Accepted paper:

Title: DUMSOR, or "do we have lights?" - mapping flickering patterns of electricity and its absence in Accra


Claudia Prempeh (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

Electricity plays a central role in the making of African cities. How is the absence and presence of electricity shaping middle class identities in Ghana?

Paper long abstract:

Electricity plays a central role in the making of African cities. Since its discovery, this technology has successfully positioned itself as a prime mover in social change so much so that it was revered a goddess (Smith 1994, 13) and magic (Rupp 2013). Sadly electricity supply is unreliable and successive Governments have struggled to deliver it in Ghana. In 2015, some households went for as long as 48 hours on scheduled and unscheduled power cuts, systematic electricity rationing and rotation schedules. These necessitated massive changes to their attitudes, lifestyles, and values with respect to electricity consumption. This paper details the often dire concrete and everyday consequences of such a flickering pattern between electricity's presence and absence for middle class citizens in Accra. It necessitated a renegotiation of social relations and a reorganisation of social arrangements and practices at the micro domestic level. People had to reorient their lifestyles, which have been deeply penetrated and structured by electricity to converge with the new realities. For these, electricity is still valued because it has shaped and textured their everyday practices, relationships, values, expectations and meanings. Their choice of material possessions which they describe as symbolic makers of modern living, no longer represent luxury or status but necessity and convenience. Faced with such an uncertain technology or the "randomness of infrastructure", research participants' "cultivated divination skills" as a necessary strategy to help plan and navigate around the new realities in their everyday lives.

panel P130
Urban technologies and technologies of urbanity in Africa