Annual meeting of the African Studies Association edition:(Re)Thinking Africa and the World: Internal Reflections, External Responses location:San Francisco date:16-19 November 2006
Today’s new society is identified by Castells as the network society (Castells), where interconnected nodes are based on new information technologies and access to information is a main source of power. According to Castells, territorial contiguity ceases to be a precondition for interactive social practices, and functional or symbolic meaning depends on being connected to a network, rather than on spatial distances and characteristics as localities. In this contribution, I want to demonstrate how the notion of network and the dispersal of information through networks is not robbed of power when trailed by non-virtual tracks.
Female traders that play a leading role in the markets of small urban regional centers in Northeastern Ghana create networks of coalitions with fellow traders on the basis of trade products. These forged alliances provide a basis for a larger social cohesion and coalition, which goes beyond locality or affiliation. One of the main adhesives of alliance is the provision of information, providing a nuanced assessment of trade context and conditions. Strong alliances with village life and satellite markets, sound information on consumption behavior and the rural prices of products allows the women to deal with the unpredictabilities characteristic to urban life in the small cities. The networks of knowledgeability created by women are a major source of power and authority.
This paper is based on fieldwork in Navrongo, an urban centre in Northeastern Ghana, and attempts to challenge the contention of Castells that new communities only exist in online time and virtual space and that the polarization of the info-rich and the info-poor depends on being linked in a virtual information network online. As such, Castells arguments that the “global city” is made of territories that in different cities ensure the management of global information networks.
In the shadow of these global cities, rural women engender information networks that exceed, regulate and even manipulate networks when faced with urban life and new economic challenges. Knowledgeability does not stem from access to virtual networks but from non-virtual alliances that create networks of power.