Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

Gary Sarkozi

Second Advisor

Yan Jin


This dissertation takes the approach of a qualitative case study whose primary subject is Alhaji Papa Susso, a distinct and compelling representative of griot culture, who was born in The Gambia, but who now resides in the U.S., yet maintains his griot identity. The findings from this research provide evidence that the griot, in his quest to support himself abroad while honoring the traditions of his heritage, is actively participating in the purposeful dissemination of griot culture in the U.S. and beyond. Though he may be cultivating genuine interest in his skills and in the oral canon of histories and epic tales that he maintains, he cannot control reception and appropriation of his culture. Further, the findings suggest there is a crosscutting backlash where the influence of technology is concerned, in that, while it provides a means for recording and preserving the griot’s performative art, it also distracts West African youth and diminishes their interest in acquiring and maintaining the tools and instrumentation of their caste-born heritage. The main conclusions drawn from this study suggest the griot feels compelled in many ways to spread his culture beyond the limits of his original, regional seat in order to preserve and promote it, but in doing so, he is changing his culture, and exposing it to audiences who are not sufficiently encultured to apprehend fully its depth and meaning. Furthermore, technology may be a useful tool in preserving the griot’s art in West Africa and abroad, but the static nature of recording robs the griot’s performance of its dynamic, flexible and culturally reflective power. Ultimately, it is the goal of this dissertation to actualize Stake’s (1995) assertion that “the function of research is not necessarily to map and conquer the world but to sophisticate the beholding of it” (p. 43); it is the goal of this dissertation to illuminate and understand, to bear careful witness to a facet of cultural expansion, to a contemporary phenomenon, to a particular, unique and valuable human experience.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2012

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