Power lines: How commercial popular culture is creating a new public sphere in Accra, Ghana
Particularly in countries without long-standing experience with procedural democracy, definitions of political participation must reach beyond voting and protests to include activities ranging from union organization to theater and song. Processes of globalization, however, have increasingly incorporated such areas of informal political life into transnational economic structures. This project shows that because of as well as in spite of globalization, commercial popular culture in Accra is providing a new arena for political participation. The project combines fieldwork in Accra, textual analysis of popular art transcripts, and secondary source research. It begins by building a theoretical foundation for examining intersections between culture, politics, and economics, framing James Scott's study of the expression of subversive political ideas via "hidden transcripts" in the context of Gramscian theories of hegemony. It also addresses various approaches to understanding nonformal political participation, including civil society theory and studies of politics and art, and finally incorporates theories of globalization, including discussions of cultural imperialism and cultural hybridity. These theoretical abstractions manifest themselves in everyday commercial aesthetic activities. Accra's commercial radio, television, video movies, and live performances are shaped and regulated by powerful local, national, and transnational forces, including corporate advertisers, western cultural norms, wealthy elites, and the Ghanaian state. Yet they also offer an unprecedented space for public political expression and debate. They create and disseminate alternatives to dominant ideas and strategies for expression---even as technologies, regulating agencies, academic habits, and marketing channels continually work to consolidate hegemony. These new commercial media may also be helping to establish civil society in Accra, by providing a readily accessible public stockpile of shared cultural symbols as well as experience with new, standardized rules of political engagement. Though bounded and conditioned by various relations of social power, Accra's commercial popular arts provide a new venue for working out social problems and political positions.