New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Laura E. Grube and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 5: Markets as an extension of culture
A walk through central Accra, the capital city of Ghana, is almost a religious experience for an economist. Ghanaian marketplaces are the site of intense and vigorous bargaining. Although it is officially illegal to trade outside the market area designated by the city council, the streets teem with hawkers selling produce and fish from their head trays. What strikes the economist most is the precision and efficiency of these small transactions. The sidewalks are scarcely passable, as market women perch four deep on either side. Their voices rise and fall in laughter and conversation, while they briefly pause to catch the attention of potential customers. The camaraderie and good nature of the market should not deceive the observer into seeing the marketplace only as a point of social contact, however. While it undoubtedly fills this role as well, a keen alertness to the smallest of profit opportunities is always at work. In southern Ghana and many cities of West Africa, this is the work of women. Some young men dot the marketplace selling frozen yogurt or second-hand clothing, yet the majority of goods are marketed by women and girls (Lawson 1971; Pellow 1977; Clark 1994). A striking pattern which emerges is the hierarchical nature of goods sold and the conditions under which women and girls trade. Girls sell water from jugs atop their heads to bus commuters, parched from the dusty hot car-park.
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