief that digital technology represents a straightforward panacea for the problems of poverty and underdevelopment.

It first considers widespread claims about technological transformation in light of rote pedagogical practices in Ghanaian schools. Close examination of classroom practices in the socialization of ICTs reveals that the deference to elders and authority figures that organizes classroom routines lies orthogonal to the values of learner-centric, critical thinking-oriented values that inform the design of computer hardware and software imported from the Post-Industrial world. The embedding of technologies into contexts of rote learning thus does not produce educational transformations, but rather tech taught by rote.

The latter half of the dissertation engages with the phenomenon of the ‘New Ghana,’ a diffuse alternative public sphere born in part from Ghana’s economic efflorescence relative to the ongoing global economic crisis. I focus especially on the practices through which Ashesi university, an elite tech-focused liberal-arts-based institution at the core of the New Ghana, socializes students into modes of universalist ethical action, critical knowledge production, and ways of speaking that explicitly challenge the age-graded respect hierarchies of the status quo. The organizing principle of Ashesi’s institutional efforts to reshape the habitus of Ghanaian youth into “a generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders for Africa” is a belief—shared by many within and beyond Ghana—in the transformational power of technologies to bring about political change and economic development.

In the dissonance between these spaces, I argue that, despite claims about the kinds of participatory democracy and economic spheres that new technologies enable, the forms of print and digital literacy necessary to participate in these domains remain exclusive—thus reproducing class hierarchies even as age-graded hierarchies are dismantled.

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