Glamour and Honor: Going Online and Reading in West African Culture

Wendy Griswold, Erin Metz McDonnell, Terence Emmett McDonnell


In the fragile reading cultures of the developing world, will people abandon print as they embrace the Internet? Whether media compete or collaborate depends on place-specific factors. West Africans insert online practices into a local context of material circumstances, social roles, and cultural values. In Nigeria and Ghana these include (1) unreliable electricity and execrable telephone service; (2) overworked women, jobless young men, scammers, and ambitious teenagers; and (3) a reading culture of limited penetration but enormous prestige. Internet access via cybercafés has intensified personal communications, reinforced gender inequality, and enabled petty crooks to go global. It has not, however, encroached on reading's all-but-sacred status. Both netsavvy youth and the adult “reading class” protect reading practices through spatial and temporal separation, time management, and functional differentiation. These preserve the honored position of reading despite West Africans' enthusiasm for the glamour of going online.


Development; Internet; West Africa; Global; Online

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