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Vernacular Neoliberalism: How Private Entrepreneurship Runs Public Transport in Ghana

Stasik, Michael

Sociologus, Vol. 65 (2015), Iss. 2: pp. 177–200

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Facheinheit Ethnologie, Fakultät für Kulturwissenschaften, Universität Bayreuth, D-95440 Bayreuth

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Public transport in Ghana is a private enterprise. The incapacity of the Ghanaian state to adequately provide for transport services is at once capitalized on and compensated for by local entrepreneurs. Characterized principally by market-oriented entrepreneurial actions, their practices have not only been never captured by the state, but they form the basis for repelling regulative forays of the state. Manifest in the socially embedded economic behaviours of the transport workers is a form of entrepreneurship that can be conceived as both the source and the product of a ‘vernacular neoliberalism’; that is, a kind of avant la lettre neoliberalism that has not been enforced exogenously, but that emerged from the local grounds of long-established modes of economic practice. Drawing on a combination of historical and ethnographic research, this article examines the development of a market imperative as a main structuring force of social organization. In so doing, it suggests a progressive reversal of the ways the conceptual lens proffered by neoliberalism can be put to use for describing the significance and explaining the perseverance of local economic practices in Africa.