DR. BRENDA CHALFIN, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, received funding in January 2001 to aid ethnographic research on the role played by customs officers in the constitution of state sovereignty in Ghana, a nation touted for its successful implementation of neo-liberal economic reforms. Confounding claims that transnational economies undermine state authority and territorial control-the very pillars of national sovereignty-Chalfin sought to capture the dynamics of state reconfiguration without assuming state decline. Instead of researching sovereignty only in terms of its 'formal' expression in policy statements and legal agreements, she documented how customs officers, charged with the management of national frontiers, responded to the pressures and opportunities of economic globalization and market promotion through their interactions with travelers, traders, investors, and international regulatory agencies. She then evaluated the implications of these everyday forms of bureaucratic performance for the sovereignty of the state more generally. Research was carried out in a number of border zones: on the Ghana-Togo boundary, at Tema Harbor, at Kotoka International Airport, and at GSL, a multinational firm contracted by the government of Ghana to carry out customs work. Findings revealed that the Customs Service indeed had a substantial bearing on the character of Ghanaian sovereignty and that the connection of the Customs Service to supranational institutions worked to bolster the authority of the state. Although these dynamics were becoming politicized domestically, their public rendering nevertheless masked the key role they played in transforming the character of the state in Ghana and in Africa more generally.
Chalfin, Brenda. 2008. Cars, the Customs Service, and Sumptuary Rule in Neoliberal Ghana. Comparative Studies in Society and History 50(2):424-453
Chalfin, Brenda. 2008. Sovereigns and Citizens in Close Encounter: Airport Anthropology and Customs Regimes in Neoliberal Ghana. American Ethnologist 35(4):519-538