Fulbright Proposal 2003-04
The Social Organization of Migration in Highland Morocco
Dr. David Crawford

*** This was my original Fulbright proposal.  It has been amended significantly because of other teaching commitments. ***

    This proposal is for a year of research and teaching in Morocco, from July 2003 through June 2004.  Fall semester will be spent doing research; during spring semester I hope to teach at al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane.  

Research Objectives
    The overall objective of the research is to examine the role of migration in rural social life, taking a village in the High Atlas 90 kilometers south of Marrakech as my specific object of inquiry.  In my previous work in this village, Tagharghist, I have demonstrated how household dynamics and the domestic lifecycle impact larger social forms such as collective labor organization and village councils –institutions that are important to the local operation of the Moroccan state, as well as to efforts by a variety of international development organizations working in the region.  My argument has been that these village-level social dynamics, while fascinating in themselves, are incomprehensible without considering the organization of productive and reproductive forces within the various village households.  Household organization rests upon a set of locally understood meanings, for the idea of a household itself and for the culturally legitimated authority of patriarchs and elders that supports a sharply defined sex- and age-based division of labor.  

Clearly, the periodic and/or permanent migration of some household members intrudes crucially in High Atlas “cycles of domestic development” (Robertson 1991), the process of household growth, maturity and decline that forms of basic rhythm of rural social reproduction.  How exactly this happens in the region, how migration emerges from and affects households, and most especially how the meaning of migration changes in the evolving political economy of the highlands, remains poorly understood.  My intention is to gather data on the contemporary relevance of migration to individuals, families and the village as a whole, and to establish a baseline by which to gauge the significance of migration over time.  I have already assembled a rich portrait of family labor organization in this village (Crawford 2001b); the crucial perspectives I am missing are those of migrants: “villagers” who are physically absent from the village.  This information will form part of a forthcoming book on Moroccan rural life.

It is important to note that the basic fact of migration is hardly new.  Out-migration has been a factor in the High Atlas for as long as we have had records.  A limited land base and a growing population has always been a spur to emigration, while commercial farming, the construction industry, and tourism provide migrants with solid material reasons to seek work outside their villages.  Also, however, many families now living in Tagharghist claim that they migrated to the mountains at some point in their history, indicating that both out- and in-migration have long been significant to High Atlas life.  What has changed recently is that improvements in infrastructure have made circular migration far more feasible.  (A dirt road reached Tagharghist only in 1996, for instance.)  Circular migration among settled farmers represents a comparatively new and important dynamic in highland Morocco.

My previous observations indicate that since 1994 the movement of people both to and from the cities is increasing, and has become vital to household composition and operation.  This is to say that migrants do not severe their ties to households immediately –indeed, some never do—and thus we need to understand the social integration of migration, or the articulation of wage and subsistence, or family and extra-familial, labor.  Significantly, contemporary migration does not only include young, unmarried men –the classic subjects of migration studies—but very often girls, some older men, and occasionally women.  The particularities of a given migration experience arise from the particularities of household composition, especially the sex and age of the members, as well as the complexities of household property ownership.  These factors influence the specificities of household labor dynamics and thus underlie both household agricultural practice and the larger socio-political organization of the village.  The practices and periodicities of migration are vital to the internal dynamics of households, and the dynamics of households are fundamental to rural social, cultural and material production in general.

    Because of the importance of migration in Morocco today (Sørensen 2000, White 2001), understanding the roots of the process in the family dynamics of rural households is, I argue, central to understanding contemporary Morocco itself.  This perspective also allows us to contribute a rural perspective on the social and cultural changes wrought by economic transformations sweeping the planet, changes often glossed as “globalization.”

    First, this study expands our understanding of Moroccan migration by reversing the typical direction of study and foregrounding the rural, rather than urban, consequences of migration.  Fifty percent of Morocco remains rural (Leveau 1985), so this in itself is no trivial concern.  Generally, studies on migrants look to populations already in cities.  My study begins where most migration begins –in the village-- and follows migrants out to a range of destinations, from Taroudant and Agadir to Rabat, Salé, Casablanca and Sidi Kacem.  By attempting to come to terms with migration as part of household dynamics, this research aims to reveal the complex forces that “push” and “pull” (within both the rural and urban contexts), and illustrates how these contradictory forces fuel and frame actual migration practices.  Knowing the family history, the position of a migrant within a family, and the family’s evolving position within a lineage and village will allow me to form a richer explanation of the causes and consequences of migration than simply interviewing migrants alone.
Secondly, this project contributes to our understanding of Moroccan international migration --despite the fact that I deal only with internal migrants.  There is a great deal of government and academic interest in migration from North Africa to Europe (Arkoun 1998, Chattou 1998, McMurray 2001).  Little of this work examines what I take to be the rural bedrock of the migrating population, however.  (For notable exceptions see Amahan 1998 and Daoud 1996).  Often researchers accept the statements of migrants about rural life at face value: that villages are morally integral but materially impoverished, for instance.  My study builds on a deeper understanding of the morality and materiality of village life, one taken not only from the perspective of migrants (who are a statistical minority in many villages), but of their families too.  I will build on fourteen months of previous fieldwork, during which I lived in the village and witnessed the ways local power asymmetries provide the dynamic context in which migration decisions are made.  

