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
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
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.