Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Village Work
Development and Rural Statecraft in Twentieth-Century Ghana

By Alice Wiemers

Village Work provides new, critical perspectives on debates about development in both scholarship and practice. By placing the village at the center of development politics, Wiemers challenges conventional understandings of statecraft and humanizes the development process at all levels, detailing the improvisations and inconsistencies that lay behind the promise of ‘progress.’”

Jennifer Hart, author of Ghana on the Go: African Mobility in the Age of Motor Transportation

Village Work offers a sophisticated analysis of small-scale development projects in rural Ghana while bringing visibility to the ‘hinterland statecraft’ of local communities as they navigated the rising developmentalist states in the twentieth century. Deftly written and superbly argued, Wiemers illuminates the ‘useable fictions’ of rural sameness that government and NGO employees operationalized to justify their homogenizing of villages and rural space across Africa.”

Elisabeth McMahon, coauthor of The Idea of Development in Africa: A History

Village Work is a timely and fascinating multilayered history of development in Ghana. Using the village of Kpasenkpe in northern Ghana as the focus, Alice Wiemers has written a penetrating study of the ‘performance’ of development in Africa from the family unit to the village, national, and international levels.”

Opolot Okia, author of Labor in Colonial Kenya after the Forced Labor Convention, 1930–1963

“This is a phenomenal piece of scholarship, which will be of interest to scholars of development, statecraft, and labor in Africa and beyond.”

Kara Moskowitz, International Journal of African Historical Studies

A robust historical case study that demonstrates how village development became central to the rhetoric and practice of statecraft in rural Ghana.

Combining oral histories with decades of archival material, Village Work formulates a sweeping history of twentieth-century statecraft that centers on the daily work of rural people, local officials, and family networks, rather than on the national governments and large-scale plans that often dominate development stories. Wiemers shows that developmentalism was not simply created by governments and imposed on the governed; instead, it was jointly constructed through interactions between them.

The book contributes to the historiographies of development and statecraft in Africa and the Global South by

  • emphasizing the piecemeal, contingent, and largely improvised ways both development and the state are comprised and experienced
  • providing new entry points into longstanding discussions about developmental power and discourse
  • unsettling common ideas about how and by whom states are made
  • exposing the importance of unpaid labor in mediating relationships between governments and the governed
  • showing how state engagement could both exacerbate and disrupt inequities

Despite massive changes in twentieth-century political structures—the imposition and destruction of colonial rule, nationalist plans for pan-African solidarity and modernization, multiple military coups, and the rise of neoliberal austerity policies—unremunerated labor and demonstrations of local leadership have remained central tools by which rural Ghanaians have interacted with the state. Grounding its analysis of statecraft in decades of daily negotiations over budgets and bureaucracy, the book tells the stories of developers who decided how and where projects would be sited, of constituents who performed labor, and of a chief and his large cadre of educated children who met and shaped demands for local leaders. For a variety of actors, invoking “the village” became a convenient way to allocate or attract limited resources, to highlight or downplay struggles over power, and to forge national and international networks.

Alice Wiemers is an assistant professor of history at Davidson College. Her work has appeared in the Journal of African History, World Development, and International Labor and Working-Class History.   More info →


Review in the International Journal of African Historical Studies 54, no. 3 (2021)


Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Villages and States in Twentieth-Century Ghana
  • Chapter 1: Labor, Chieftaincy, and Colonial Statecraft
  • Chapter 2: Statecraft and Village Development in “Nkrumah’s Time”
  • Chapter 3: Labor and Statecraft in a Chiefly Family
  • Chapter 4: Improvising Government in the Granary of Ghana, 1966–81
  • Chapter 5: Project Village: Government by Village Work, 1982–92
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: October 2021
4 illus. · 250 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: May 2021
4 illus. · 250 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: May 2021
4 illus. · 250 pages
Rights:  World

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