Research Themes

The current research focus and activities of the Institute are in the following areas:


This work programme of socio-cultural field studies is being carried out in collaboration with the Centre for Women's and Gender Studies of the University of Bergen, with financial support from the Norwegian government. It is designed to promote problem oriented, ethnographic research which throws light on serious problems and should accordingly be of immediate policy relevance, thereby strengthening the multi-disciplinary training and research capacity of the Institute of African Studies to address contemporary issues in Ghana. It focuses on problems that threaten the survival and well-being of many people in Ghana and the region as a whole: problems that are implicated in the profound changes currently taking place in gender roles and relations, impacting reproduction, production and health. These problems are clearly connected with ongoing widespread economic and demographic transformations, including migration (both national and international), and dislocation of families and communities and increasing disparities in income and resources, including escalating pauperization, especially of women and children.

This research focus explores innovations in cultural life in African societies. There are long traditions of innovation in several aspects of religious, economic, political and social life across Africa as peoples and communities have encountered new ideas and other people, and selectively adapted aspects of their practices and usages to suit their changing circumstances. To that extent, innovation can be classified as a traditional value in African societies and an expression of the agencies of African people. What makes an innovation traditional is not so much the longevity of a practice or usage, but rather that the appropriate people do it. The theme invites reflection and consideration of the several and continuing instances of innovation in both past and contemporary societies, the uses to which they are put and the meanings and valences that they acquire.

This theme explores the linkages between livelihoods, persons, resources and the politics of belonging or exclusion. Production involves utilization of new resources, often leading to commodification of and the scramble for resources, new social relations, and the movement of people within and across countries and regions. In the process, those with power get to define customary sets of values and laws which then give them control of resources, often around some notion of place, original settlement, and categories of insiders, outsiders, citizens and migrants, with different and unequal rights. The results of this politics of belonging are increasing contestations and disputes over rights and obligations, different notions of ethnicity and citizenship, cultural, human and women's rights, xenophobia, and the rights to a livelihood.

The African world is rooted in a religious paradigm. For this reason religion plays a defining role in shaping socio-political values and norms, standards of judgment, economic values, epistemology and general outlook on life. Religion continues to perform important functions in contemporary modern African society. For many individuals today, religion is a source for dealing with the problems and challenges of daily life. However, in spite of the central place of religion in the social life of the African society, it has not received much attention as an important variable in analyzing and understanding contemporary African society.' This research theme examines and analyzes the impact of religion - traditional, Islamic and Christian on the African society, with emphasis on the responses of traditional religion and culture to the influences of Islam, Christianity and modernity.

This research theme focuses on endogenous research into knowledges that have hitherto been ignored or not well explored, relating them to social changes and making specific contributions to the advancement of knowledge. As well, it aims to address misconceptions about indigenous and endogenous knowledge systems, beliefs and practices, including African Traditional Religions and philosophies, African medicines and healing systems, and the impact of the encounter among African Christian and Islamic religious cultures.

This theme recognizes that African people are not simply the objects of research but also agents who shape and reflect creatively on their lives. People can and should tell their own stories and the stories that underlie their stories. The research focus engages in studies of narrative and performance, in the "artistic" fields of literature, whether as written or as orally performed text, and in investigating what the actors' narratives, whether formal or informal, reveal about social and cultural constructions. Recent and ongoing work of this nature includes a study of what the performances of female artistes in different parts of the country reveal about local changes in the situation of women; participation in a major editorial project to publish African women speaking in their own voices; and 'anthropological-linguistic studies of what their discourse has to tell us about how urban migrants construct their ethnic identity, and of how rural people perceive their health and medical problems.

This research theme focuses on innovations occurring in African art and media and how new and improved technology, materials of production, education and mobility are assisting in creating new genres of works and representations. The new visual expressions and themes are also reflective of wider socio-economic changes and attempts to grapple with the challenges of modernity on African world views, aesthetics, sensibilities and subjectivities. In particular, the theme examines the promises of new information technologies on traditional art forms and methodologies for studying the subject.