The PH.D. Journey: A Reasoned Overview Of Dr. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa

By Charles Prempeh
Dr. Patricia Serwaa AfrifaDr. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa
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It has become a cliché for holders of Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) to keep honking that the journey towards attaining a terminal degree is not a cakewalk. It is also not a pie in the sky. It is easy for anyone to dream of becoming a Ph.D. holder, but it is a different narrative to walk the journey towards attaining it. It is becoming an established practice for many Ghanaians to dream of getting a terminal degree. Certainly, this is great, but my only concern is that many people pursue a terminal degree to while away time. But whether one seeks to remain in academia or acquire a terminal degree to advance a particular chosen field, we must admit that working for a Ph.D. demands the overstretching of both brain and brawl. A good combination of cerebral/cognitive and physical abilities is an ingredient to the Ph.D. journey.

Some religious people have also concluded that the journey towards Ph.D. is spiritual that demands a particular inordinate faith in a divine being. For many religious people, therefore, the ultimate reality is the ultimate source of all knowledge. Indeed, throughout the ages, philosophers have speculated and at times split hairs over the source of and the science of production of episteme. Socrates and Plato believed that knowledge comes from the superstructure (the ideal world) – inhabited by the deities. On the other hand, Aristotle argued that knowledge is the by-product of human thinking abilities. This is similar to the dictum of Protagoras that, ‘Man is the measure of all things.’

While many Ph.D. graduates would harp, the difficulties associated with knowledge production, we are hardly told why it is so. I want to conjecture a response by looking at two things. First, a human being is a speaking being, not a writing being. We are all born with the innate ability to speak because that is natural to us. It is, therefore, not too much a task to pick up multiple languages as a child. Writing, on the other hand, is recent human development. All the elements of writing are human creation that our ancestors knew nothing about. Thus, since writing does not come to us naturally, we have to strain our energies to learn how to write. We have to go the extra mile to develop savvy in writing. This explains why writing is a continues learning skill that ends only in the grave!

The second reason for the difficulties associated with a Ph.D. is that human being is a social being. As a social being, we subsist through interaction with other beings. We cultivate characters, shape our identities, and develop our skills through our interactions. The sociality of the human being was explicitly captured by Aristotle, ‘in order to live alone one must either be an animal or a god.’ Hence, thinking is supposed to be corporate exercise, not on an individual basis. While it is not in our DNA to be alone, the pursuit of Ph.D. requires one to be alone. Hence, the euphemistic expressions ‘Ph.D. is a jealous god,’ and a ‘Permanent Head Damage.’ Thinking alone is imitating the gods, and since we cannot ontologically be gods, we suffer from shunning our collectivistic thinking natural predisposition. We think together, not as individuals. As far as human beings are concerned dialogue is the axis on which life runs. A monologue is the realm of the deities. What Ph.D. does is to reverse this logic. Hence, the trouble and the pain we go through in our quest for a terminal degree.

Regardless of one's understanding of the source of knowledge (theocentric or anthropocentric) and the difficulties it portends, it is generally agreed that knowledge acquisition is a journey that must not and cannot be taken lightly. It is based on this that I want to congratulate Drs. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa, Theresa Bebaaku Dery, and Angela Tabiri. Between June and July this year, Serwaa graduated with a Ph.D. in African Studies, focusing on childcare in contemporary Ghana; Theresa graduated with a Ph.D. in Medical Physics, concentrating on the appropriation of medical physics in healthcare practices. Angela Tabiri graduated with a Ph.D. in Mathematics, by focusing on how Algebra – developed by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi – could help in making the world better. Put together, all these three ladies, who have much in common, undertook research works that are immensely relevant for the development of Ghana, Africa, and the world.

Today, I, however, want to focus on Dr. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa. I have known Serwaa for a decade. We met at the Institute of African Studies, where I studied for my MPhil in African Studies and graduated in 2011, a year after Serwaa was done with her master's studies. We had a lot in common because we shared the vision that Africa's problems should have African antidote. This is not coterminous to saying that there is a distinctively African solution to Africa’s poly-challenges, as it is to say that whatever solutions that are proffered to solve Africa’s challenges must be filtered through the prism of the socio-cultural basket of the continent. Africans need a cultural sieve to distill the multiple answers that have been suggested by well-meaning people.

Serwaa’s research on childcare in urban Accra is very necessary. Given that Accra is deeply cosmopolitan, where ethnic and religious plurality has become sui generis, it is important to explore how urban life in Accra is (re)shaping childcare practices. More importantly, at a time when homes are becoming empty because mothers have been compelled to join the world of work in the public sector, it was simply curious that Serwaa’s work explored the changing trends in childcare culture. Research has shown that many Ghanaian children are developing some cognitive and psychological anomalies because of the absence of parents at home. It is also a truism that the near-collapse of the extended family system has exposed the vulnerability of young parents in nurturing their children.

The future of any human society is indeed encoded in its children. Children are the vanguard that is needed to protect the values and norms of society against any imperial cultural invasion. And parents, particularly mothers, are the vectors through which society's values are transmitted across time and space. Sadly, most mothers in Accra are inundated with many challenges that have burdened their capacity to perform the expressive duties of nurturing children. Who will carry over our cherished values to the next generation? Will our values survive the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Serwaa's work argued convincingly that there is a revitalization of the extended family system in some areas in Accra. She argued that it is fallacious to argue randomly and also without problematization that the extended family system has collapsed. Concentrating on Madina, Nima, and Dzorwulu, as research areas, she made a strong case in terms of the differences embedded in childcare practices across different socio-geographical segments of Accra. I recommend Serwaa’s work for anyone interested in exploring the changing trends and the accompanying dynamics in childcare in Accra.

Drs. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa, Theresa Bebaaku Dery, and Angela Tabiri, congratulations. Mo ni yo.

Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra

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