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Power Flashes: the political and visual cultures of electricity in Accra, Ghana

Destrée, Pauline; (2019) Power Flashes: the political and visual cultures of electricity in Accra, Ghana. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis looks at the visual manifestations of electricity and their relation to political power in Accra during an energy crisis (colloquially known as Dumsor, Twi for off/on) and an election year in 2016. “Flashing” in Ghanaian parlance is a particular mode of mobile communication, in which one generates a signal to request a call back. It manifests a state of being connected without having access to power, but also of connection without content. This thesis argues that this mode of communication applies fittingly to the infrastructural address of the energy network in Ghana today: a situation of partial and unequal connection, manifesting a state of being connected to a national grid without having access to power, in a country that boasts one of the highest electrification rates in the continent, yet periodically experiences energy shortages. The thesis describes certain entanglements of infrastructure, political power and the intimacies of everyday life that are foregrounded and unravelled in an energy crisis. It moves through the ordinary and official sites of the city: the national Electricity Company offices, the public sphere of the city, private and shared domestic houses, memories, stories, and material effects, to express the diffuse, pervasive, and intermittent presences of infrastructure and state power in the lives of Accra residents. Contemporary engagements with the politics of infrastructure are situated within the historical legacies of the electricity system in Ghana. National electrification, developed after Independence in 1957 as part of Nkrumah’s decolonisation efforts and emancipation agenda, has fostered a particular relationship to the national grid and expectations of visibility, delivery and belonging – expectations which today are often frustrated by the material shortcomings of their promises. “Dumsor” emerges as a popular complex of political expression in response to this history of fractured connections, questioning notions of access as a putative and often unrealizable ideal, and exploring the asymmetries, marginalities and toxicities implied and prefigured in connection itself.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Power Flashes: the political and visual cultures of electricity in Accra, Ghana
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2019. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10067191
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