Pride and shame in Ghana: Collective memory and nationalism among elite students

Erin Metz McDonnell, Gary Alan Fine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Based on an original dataset of university students, this article investigates Ghanaian collective memories of past events that are sources of national pride or shame. On average, young elite Ghanaians express more pride than shame in their national history, and they report shame mostly over actions that caused some physical, material, or symbolic harm. Such actions include not only historic events and the actions of national leaders, but also mundane social practices of average Ghanaians. Respondents also report more "active" than "receptive" shame; that is, they are more ashamed of events or practices that caused harm to others and less ashamed about events in which they were the "victims." We advance the idea of a standard of "reasonableness" that Ghanaians apply in their evaluation of events, behaviors, or circumstances: they apply contemporary standards of morality to past events, but they temper their judgment based on considerations of whether past actions were "reasonable" given the power and material imbalances at that time. Ghanaian students identify strongly with both national and pan-African identities, and they frequently evoke their international image to judge a national event as either honorable or shameful. Ethnicity can be one factor in an individual's judgment of precolonial events, whereas political party affiliation is the stronger predictor of attitudes toward postindependence events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-142
Number of pages22
JournalAfrican Studies Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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