Alena Thiel

Research Interests

My PhD dissertation dealt with ongoing transformations within regimes of signifying order and disorder – an idea I owe to my affiliation with the DFG priority programme SPP1448 – and associated with these transformations, the changing grounds of traders’ claim making practices in an urban Ghanaian marketplace. My argument starts from the premise that processes of change are in no way one-directional but are engendered by the repeated overlap and intersecting of different yet coeval temporalities as theorized by Benjamin, Chakrabarty, Anderson and Cheah, Mbembe, Sassen, among others. I zoom in on two particular moments of disruption created by such overlaps: the marketization of relationships of mutual assistance by newly arrived Chinese entrepreneurs in the urban Ghanaian marketplace, and the association of market traders with liberal concepts of rights as the result of increased NGO interventions. My main argument revolves around the observation that these disruptions are, however, necessarily incomplete as the “travelling ideas” that cause them are creatively altered and adapted upon their integration into the time of the market.

Academic Background

–          PhD, Politics and International Relations at the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law, University of Aberdeen

–         MPhil, African Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands

–          MPhil thesis on voluntary associations in Ghana’s artisanal fisheries sector, based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork

–          BA, Social Anthropology, Free University Berlin, Germany

Current Affiliations 

–          Research Fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies/ Institute of African Affairs

Publications                                         

Forthcoming    Market men and station women: changing significations of gendered space in Accra, Ghana (with Michael Stasik). Journal of Contemporary African Studies.

2016             Introduction. Du rejet des autres à leur implication dans les dynamiques de changement social (with Laurence Marfaing and Karsten Giese), in: Entrepreneurs africains et chinois. Les impacts sociaux d’une rencontre particulière, Karsten Giese and Laurence Marfaing (eds.). Paris: Karthala, pp. 7-29.

2016             Imaginaires d’authenticité et leurs négociations dans le marché de marchandises de Chine à Accra, in: Entrepreneurs africains et chinois. Les impacts sociaux d’une rencontre particulière, Karsten Giese and Laurence Marfaing (eds.). Paris: Karthala, pp. 345-370.

2015             The silent majority – the psychological contract in Chinese-Ghanaian labor relations (with Karsten Giese). International Journal of Human Resource Management 26(14): 1807-1826.

2015             Chinese factor in the space, place and agency of female head porters in urban Ghana (with Karsten Giese). Social and Cultural Geography 16(4): 444-464.

2015             Networks, spheres of influence and the mediation of opportunity: the case of West African trade agents in China (with Laurence Marfaing). The Journal of Pan African Studies 7(10): 65-84.

2014             Demystifying Chinese business strength in urban Senegal and Ghana: structural change and the performativity of rumors (with Laurence Marfaing). Canadian Journal of African Studies 47(3): 405-423.

2014             Market Men and Station Women: Changing Significations of Gendered Space in Accra, Ghana (with Michael Stasik). Working Papers of the Priority Programme 1448 of the German Research Foundation No 5.

2014             “Agents of Translation”: West African entrepreneurs in China as vectors of social change (with Laurence Marfaing). Working Papers of the Priority Programme 1448 of the German Research Foundation No 4.

2013             The Impact of Chinese Business on Market Entry in Ghana and Senegal (with Laurence Marfaing). Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 83(4): 646-669.

2013             « Petits commerçants chinois en Afrique et saturation des marchés ouest-africains: déconstruction d’une rumeur (Dakar-Accra) » (with Laurence Marfaing). Migrations & Sociétés 25(149): 137-158.

2012             The vulnerable other – distorted equity in Chinese-Ghanaian employment relations (with Karsten Giese). Ethnic and Racial Studies 37(6): 1101-1120.

2012             When Voicelessness Meets Speechlessness – Struggling for Equity in Chinese-Ghanaian Employment Relations (with Karsten Giese). GIGA Working Paper No 194.

2011             Chinese Commodity Imports in Ghana and Senegal: Demystifying Chinese Business Strength in Urban West Africa (with Laurence Marfaing). GIGA Working Paper No 180.

2011             Ressentiments gegen chinesische Händler in Ghana und Senegal, GIGA Focus Afrika, 08/2011, Hamburg: GIGA.

Conference Panels

2016 (under review). Panel co-convenor (with Dolores Koenig) ‘Making and Remaking the African City: The Role of Labor and Economic Exchange in Transforming Urban Spaces’, Meeting of the American Association of Anthropologists, Minneapolis, Nov 16-20.

2016.  Panel co-convenor (with Michael Stasik) ‘Everyday negotiations of capitalist temporalities’, Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists, Durham, July 4-7.

2015.  Panel co-convenor (with Laurence Marfaing) ‘Transnational circulations of people, goods and ideas: reception, adaptation and contestation’, 6th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Paris, July 8-10.

2014.  Panel co-convenor (with Laurence Marfaing) ‘Réseaux, adaptation des normes et des manières de faire’, 3e Rencontres des Études africaines en France, Bordeaux, June 30 – July 3.

2014.  Panel co-convenor (with Laurence Marfaing, Ute Röschenthaler and Antoine Socpa) ‘Asian traders in Africa: impacts and future perspectives’, VAD Congress “Future Africa”, Bayreuth, June 11-14.

