Social Mobility: Selling Transportation and Modernity in Independence-Era Ghana,

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Introduction. During the period of the 1960s and 1970s, a considerable amount of scholarly energy was devoted to studying the process of “modernization.” Scholars, particularly political scientists and anthropologists, theorized extensively over exactly what modernization was and debated how it could best be quantified and measured. By the 1980s, however, the very notion of the “modern,” along with its antithesis, the “traditional” was falling out of favor—indeed, by declaring the new era “post-modern,” the academic avant-guard showed that the concept of modernity had effectively been relegated to the past. The past, however, is the turf of historians, and as such perhaps now that the idea has become so old-fashioned it is time for historians to take their turn at examining its meaning. This paper will approach the concept of modernity by examining the role of advertising in creating notions of modernity in independence-era Ghana. Ghana, at the time of independence in 1957, was a country of supreme optimism about the future. Not only did Ghanaians see themselves as being on the cutting edge politically (as the first sub-Saharan colony to achieve independence), but they also believed that independence would bring a new era of economic development and wealth. Ghana, as a country, was “going places.” The new nation’s optimism found many manifestations, but this paper will focus on only one aspect of this exuberance—representations of transportation as modernity in the advertisements and articles of Ghana’s premier newspaper, the Daily Graphic.