Where have all the Workers Gone? Labour and Work in Ghana, 1951-2010

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: History


This project for the first time systematically combines economic and social history perspectives on the post-colonial era in Africa; a period of labour history so far lacking long-term studies. Taking the example of Ghana, it tries out a distinctive blend of approaches, combining the systematic use of both qualitative and quantitative sources, addressing recent debates both in labour and economic history, and combining a range of local studies with a national overview.
The project addresses two partly conflicting trends in history and historiography. One is the tendency to analyse work "beyond wage labour" and focus increasingly on "informal" and "precarious" labour. This matches a critique of older assumptions that Africa would reproduce European patterns by becoming "proletarianized", with wage labour as the dominant form. Instead, the argument goes, the number of regular wage workers in postcolonial Africa did not grow as expected, while it was the category variously known as customary, informal or precarious labour that grew. The second trend includes the finding that the incidence of wage labour especially in rural areas across the continent has been seriously underestimated.
This combination of observations is the starting point for an in-depth study of labour trends in decolonizing and independent Africa. Ghana makes an apt case study, because there is substantial labour historiography for the colonial era, and potentially excellent primary material for the post-colonial. It was in Ghana that the term "informal sector" was coined, and Ghana epitomises a broader African contrast in economic growth rates and labour relations between the earlier and more recent periods since independence. The project will develop a national overview but focus in detail on three areas - Accra, a cocoa-growing region, and a northern savanna region - selected to represent different aspects of the experience of labour. Research questions include the changing size and composition of the workforce, the changing structure of forms of occupations and employment, the real earnings of labour, labour market integration, the structure of informal work and entrepreneurship, migrant flows and regional inequality, and the relation between poverty, precariousness and work. All these issues are strongly gendered. Sources include interviews, official and unofficial archives, surveys, censuses, newspapers and court records.
The cooperation between the German and British PIs offers combined expertise that forms the indispensable basis for the comprehensive approach envisaged in this project. Special emphasis is put on the participation of Ghanaian scholars. Two experienced scholars employed at Ghanaian universities will be involved as consultants, contributing expert advice as well as individual chapters. Moreover, early-career as well as senior scholars from Ghana will take part in workshops and other project-related activities.


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Description Project Inception Conference (first workshop) in Elmina, Ghana, 19-20 December 2022 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The 'Inception Conference' (as it was named by Prof Akua Britwum, consultant on the project, who organised and hosted it) was the first of 3 workshops within this project. It had 3 groups of participants, each of them very important: 1) the research team; 2) colleagues at Ghanaian universities working on related issues who could (and did) give us feedback and suggestions; and 3) graduate students, mostly from the host university in Ghana but also a Japanese student doing a PhD in Cambridge (who was in Ghana for her own separate research project). The workshop was extremely useful for all of us, a) because it gave every team member a deadline for finishing an initial paper, b) because of what we learned from the excellent guest lecture by Prof Akosua Darkwah (University of Ghana) and several discussants from the University of Cape Coast (UCC), plus other participants who contributed to the discussion, c) because it gave us an opportunity at the end to reflect and refine our next steps; d) as a result of the contacts and conversations at the workshop, we anticipate inviting Prof Darkwah to contribute to the final edited volume. The project succeeded in engaging a wider academic audience (from research-masters' students to professors) at UCC.
Please see the REPORT on the conference, on the project website (under 'News & Events'). The report was largely compiled by Prof Britwum, hence the abundance of photographs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.labouringhana.com/
Description Project Website: https://www.labouringhana.com/ 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The website is intended to inform and interest wider academic and educational audiences. The site was developed by Dr Igor Martins, the Postdoctoral Researcher on the team. It only went public two days ago, 13 March. But Igor and I have already publicised it to people attending an online seminar in African Economic History, and are sending an announcement and link to the African Economic History Network asking that it be included in their next newsletter, which goes to 100-200 people, mostly faculty and graduate students. The Berlin-based members of the team, especially Prof Andreas Eckert, will publicise it among social and labour historians internationally. The 3 Ghanaian participants in the project will publicise it widely, so we are confident that it will reach colleagues, graduate students, undergraduate students, perhaps secondary school students in Ghana, and a limited number of the general public, especially in Ghana. For this report, I ticked the box '51-100' people: which is more than can have visited it since it opened so recently, but a lot less than are likely to have visited the site by the time of the next report.
It is too early to answer the next question, so I have selected 'Requests for further information' as the most likely.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
URL https://www.labouringhana.com/