Ulrik Jennische, Doktorand, Socialantropologiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet

Market of Space: Moralities, Solidarities, and Citizen Making among Urban Traders in Northern Ghana

Ghana has during the last couple of decades gone through a democratization and a market liberalization process. Its progress has given it a special seat in the development discourse; as a politically stable democratic example with high levels of economic growth. This study takes a different perspective on this development, and aims at understanding the social dynamics of urban small-scale trade in a political and economic environment that is continuously changing.

The study is situated in and around the central marketplace of Tamale, an area I define as the marketspace. The marketspace is highly politicized as various actors in different ways try to intervene, control, influence and regulate. The government taxes, sets up rules, policies and defines space; parties mobilize, campaign and make promises; religious leaders gospel, preach and pray; unions and associations gather actors, pressing several conflicting voices into one; chiefs compete with the government in taxing, and solving disputes; and then there are all those powerful traders who may lack title, but still influence others into specific actions. As such, the marketspace is also a market of space, and an entry point to the study of local and global connections.

The marketspace is in a wider political Ghanaian discourse described as either a problem; dirty, congested, ugly, outdated and with traders occupying streets and dodging tax collectors; or as the solution and potential engine for development, through providing work employments and promoting economic growth. As a problem and a solution, it is in the constant focus and interest for politicians and others to intervene in. This study thus involves a repositioning of urban small scale trade from the informal margins to the center of political discourse. They become critically interior to the city, the state and development. A position that also better reflects their presence in the city.

The study builds on theories of moral economy and uses the metaphors of Bauman’s liquid and solid modernity, to argue that this market of space also holds a struggle of modernity, a struggle that is often morally configured, between mobility and immobility, the temporary and the consistent, the fluid and the solid.

Granskare: Jesper Bjarnesen, senior forskare, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.