    None of the migrants with whom I will study have worked outside of Morocco.  Most are monolingual Berber speakers and their lack of Derija (Moroccan Arabic) limits their employment possibilities even within the country.  (This also limits the ability of many researchers to speak with them.)  Still, external migration is fed by internal migration.  The movement of mountain people desperate for wages --and supported by a subsistence economy part time or in periods of need—puts pressure on urban residents to look for work elsewhere.  Able to speak the national variant of Arabic, and sometimes educated in European languages, urban Moroccans are more likely than farmers to have the social means to become international migrants.   It is mostly urban Moroccans who become the labor force fundamental to the economies of Spain, France, the Netherlands and other European countries.  And while much is known about international migration, little is known of its roots: the social and economic forces that ultimately can be traced to family dynamics in subsistence agricultural systems.

    Finally, this research will contribute to my forthcoming book on Moroccan rural life. The theoretical core of the book involves a particular theorization of inequality taken from Amartya Sen and aims to show how shifts in the configurations of inequality can be used as a lens through which to view social change.  Sen argues trenchantly that “every normative theory of social arrangement that has at all stood the test of time seems to demand equality of something –something that is regarded as particularly important in that theory” (Sen 1992:12).  In my recent writings I have extended Sen’s argument from “theories of social arrangements” to an ethnographic case study, with a focus on the collective labor organization of village canal repair (in press).  I have sought to demonstrate that village labor organization is both fair and unfair depending on the sort of equality being considered and, especially, the timeframe over which the consideration is made.  I have suggested that this insight has importance for both cultural and economic theory, and I have argued that it holds great practical significance for the Moroccan state and for national and international development agencies.  The book is meant to expand this approach from the particularities of collective labor organization to other areas of village life by incorporating the salience of migration.  

    I will suggest the usefulness of considering social arrangements in general as specific configurations of inequality, configurations where different notions of “fair” and “unfair” are integrated in culturally specific ways and in particular temporal frames.  Inequality is in some sense inevitable (people have different abilities) and even productive (the organization of these differential abilities allows us to produce the societies we live in), but what is understood as “fair” or “equal” is both culturally and temporally variable.  If economists have paid too little attention to culturally determined understandings of inequality, anthropologists have ignored the inequalities inherent in culture, opting for the ethically equitable term “differences.”  In all cultures some differences matter while others do not, some are legitimate and others are not, some are tolerable while others are not.  The culturally facilitated organization of inequality may be seen as the core of social and economic life.

    From this viewpoint migration is an extremely interesting phenomenon as it involves a choice to accept new configurations of inequalities through which to live and new timeframes in which to actualize such inequalities.  The atomized, fast-moving economy of the cities has advantages and disadvantages that the migrant (and the social group in which she or he is embedded) must balance against the material limitations and patriarchal, gerontocratic, and cloyingly dense social relations of the village (Lagnaoui 1999).  The significant point is that many families are not choosing one scheme over the other, but are managing to integrate the two social and economic contexts.  Thus, I will argue, not only is village-level social organization usefully characterized as an assemblage of integrated forms and rhythms of inequality, but these are actively articulated with larger socioeconomic processes (and thus different frameworks of inequality) through the work of migrants.  

    It is a mistake in most cases to imagine that migration is a single, discrete event.  Migrants remain vitally connected to their village households, especially during their early migration experiences, and by extension they remain important to larger lineage and other social and political structures.  The proposed research into the meaning of migration aims to understand the role of migrants –most of whom at least begin their working career in patterns of circular migration—in rural social life, and the migrants’ own understanding of this.  Such an inquiry stands to enhance our understanding of the general dynamics of migration in Morocco, its economic causes, social organization, and human consequences.  More generally this bears upon questions of the operations of power, the salience of gender in household economics and migration, and the link between forms of inequality and the economic and cultural process generally understood as globalization.

