Ghana: Social Transformation and Cultural Expression

Key Features

“Between traditional craft workshops, trips to various religious ceremonies and places of worship, dance and drumming classes, and homestays, my exposure led to a lot of cultural learning and self discovery.”

—Program alum

Students with a midwife and traditional birth attendant in Tamale

Students in the Ghana: Social Transformation and Cultural Expression program examine societal change in Ghana from cultural and artistic perspectives. Through meaningful engagement with different knowledge systems, students acquire both the theoretical frameworks and practical experience necessary to understand Ghanaian society as well as the country's rich artistic and cultural outputs.

Ghana in Multidisciplinary Contexts
Topics of inquiry include religion, identity studies, migration, political and economic development, and colonialism.

  • Religion – Students discover that Ghanaians are a very religious people and signs of their different faiths, including Christianity, Islam, and traditional religions, are highly visible in the streets of Ghanaian cities and villages. Churches and mosques are found on most street corners, and the signs on shops and public transportation are often testaments to the owner's faith. Students explore the dynamic and often complex relationship between society, the arts, and religion in different Ghanaian communities.
  • Migration and Identity Construction – Students discover how arts, human mobility, and identity are very much intertwined by examining the performance arts of various ethnic communities in Ghana. Migration gives artistic traditions movement, often in both a literal and figurative sense. Students explore the ways in which new contexts and identity factors get embodied in performance practice.
  • Popular Ideology – Excursions to multiple arts centers around the country reveal the various effects of popular ideologies, such as nationalism, on the arts. When learning about popular culture in Ghana, students are challenged to transcend modern/traditional culture binaries to develop a more nuanced understanding of processes that shape culture, society, and the arts.
  • Development – Students examine and are often confronted head-on with the commodification of the arts in present-day Ghana. Economic factors and a shift in patronage of various artistic phenomena reveal the relationship between art and economies.

Accra (Program Base)
Students spend the first two weeks of the program living with a host family in Accra and attend lectures at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, located next to the university's School of Performing Arts. The school is home to the university's music, drama, and dance departments and also serves as the main residence of many prominent arts groups and institutions including the Ghana Dance Ensemble, the International Centre for African Music and Dance (ICAMD), and Abibigroma.

While in Accra, students have the unique opportunity to interact with various Ghanaian musicians, artists, and craftspeople to experience firsthand the defining features of Ghana's contemporary arts and music landscape. Students return to Accra during the final week of the program to present their independent research findings and for evaluation.

Accra can be characterized as a megacity as it continues to expand past Tema in the east, the Ga districts in the north, and Kasoa in the west. Its cosmopolitan and urbane feel is easily juxtaposed with markers of "traditional" Africa including shrines, stools, and skins depicting political authority and music traditions often associated with more rural Ghanaian communities. In the 1950s, Accra functioned as the ideological center of the struggle for independence throughout Africa.

Dance and Art Workshops
Students have several opportunities for hands-on learning including Ghanaian traditional dance and drumming at the University of Ghana, bead making in Krobo Odumase as well as batik and sculpture workshops.

Research Methods and Ethics
The Research Methods and Ethics seminar focuses on the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience, while providing students with the essential tools needed to perform research on visual and performing arts in the Ghanaian context. Material includes:

  • Cross-cultural adaptation and skills building
  • Topic selection, refinement, and framing
  • Research traditions
  • Culturally appropriate use of field methodologies
  • Research ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy
  • Developing skills in observation and interviewing
  • Gathering, organizing, and communicating data
  • Interrogation of issues of identity construction and the relationship between anthropological narratives and on-the-ground experiences

Assigned papers provide an opportunity for students to test the tools introduced during the course, while providing opportunities for discussions on ethics and intercultural readings. Throughout the course, students work to properly develop their research topics for their Independent Study Project. Students significantly advance their initial ideas, assumptions, and drafts, in close consultation with their academic director.

Independent Study Project
In the final month of the program, students complete an Independent Study Project (ISP), which provides each student with an opportunity to pursue original research on a situation or topic of particular interest to them. Students may focus on topics revolving around the visual and performing arts in both practical and theoretical terms. Alternatively, some students conduct their original research project on issues relating to economics, history, colonialism, gender, or other topics in the Ghanaian context to which they have had exposure during the semester. Students choose research topics with consultation and support from the academic director and other in-country experts. Students conduct their Independent Study Project in Accra, Kumasi, or in another approved location appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Divination storytelling
  • Beads and adornment in contemporary Krobo society
  • Power asymmetries and globalization
  • Theatrical performance for social change
  • Girls’ education in Tamale
  • Gendered approaches and strategies toward contraceptive use in urban Kumasi
  • Rasta identity and practice in Ghana
  • Use of fertility dolls and magic in Ghanaian society
  • Modern African theater
  • Ghanaian film industry
  • Art education for disabled students
  • Religious expression in traditional art
  • Craft production for the tourist trade
  • Water security in the Northern Region


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Accra

Language Study: Twi

Prerequisites: None

Ghana

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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