Materialities, discourses, and entanglements in gendered decision-making and practices : an ethnographic account of ‘fish mammy’ households in Ghana

  • Moses ADJEI

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Critical feminist scholars have challenged essentialist understandings of gender inequality and the use of discourses to categorize men as superior to women. For critics however, a focus on discourse equally limits our understanding of the role of materialities (human and non-human) in co-creating such social outcomes. Using a new feminist materialist approach, this thesis examines the factors which create opportunities for and obstacles to women’s participation in household and community-based fishery decision-making and practices in Ghana. The study adopts an ethnographic approach using multi-methods including a cross-sectional survey of 400 female fisherfolk, 48 in-depth interviews with female fisherfolk, male fisherfolk as well as community-based fishery leaders, and officials of governmental and non-governmental organisations. The study sample was drawn from three fishing communities (Axim, Sekondi and Dixcove) in the south-western coast of Ghana known for their historical and crucial contributions to Ghana’s small-scale fisheries sector. In terms of household fishery decision-making/practices, the results showed that women do more processing/trading, but less of strenuous tasks (e.g., fishing and repairs). In terms of community participation, results showed that while women attend meetings, their male counterparts dominate in terms of positions in the community-based fishery association. Multivariate linear regression revealed that women’s financial contributions, ownership of equipment and seasonality were significantly associated with their household decision-making power. However, participation in strenuous tasks (which commands high decision-making power) dampens the positive relationship between women’s financial contributions, gender role attitudes and decision-making power, such that financial contribution become insignificant. Women’s fishery decision-making varies according to the sex-typed division of labour, and those who violate it are ‘punished’ as they have to reduce their quest for equality in strenuous tasks in order to assume some level of decision-making. In-depth interviews and participant observations revealed that while discourses of masculinity and femininity were crucial in the gendering of fishery decision-making and practices, materialities (e.g., human bodies with (in)capacities in terms of strength, birthing, breastfeeding) as well as non-human objects such as canoe, the sea and its waves, and the heavy fishing net, food distributed at meetings and microphones equally mattered. The co-implication of the material, discursive, spatial, and temporal forces co-determined the extent of women’s participation in household and community-based fishery decision-making and practices. Thus, focusing on gender equality campaigns and women’s financial inclusion without attention to materialities (e.g., the physicality of activities women do) would be inadequate in explaining the complexities of their decision-making. Focusing on material-discursive co-implications highlight the physical bodily demands that women have to overcome and the how such entanglements can be reconfigured to enhance their decision-making. The current thesis calls for the need to embrace more materially engaged research, which recognizes the active role of such material forces as they intra-act with other forces in co-creating different outcomes for women.
Date of Award17 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorHau Nung Annie CHAN (Supervisor) & Roman DAVID (Co-supervisor)

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