Conceptions of personhood in Ghana: An emic perspective

  • Jonathan K. Gavi Department of Psychology, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana
  • Charity S. Akotia
  • Joseph Osafo
  • Angela A. Gyasi-Gyamerah
  • Johnny Andoh-Arthur
  • Seth M. Asafo


There are marked differences between conceptions of personhood from an African perspective and those of the West. Whereas in the West, personhood is conceptualized in Kantian terms, made up of the metaphysical qualities by which personhood is granted, a normative conceptualization of personhood exists in Africa. These differential conceptions have largely come from philosophical reflections and, predominantly, from etic perspectives. This study explored the conceptions of personhood among the Ewes and Akans in Ghana. Using a semi-structured interview guide, seven (7) Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were conducted in a community in the Eastern Region and another in the Volta Region of Ghana. Thematic analysis revealed three main moral frames from which personhood is conceived: communal, divine and interpersonal, which showed a pervasive consequentialist social ethic. Out of these three broad moral frames emerged four themes, namely: 1) the metaphysical, 2) normative, 3) performative, and 4) spiritual dimensions. Participants alluded to how personhood is attained and how it is lost. Contrary to the Western metaphysical notions of personhood, personhood among Ewes and Akans is agent-centred. The implications of these conceptions for psychological practice in Ghana are discussed.