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Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools

Youth, Nationalism, and the Transformation of Knowledge

In working to build a sense of nationhood, Ghana has focused on many social engineering projects, the most meaningful and fascinating of which has been the state’s effort to create a national culture through its schools. As Cati Coe reveals in Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools, this effort has created an unusual paradox: while Ghana encourages its educators to teach about local cultural traditions, those traditions are transformed as they are taught in school classrooms. The state version of culture now taught by educators has become objectified and nationalized—vastly different from local traditions.

Coe identifies the state’s limitations in teaching cultural knowledge and discusses how Ghanaians negotiate the tensions raised by the competing visions of modernity that nationalism and Christianity have created. She reveals how cultural curricula affect authority relations in local social organizations—between teachers and students, between Christians and national elite, and between children and elders—and raises several questions about educational processes, state-society relations, the production of knowledge, and the making of Ghana’s citizenry.

Visual materials related to the book are available on the author’s homepage.

232 pages | 6 halftones, 2 maps, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Education: Comparative Education

History: African History


"In Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools, Cati Coe examines the social and political consequences of overlapping systems of knowledge production in contemporary Ghana. This is an engrossing study that raises many compelling questions about educational processes, state-society relations, nationalism, cultural pluralism and cultural policy, the production of knowledge, and the production of citizens."

Kelly M. Askew | Kelly M. Askew

Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools explores the problems of competing discourses on culture in Ghana, involving state representatives, traditional chiefs, and born-again Christians. Cati Coe carefully unpacks the genealogy of state and church discourses on culture and how attempts to mobilize culture for the sake of national identity or development paradoxically depend on alienation from culture as a lived reality. This book combines a vivid ethnography of how culture is taught in schools with a critical analysis of processes of cultural reification. Resisting being caught up in the opposition of tradition and modernity that underpins calls for a cultural revival throughout Africa, she offers a substantial contribution to our understanding of the complex dynamics of contemporary cultural politics in Africa.”--Birgit Meyer, University of Amsterdam

Birgit Meyer | Birgit Meyer

“[The Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools] draws on fieldwork in the city of Akropong in a study of how local traditions are transformed as they are taught in Ghanaian schools.”

Chronicle of Higher Education

Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools sets out to interrogate the many ways in which ‘culture’ has been locally delineated, naturalized, and subsequently transformed in relation to the Ghanaian state. Central to the production of Ghana’s national identity, the book argues, has been the role the state’s educational apparatus has played in fostering an ideological landscape in which differences—ethnic and religious, regional and class-based—are subsumed under the totalizing auspices of ‘national culture’ . . . . [The book] signals an engaging anthropology of education whose implications should resonate beyond the boundaries of that subdiuscipline.” —Brian Goldstone, Anthropological Quarterly

Brian Goldstone | Anthropological Quarterly

Table of Contents

Introduction: Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools
Part One: How Culture Became the Property of the State
1. "Every Nation Has Its Own Gifts": Christianity, Schooling, and the Construction of Tradition
2. Drumming and Dancing: The State’s Involvement in Tradition
Part Two: How Culture Is Reclaimed by Its Citizens
3. The Location of Culture: The Politician, the Chief, or the Teacher?
4. Modernity Divided: Christianity and the Cultural Program in the Schools
5. Folk Culture as School Knowledge: The Contradictions of Teaching Culture in Schools
6. "Do You Know How to Drum?": Youth, Knowledge, and the State
Conclusion: Youth, Nationalism, and the Transformation of Knowledge

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