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Centre of African Studies: Research


Paper Details

Author: Hannah R. Griffiths

Title: Diverted Journeys: The Social Lives of Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins

Year: 2000

This dissertation is grounded in the belief that objects, like people, have social lives. It is concerned with the diversions of objects from their intended trajectory, and the lives they lead once they have been diverted from their natural path as intended by the maker. The study takes a group of objects, contemporary Ghanaian 'fantasy coffins' and investigates how the diversion of the fantasy coffins affects their value, function, and meaning. The only way to investigate this, I suggest, is to follow the paths of the coffins themselves and the identities they assume, or are attributed to them, as they are diverted from one context to another. To this end, the paper leads the reader through four different cultural arenas, a small town in Ghana, an ethnographic exhibition, an art museum, and a coffin auction, in each of which the meaning of the fantasy coffins as intended by the maker is manipulated and transformed. I investigate the way in which value is assigned to the coffins in each of these different contexts. The theoretical base for the paper comes from the work of Appadurai (1986), and I draw on his idea of looking at objects, in this case Ghanaian 'fantasy coffins', as if they lead social lives. It is argued that as objects move from one context to another, there are certain processes of value and exchange which work in different ways in each context to define the object according to the context to which it is diverted.

Grad School