Monday, July 11, 2011

Berber Households and Global Capitalism

Several weeks ago I read David Crawford's Moroccan Households in the World Economy and decided I wanted to blog about it, but I was leaving town right afterward and am only now looking at it again with the details now far from my mind. Because of that, I apologize for some sketchiness in what I say below.

The book, concerning the village of Tagharghist in the Atlas Mountains, is an ethnography, a genre I often enjoy because I'm fascinated with how people live. Crawford is an extremely talented writer, and apart from the introduction and conclusion, as well as short bits in most chapters highlighting how material relates back to central themes, you can enjoy this book even if you have little tolerance for academic jargon and scholarly formulations. He also includes generous quotations from his field notes which are vivid in their descriptions at times frank in their expressions of emotion. From the first few chapters in particular, readers will get a clear sense of life in this village.

The book's topic is how the extension of global capitalism interacts with the world of the village. As in many other times and places, the basic economic and social unit in Tagharghist is the household headed by a patriarch whose authority over his dependents is nearly absolute. The first four chapters explain how households function individually and collectively, and how time and labor emerge as factors which differentiate among factors economically. I've also noted he has a discussion of one lineage which represents a useful picture for how economic inequality emerges over generations despite an ideology that values equality and laws and customs which in theory perpetuate it.

Chapter 5, "Seeing and Being Seen by the State," is important for those who wish to understand rural Moroccan politics. One of Crawford's arguments, that development projects represent the primary form of engagement between the state and this rural community, calls to mind Toby Jones's Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia. He also argues that, to the people of Tagharghist, the state, conceived as a series of patronage and authority connections leading up to a distant monarch, has a certain family resemblance (my term, and no pun intended) to the genealogical expression of power within households.

Crawford address urban wage labor in his final chapter, and points out that participation in the wage economy is dictated by patriarchs and functions as yet another way to use labor in support of a household, though one that allows some to secede early from their natal household and start their own. In his conclusion, Crawford emphasizes the ways this complicates economic theories which take the autonomous, rational individual as the primary actor. In one hard-hitting sentence, he says, "The awkward truth is that since economics takes itself as the discipline best positioned to explain to the rest of us how the capitalist economy works, and since capitalism expands precisely in places like (Tagharghist) that are organized through households, and since economists admittedly have little idea how household economies work, we are handicapped in understanding what is arguably the single most significant dynamic in our contemporary social world."

Simply put, this is an excellent book, one I recommend for those interested in Morocco, including its politics and economic development, those interested in capitalism and globalization, and those interested in rural household or lineage societies in any time period.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Anonymous Dave Crawford said...

Thanks for the kind review.

10:37 AM  

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