“Another Typical African Family”: Navigating Relational Obligations in Accra, Ghana

Colloquium | April 18 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Lindsay Bayham, PhD Student, Sociology, UC Berkeley

 Center for African Studies


A large anthropological literature characterizes African communities’ norms of patronage, which obligate wealthy people to share their resources with less fortunate relations. Recent research suggests that these norms of support are increasingly disputed, however. In this talk, I analyze variation in Ghanaians’ attitudes towards relational obligations, focusing on variation by income level. How do Ghanaians from different socio-economic backgrounds interpret and fulfill their obligations differently? Using data from an original vignette survey and interviews with high-, middle- and low-income residents of Ghana’s capital Accra, I find substantial variation in respondents’ beliefs about the importance and extent of obligations. In particular, higher-income respondents are less likely to provide financial aid to their relations in theory and in practice, while lower-income respondents are more likely to give aid across a range of situations, and go to greater lengths to help others. In the second part of the talk, I highlight the strategies that Ghanaians use to manage the requests others make of them, and illustrate the ways that digital communication technologies have made obligations both harder to avoid and easier to control, depending on respondents’ skill at navigating cultural norms.

About Lindsay Bayham

Lindsay Bayham is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on social networks, culture, communication, economic development, and social theory. She has spent more than 3 years doing research in Ghana since 2007, including fourteen months of doctoral fieldwork as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow. Her dissertation project examines variation in and evolution of the norms and practices surrounding social obligations and informal exchange in Accra.


 Spring 2017 CAS Colloquium Flyer