2013.  Panel co-convenor (with Marek Szilvasi) ‘Between services and empowerment: how international organizations associate communities with the liberal concept of rights’, World Congress of the IUEAS “Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds”, Manchester, Aug 5-11.

2012.  Panel co-organizer (with Karsten Giese, no attendance due to maternity protection), ‘China in Africa and Africa in China: Employment Relations as Border Crossing’, AAA Annual Meeting ‘Borders and Crossings’, San Francisco, Nov 14-18.

Conference Papers

(under review) ‘The National Planned City Extension of Ningo-Prampram: Parallel Processes of City-Making’, Meeting of the American Association of Anthropologists, Minneapolis, Nov 16-20.

‘Translating the time of capital: the case of Accra’s Makola market associations’, Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists, Durham, July 4-7.

‘Coeval temporalities and Chakrabarty’s concept of (rough) translation’, Africa N’ko Conference ‘Africa in the World: Translating the sens of African social realities’, Dakar, Dec 3-6.

‘Negotiating change: narratives of China as curse and blessing in the translation of Chinese urban modernity in Ghana’, ANR EsCA Final Conference ‘Chinese Cultural Spaces in Africa: Circulation, Structures, Interactions’, Paris, Sep 9-11.

‘Translating models of citizenship: Urban Ghanaian market traders’ practices of contestation in times of transnational travels of ideas’, PROCIT Urban, Copenhagen, June 23-26.

‘Transnational flows of ordering ideas and their creative adaptation in urban Ghanaian market traders’ claims making strategies’, The Canadian Association Of African Studies (CAAS) Conference ‘Ideas On Africa’, Ottawa, June 3-5.

‘Travelling models of citizenship’, New Political Topographies Conference, Edinburgh, May 28-29.

‘Ghanaian trade agents in China as “agents of translation”’, AFRASO Conference ‘Re-Thinking African-Asian Relationships: Changing Relationships – New Concepts’, Cape Town, March 24-26.

‘Coming full circle: how Ghanaian trade agents in China prepare for a future back home’, AEGIS thematic conference ‘Africa in the Global South: biographies of mobility and aspirations of success’, Frankfurt, May 15-17.

‘From street vendor to transnational entrepreneur? West African Traders as Translators Between Chinese and African Urban Modernities’, Conference of the African Studies Association in Germany (VAD), Bayreuth, June 11-14.

‘Ghanaian trade agents in China as vectors of “world time”’, ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment, Edinburgh, June 19-22.

‘Ghanaian trade networks in China’, 3e Rencontres des Études africaines en France, Bordeaux, June 30 – July 3.

‘“China has taught me nothing”– or has it?’ Vignette presentation at the Second Biennial Conference of the SPP1448, Saly, Oct 1-4.

‘Re-gendering public space: the hybridization of entrepreneurial practices in Accra, Ghana’ (with Michael Stasik), World Congress of the IUEAS ‘Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds’, Manchester, Aug 5-11.

‘Temporality and normative order in a Ghanaian marketplace’, World Congress of the IUEAS “Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds”, Manchester, Aug 5-11.

‘“You have to fool yourself in your own head”: Work dissatisfactions and employee retreat in Chinese trade businesses in Accra’, VAD Congress 2012 „Embattled Spaces – Contested Orders / Umkämpfte Räume – Umstrittene Ordnungen“, Köln , May 30 – June 2.

‘New actors, new orders? Chinese migrant entrepreneurs and changing norms of market entry in urban West Africa’, International Conference ‘CAS@50: Cutting Edges and Retrospectives’, University of Edinburgh, Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh, June 6-8.

‘Made in China? Imaginaries of quality and authenticity as resistance to Chinese commodity imports in Ghana’, EASA Conference “Uncertainty and Disquiet”, Nanterre, July 10 -13.

Knowledge Transfer

„China und Afrika: Wege einer Süd-Süd-Kooperation?“ (with Laurence Marfaing), 5. Nacht des Wissens, GIGA Hamburg, „Die Welt im Umbruch – Konflikt und Kooperation in Afrika, Asian, Lateinamerika und Nahost, 2 November 2013

Lecture “China’s Influence on Africa: The case of the Ghanaian trade sector” and simulation “Reform of the Ghana Investment Act”, ELSA Viadrina International Law Conference on “Africa in the 21st Century“, Workshop “China’s Influence on Africa”, Frankfurt (Oder), 8-12 August 2012

“China in Afrika: Der Einfluss chinesischer Händler auf die lokale Entwicklung in Ghana und Senegal” (with Laurence Marfaing und Karsten Giese), GIGA Forum, GIGA, Hamburg, 22

“’Order doesn’t come by itself’. Chinese facilitators of order and disorder in Accra” (with Karsten Giese), African Studies Centre Leiden, Seminar Series, 11 October 2012

“Chinese Commodity Imports in Ghana and Senegal”, Guest lecture, Willy Brandt School of Public Policy “International Migration – Social and Economic Interaction”, GIGA Hamburg, 22 July 2011

“Chinese traders are shaking things up in the markets of Africa”, Interview with Deutsche Welle, 29 February 2012.

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