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Research project

Mobility of people and transmission of knowledge in northern Ghana

Research on how issues of mobility and memory play out in skilful practices involving different groups of migrants in northern Ghana

Sabine Luning

MSc Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology - Research opportunity

Mobility of people and transmission of knowledge in northern Ghana, for MA student within the visual ethnography track in collaboration with Mark Westmoreland.

The comparative IIAS research project Humanities across Borders, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is interested in cross-cultural pedagogies. Our Ghanaian colleague Dr. Kojo Opoku Aidoo of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana Legon, Accra is the leader of one of the subprojects. The subproject looks into how issues of mobility and memory play out in skillful practices involving different groups of migrants in northern Ghana.

Outline of the project

A defining feature of post-colonial West Africa is increasing cross-border migration, making the region a quintessential “social laboratory” through which to interrogate and heighten our comprehension of memory, migrations and pan-Africanist ideals. What are the general effects on West African migrants when migration and border control makes it difficult to realize migratory aspirations? Do restrictive mobility regimes result in fewer migrants? Contrary to conventional wisdom, African migration patterns are instead in a process of reconfiguration. And, this reconfiguration may be explored with a focus on the family relations, social identities, reciprocities, and moralities that contemporary West African migration projects are embedded in. We need insights into the layer between migrant narratives and mobility regimes. We need to examine the intertwining of waiting, hope and morality in precarious border zones in Northern and Volta regions of Ghana and Lakodji of Togo-Benin border. 

The Ghana project relates to memory, migration, communities, and new ways of Pan-Africanism in connection with the historical, comparative and contemporary issues such as the Nigerian, Malian, Burkinabe and Senegalese Diasporas in Ghana, and mobility in West Africa in general. These migrations have tended to challenge the colonially constructed borders, the nation-state, and xenophobic and genocidal attacks. And, in some instances, they have even led to the construction of parallel political economies distinct from those under the influence of the states. The project would explore the existing body of knowledge on memory, migration, deterritorialization, identity and new ways of pan Africanism, and also reconfigure and reconstruct memory on migration and pan Africanism paying attention to the contestations and manipulations, with individual and institutional partners.

This project could be carried out by one of the master’s students in the Visual Ethnography specialization.

Our master’s students within the visual ethnography specialization can collaborate in this project with Ghanaian students. The aim of the project is to document processes of learning in the context of practices involving migrants of different origins. This could pertain to different settings, e.g. learning and transmission of artisanal skills (making Ghana beads, weaving or technologies on mining sites) between actors of different nationalities or ethnic identities, or the transmission of knowledge in the context of trade in which different currency systems are articulated. A major purpose of the research collaboration is the methodological challenge of sharing research data in an early stage of the research. How can the students make rough footage and transcripts available for other members in the project as well as for informants in the field with the aim to generate feedback and new lines of commentary and investigation?


Sabine Luning is an anthropologist with a research interest in economic anthropology and issues of sustainability.  In the past, she has worked in development projects and ever since she has retained an interest in the social relations, power dynamics and organizational culture of development initiatives. For the past 10 years, she has been working on social aspects of large-scale and small-scale gold mining foremost in Burkina Faso, but also in Ghana, Suriname, French Guyana and Canada. She is interested in the effects of global connections on local situations, e.g., the dynamics around industrial mines of Transnational Companies operating in West Africa.

She is currently focusing on Landscapes of Extraction, with a particular interest in how mining affects water quality and distribution in West Africa. She is collaborating with modellers (e.g. hydrologists and mining engineers), visual anthropologists, artists, and photographers to combine different methods of visualizing landscape dynamics. In the Field Research and Training (FR&T) programme in Ghana, she is working together with Mark Westmoreland on the use of photography, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) aerial photography (with kites) and 360° spherical video. Together with people who live and work in different local areas, we co-produce images on the ground, underground and from the air in order to engage in sustainability conversations. The coming years these methods and collaborations will be developed further in the NORFACE project: Sustainability Transformations in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining: A Multi-Actor and Trans-Regional Perspective (ST-ASGM).  

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