Date of Award

12-1-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

McCall, John

Abstract

How do popular media genres reinforce or provide alternative perspectives to circulating official political discourses, as well as articulate issues of social concern? In what ways do such media offer insights into aspects of cultural practices that inform and represent matters of key significance in people's quotidian lives? This dissertation investigates these two general questions within four distinct Ghanaian popular visual media genres: popular video-films, political cartoons, death announcement posters, and vehicle inscriptions (`mottonyms'). Regarding the Ghanaian popular video-films, I examine how the films (re)present the issue of cyberfraud (`sakawa') in Ghana. I contrast the films' (re)presentation of this phenomenon vis-a-vis that of certain official pronouncements on the issue, and argue that a critical approach to the `sakawa film series' reveals a robust counter discourse to official denunciations. My investigation of political cartoons, examines some of the works of the artist Akosua in the Ghanaian newspaper, Daily Guide. Here I focus on how Akosua's works, utilizing popular cultural allusions, function as an alternative media discourse in contemporary Ghanaian sociopolitical debates. As regards the death-announcement posters, I investigate how, situated as they are within certain well-known Ghanaian cultural values and practices, including funerary caskets, these posters remediate these cultural mores in the context of rapid social change. Lastly, regarding the mottonyms, I explore, through interviews with vehicle owners, the interactions between specific life experiences that spurred them to coin these inscriptions and the cultural fabric within which they have done so. Conceptually, this dissertation draws not only from cultural anthropology and its subfields of visual culture, and religion, media and culture, but also significantly from global/international media studies and from emergent works on African cultural and media studies. The harnessing of interdisciplinary conceptual frameworks, such as phenomenological and social constructionist approaches, to interrogate Ghanaian popular visual media in this dissertation advances our current thinking in the above-mentioned fields in several ways. For example, the social constructionist (Lee-Hurwitz 1995; Morgan 2005) and phenomenological approaches (Langsdorf, 1994; Lanigan 1998) that guide the investigation of vehicle inscriptions and death-announcement posters reveal purposeful intentionality in human communication. Furthermore, this dissertation, with its focus on popular video-films, press cartoons, death-announcement posters and vehicle inscriptions concretely elucidates recent expansive theorizations of `media'. Here `media' is understood as practices of mediation (de Vries 2001; Meyer 2003; Zito 2008), and broadly conceived to transcend narrowly defined traditional mass media formats (Downing 1996). In the latter case, I advocate for global/international media scholars to begin to pay equal `field service' to popular media artifacts within the current ambit of the `practice paradigm' in global/international media studies (Postill 2010:4; Couldry 2004).

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