    Methodologically this study involves three main phases: an updated survey of village family connections, travel to various cities around Morocco to interview migrants, and a brief set of follow-up interviews in the village based on information given by migrants.  During a short research trip in summer 2002 I determined that of the twenty-nine households I had originally worked with in 1998-99, one had entirely relocated to the city, two had divided (neither had land, so one of the newly created households moved to the city while one supports itself with various forms of wage labor in the village), and sixteen people had moved to, or reestablished residences outside of the village while remaining economically bound to their households.  This sample does not include many others who were working outside the village during my original fieldwork (and continue to do so), nor does it include family relations who are not considered part of households, but are considered family.  This latter category can be patrilineal kin, married children, or maternal relatives.    
Collecting information on family links traced through women is of particular importance during this first phase.  Previously I have focused on patrilineal relations, as these have traditionally been thought to be the most socially and politically salient (Gellner 1969, Hart 2000, Kraus 1998).  However, it has become evident to me that both young men and women migrants frequently use relatives on their mother’s side, or families into which their sisters have married, to facilitate their move to the city.  This emphasis on feminine social ties is surprising in a socio-political and economic context thought to center overwhelmingly on men.  This is of interest in itself, but collecting information on family connections that fall outside of the patrilineal paradigm will allow me to better understand the circumstances that facilitate migration.  The aunts and married sisters of migrants are rarely considered part of a household, but they are often the first stop when a migrant moves to the city, sometimes the only stop.  Thus, in the initial phase of research I will focus on tracing familial links that pass through household matriarchs, their sisters, married daughters, and the married sisters of patriarchs.
In the second phase of the research I will attempt to follow these and other social links, to find the migrants in the city and tape record a set of semi-structured interviews.   I will begin with the migrants still actively contributing to village households and expand my contacts to various other relatives.  Interviewing may prove difficult as all migrants in my sample are illiterate and often live in makeshift housing without telephones or other easy means of contact.  Some have no proper addresses.  I will have to spend time in Agadir, Taroudant, Marrakech, Rabat, Salé, Sidi Kacem and Casablanca to find migrants, explain my purposes, conduct and transliterate interviews, and, where feasible, conduct interviews with the family relations with whom they live.  My hope is that once I have completed interviews with one household, they may be able and willing to help me find others in that city.  One alternative methodology will be for me to pay for people in the village to travel with me to visit relatives in the city.  This may produce excellent opportunities for group interviews and contrasting viewpoints, though this will also mean that someone from the migrant’s household would be present in the interview, perhaps skewing the presentation.

    My goal in this phase of the research is to understand how the migrants see their hybrid social world, how living in the city shapes their understanding of the countryside, what urban labor entails, and how they feel about it.  I anticipate that migrants will have strikingly different understandings of household economics than, for instance, the patriarchs who retain their wages.  My ability to elicit such opinions will depend at least partly on the amount of time I spend with each migrant and the circumstances under which I conduct the interviews.  It will not usually be possible to arrive, do an interview, and leave quickly.  Depending on my previous relationship with each migrant, their work schedule, the attitude of their host families (if any), the obligations of reciprocity we have already established, and the willingness of the migrant herself or himself, total interview time may take from a few hours to as long as a week.  

    A final period spent in the village will allow me to clear up any questions raised by the interviews with the migrants, as well as return news and gifts migrants will surely want me to deliver.  All interviews will be conducted in Tachelhit (the southern variety of Berber).  I do not have native fluency, but can ask direct questions and receive answers with no trouble.  I will seek help translating the recorded interviews into English from a native Berber speaking university graduate with whom I have worked before.  
I hope to begin this period of research in late July 2003.  This will allow me to spend August and September in the village, the prime months when migrants return for vacation so that I can make introductions and schedule meetings later in the various cities where migrants work.  Then in October and early November I can travel to the various cities and tape interviews.  During late November and early December I will translate interviews with my research assistant in Taroudant.  By January I will be ready to move to Ifrane and begin my teaching duties at al-Akhawayn.

    My primary motivation in teaching is to have the opportunity to engage Moroccan students and colleagues.  I gave a presentation at al-Akhawayn during summer session 2002 and found that Moroccan students and professors asked incisive questions that helped me to think about my work in new ways.  While I have spent a great deal of time working with poor, monolingual Berber speaking farmers, I have spent little time with Moroccan urbanites and intellectuals.  I am interested in teaching Moroccan university students so that I can fathom their own concerns for the future of their country and integrate these into my research agenda and scholarly presentations.  I believe that many in Morocco share my interest in cultural diversity, migration, labor economics, and the broad theme of inequality.

    In discussion with professors and administrators at al-Akhawayn, it was decided that it would work best if I taught courses already in the curricula rather than create my own listings.  I have chosen “Introduction to Anthropology,” which I have taught several times at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a course called “Comparative Cultural Systems,” which I will take over from Professor John Shoup and add some of my own material.  I have always received excellent teaching evaluations and have won several teaching awards.  I look forward to the challenge of adapting my pedagogical materials and style for a Moroccan audience, and to engaging the next generation of Morocco’s leaders on issues of importance to Morocco.