• Practice

Crafts in a Global Economy

Craft Traditions in an Era of Climate Change and Neoliberal Globalisation

Taking glass beadmaking and indigo textile dyeing craft traditions as sites of knowledge, this project interrogates how craft traditions and practitioners cope with the threats of neoliberal globalisation and Climate Change. The co-production of knowledge between the academy and communities is expected generate insights that will feed into the development of a curriculum on Craft.

In an era of neoliberal globalisation where the world has become a battlefield for commodification and appropriation, the boundaries between the local and the global are increasingly becoming blurred. While the opening of markets and advancements in technology have spurred greater opportunities for trade, as well as for cross-cultural learning and exchanges; inequality, sustainability, and climate change have become crucial, due in large part to the increased consumption of resources. In the same vein, the expansion and opening of markets have pitted “local” craft industries against “global” competition. The cumulative impact of these rapid changes to the structure of economies, the environment, and culture, deserve some attention.

Drawing on two major craft traditions in Ghana, i.e. glass beadmaking and indigo textile production and dyeing in south-eastern and northern Ghana respectively, this project interrogates: how craft traditions in Ghana cope with the threats of neoliberal globalisation (e.g., appropriation, preservation of craft traditions as community heritage, competition, etc.); as well as with a changing climate (impacts of craft activities on the environment as well as impacts of climate change on the working processes and practices of craftspeople). In more specific terms, the project asks the following questions: (i) What are the implications, if any, of market liberalisation (e.g., the importation of imported inputs and technologies such as dyes, yarn, glass and end products like beads and second-hand clothing) on the local crafts industry? (ii) What conditions account for the rise in the usage of local crafts in Ghana and what factors lead to the decline in the use of local crafts?

Among the Krobo (Dangme) of south-eastern and the Gonja of northern Ghana, the glass beadmaking and indigo dyeing (and weaving) respective craft traditions represent enduring economic and socio-cultural systems for knowledge transmission, self-reliance, and (livelihood) resilience. These crafts are learned by experience, through repetition, and practice. They are part of the indigenous knowledge systems rooted in the cultural and natural environment and are important entry points for such an inquiry.

Overarching objectives

  • Explore the effects of opening of markets (and advancements in technology) on production processes and livelihoods of glass beadmakers and indigo dyers in Ghana.
  • Interrogate how government policies and the structure of the global political economy promote or inhibit local craft production, trade, and livelihoods.
  • Examine the internal structure and working arrangements of beadmaking and indigo dyeing with a view to understanding differentiation, distribution of resources along gender, status, age, and other markers of social difference.
  • Explore ways to improve the incomes and livelihoods of glass beadmakers and indigo practitioners in Ghana in the light of the limits of growth imposed by the climate question and neoliberal economic policies.
  • Create a framework to facilitate stakeholder engagement between the academe and communities of practice as a basis for opening up knowledge production, valorisation, and curation.

Developing a global-local curriculum on craft: Our epistemological approach - Decolonising the curriculum

What kind of knowledge and ideas about knowing and who knows emerges if we take the practices of craftspeople outside of the academy as the starting point of our inquiry? The call for decolonisation takes the academy as the default site for transformation. In the process an enduring legacy of colonialism – the divide between systematised knowledge housed in the academy and “folk/ethno ideas” outside the academy - persists. The result is that socially necessary knowledge that lies outside of the academy is routinely devalorised. Expanding the site of knowledge production and the valorisation of diverse ways of knowing is one way of overcoming this legacy. Accordingly, the project seeks to engage craftspeople in co- determining what counts as knowledge, how to teach it, and how best to preserve it. Such a conversation will mutually enrich both set of interlocutors (craftspeople and academe) while extending the conversation around decolonisation to the areas of livelihood and devalorised knowledge traditions thereby grounding the academy as a site for social engagement.

The research process / Activities:

  • Exploratory fieldwork to Odumase Krobo to establish relationship with craftspeople and, in the process, refine questions and objectives based on their own interests (February 2022)
  • Exploratory fieldwork to Daboya to establish relationship with craftspeople and, in the process, refine questions and objectives based on their own interests (May 2022)
  • Brainstorming meeting with (HaB) regional colleagues from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal to draw lessons from their experiences, but also to integrate them fully into the project. We will also draw on materials on indigo that were produced in the frame of HaB (August 2022).
  • Main Fieldwork in Odumase Krobo and Daboya with identified craftspeople and their communities where we will engage with practitioners, observe glass beadmaking and indigo dyeing and hold local discussions on the effects of neoliberal globalisation and climate change on their work (October 2022)
  • Craft as Method Workshop in Senegal with selected representatives of the two crafts and others from West Africa (November 2022).
  • Ongoing engagement with communities in further generating insights to feed into the curriculum development project
  • Online workshops with colleagues from West Africa and Asia with the hope of sharing our methodology, questions, and findings (TBD).
  • A one-week Writeshop at the Shai Hills Museum (TBD)
  • In-Situ Graduate School with academics, students and craft practitioners from West Africa and Asia (TBD). This is expected to generate a bottom up humanistic curriculum on craft.

Piloting curriculum at UG and in the communities through open access training.

As a gesture of the mutual learning approach, we can work with the craftspeople to identify a set of issues that face the community. e.g., skills transfer - we may work with them to develop a training programme that ties in their way of transferring skills, expansion of production, and our way to have a series of workshops or classes where people can take part for free. Also, we can take back the piloted course on the UG campus to the communities tailoring it to the needs and structure of the communities (TBD).

HaB Team at the University of Ghana:

Dr. Eric Tamatey Lawer (Project Coordinator, IAS), Prof. Samuel Ntewusu (IAS), Dr. Kojo Aidoo (IAS), Dr. Irene Appeaning Addo (IAS), Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata (IAS), Dr. Mercy Akrofi Ansah (IAS),  Dr. William Nartey Gblerkpor (Dept. of Archaeology, UG), Dr. Faisal Garba (univ. of Cape Town), Dr. Samuel Amponsah (Adult Education, UG), Prof. Akosua Darkwah (Sociology, UG), Dr. David Addae (Adult Educ., UG), Dr. Joyce Anku (Teacher Educ., UG), Dr. Samuel Amartey (Archaeology, UG), Dr. Sachibu Mohammed (ind. researcher).


  • Glass bead producers and traders in Odumase Krobo, South-eastern Ghana
  • Indigo textile dyers and weavers in Daboya, Savanna Region of Northern Ghana
  • Ghana Beads Society
  • Krobo Beads Society
  • Aid to Artisans Ghana



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Eric Tamatey Lawer's picture
Eric Tamatey Lawer
Research Fellow
POINT (-0.185499258 5.650497398)