Friday, 18. June 2010

Road Exhibitions IV


Chasing cars, mocking mates: Movements, emotions and joviality among road hawkers in Accra

Parts of my thesis provide ethnographic insight into the life-world of hawkers on the Ofankor Road in northern Accra. On this busy arterial road, female and male hawkers in their teens and early twenties provide a range of products to travellers passing in the usually slow-moving city traffic. [more]
kwame - 2011-01-18 09:12


Through the open vehicle windows, they mainly sell travel snacks such as water sachets, ice cream and, most importantly, loafs of bread. The young hawkers obviously lend themselves to be examined in terms of the specific livelihood strategies through which they occupy and navigate the marginality of their urban life-world. Yet I would like to move beyond a mere socio-economic perspective as it easily neglects the quotidian practices and experiences which are constitutive of and produced by the hawker’s daily routine on the roadside.
At the outset, I explore how hawkers encounter and occupy the road as a space of movements and motions. Their activities depend on the movement of vehicles, which is indispensable for finding customers. Accordingly, hawkers respond to the varying volume and velocity of traffic with their very own movements. Not only are they required to move with traffic, i.e. to constantly relocate themselves on the road according to where traffic is slow-moving and thus more lucrative for hawking. They are also required to move along traffic, i.e. to systematically ‘chase’ cars, as they say, in order to keep up with their speed, get closer to customers, hastily exchange goods against cash and compete with fellow hawkers – all involving a variety of bodily and kinetic practices on the road.

Building on this, I explore how the mentioned practices create a space which is largely characterised by joviality and mixed emotions. These result from hawkers’ particular ways of engaging with and reacting to their own bodily manoeuvres and efforts which are usually experienced as dynamic and skilful, but also as strenuous, risky and even harmful. For instance, hawkers often joke about how exhausting their work is; they applaud others for their exhibited enthusiasm; mimic the awkward task of running, carrying, shouting and trading; mock their mates’ (or themselves) for their unsuccessful attempts in chasing a car; display schadenfreude when seeing others fall or loose money; and they insult others for their overly competitive and aggressive movements. Urban road hawking, I thus argue, can be described as a life-world which is ‘moving’ – both in a bodily and emotional sense and expressed in sociabilities which are ambiguously enacted through solidarity, humour, self-irony, mockery and spitefulness.

Experiencing the Accra-Kumasi Road (AKR):

An ethnographic project on roads, commercial driving and everyday travel in Ghana [more]

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Ch1: Accra-Kumasi Road
Ch2: Inhabiting the roadside
Ch3: Road travelling
Ch4: Passenger's body
Ch5: Commercial driving
Ch6: Roadfaring skills
ChX: Religion on the road
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