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Columbia University

Publication Date

Fall 2010

Program Name

Morocco: Migration and Transnational Identity


Human mobility has existed in countless forms for many centuries. Yet in our modern world of sovereign territorially defined nation-states, both policy makers and national publics increasingly see human mobility across national boundaries as alarming. The rising movement of people, culture and capital across borders is suggested to pose a direct challenge to the nation-state as the organizing unit around which many areas of human activity revolve. In the age of globalization, academics and politicans are investigating how to understand the question of individuals and entire communities, intent on maintaining strong economic, cultural and social ties across state borders. This contemporary experience of individuals figuratively having each leg in a different country has been theorized under the rubric of ‘transnationalism’, a term coined by American social scientists in the 1990’s who aimed to explain the myriad of cultural, social and economic undertakings of migrants in both their country of origin as their host countries simultaneously. These migration scholars, notably Glick Schiller, Basch, Szanton-Blanc, Portes et al, closely studied the cases of West-Indian, Mexican, Haitian and Filipino migrants, and have argued that the state as defined in classical liberal political theory, is becoming ‘de-territorialized’ as a result of emergent migrant populations whose ‘lives cut across national boundaries and bring two societies into a single social field.’ (Glick Schiller, Basch, Szanton-Blanc, 1992: 1) Transnational public spheres are being formed that stretch the concept and praxis of sovereignty beyond territory unto discursive grounds. The assumption that there is “an immutable link between cultures, peoples or identities and specific places, is directly challenged by migration and the rise of diasporic communities around the world.” (Lavie and Swedenbourg, 1997:1) As transnational processes such as the emergence of broad networks to sustain transnational modes of living and symbolic communities to strengthen shared identity, are defying the significance of national boundaries, states and scholars are contemplating in what ways membership in a society should be (re)conceptualized and (re) configured. What rights and obligations should pertain to transmigrants vis-à-vis states and vice versa, and what ‘expressions of nationalism’, belonging and identity are catalyzed by forms of transnationality? (Kastoryano, 2002: 693) The case of the Moroccan communities abroad is a perfect example of how economic, social and cultural networks are formed spanning entire political territories and bridging the distance between two continents. Large family and communal networks between Morocco and Europe are spearheading major socio-cultural and political transformations within Morocco and Europe. In Morocco, the most visible manifestation of this fact happens during the summer vacation, when about 2 million Moroccans residing abroad cross the straits of Gibraltar heading south. The phenomenon known in popular and official discourse as Opération Marahaba is quite unique because of the fact that the country starts preparing as soon as spring arrives for the annual welcoming of almost half its nationals living abroad. This phenomenon is what President of the Conseil de la Communauté Marocaine a l’étranger, Mr. Driss El-Yazami called “ La Paradoxe Marocaine”. What is paradoxical to him, is that despite the diversity of Moroccans abroad, in terms of country of residence, migration period and socio-economic status, most individuals still maintain a close relationship with Morocco while still seeking to ‘integrate’ in their countries of residence. A large segment of Moroccan emigrants, “ have become transnational in so far as they manage to live simultaneously in two countries, contributing to the nation-building processes of both their countries of origin and those of immigration.”(Salih, 2003:5) Transnationalism as a research field materialized as a response to scholarship on migration that only focused on studying migrants’ positions within host countries; whether and how they adapt and are in- or excluded. (Vertovec, 2001:574) Departing from “host-society centered incorporation”, the transnational outlook focused on “transcending immigrant identities and commitments” that challenge dominant narratives which argue that adaptation to host-society and transnationality are mutually exclusive processes. (Bouras, 2010:2) Academic literature on transnational actors and how their activities alter the nature and functioning of the state, on individual and collective identities, community consciousness and creation of networks emerged rapidly. However, there has been a strong tendency to see migrants “as free-floating transnational communities whose positions and rights are secured by supranational forces and discourses and whose identities and types of claim are largely independent from the policies of the receiving and sending countries.” (Glick Schiller, 467) Although some argue that transnationalism underlines the freedom of individuals and ‘the tribulations of the self ’ in an effort to construct an identity for oneself apparently disembedded from one’s cultural roots”, there is also a clear sign that states have a stake in catalyzing, shaping or curbing transnationalism. (Giddens, 1991: 187) Hence, my premise is that we also need to observe how individuals interact with transnational opportunities and limits, and how debates and contestations surrounding cultural and religious differences, integration, dual citizenship and loyalty issues in both home-societies and host-societies, are having an impact upon the way in which Moroccans can envision and create transnational lives. In this research paper, I present accounts of “the history and activities of individuals, taking into consideration migrants own desires, strategies, practices for staying connected around the world and how these ties differ from before”, as a way of learning about the institutional underpinnings of transnationalism and its structural effects. (Vertovec, 2001: 573) In placing actor-oriented approaches against the backdrop of larger structural conditions, I believe we can analyze the manifestation of motivations, meanings and the place of people as their own agents in process of change. To understand transnationalism as it occurs within and has impact upon, the daily lives of individuals and their support networks, I see it as imperative to analytically include the discursive contexts in which transnational activities and transnational identities are forged. Reason why I have chosen to study to what extent the transnational activities and identities of my interviewees are shaped by policy and political discourses in both The Netherlands in Morocco. How do these two states separately but simultaneously affect how Moroccan-Dutch citizens form transnational lives or not? Ultimately, the scope and nature of transnational social spheres are influenced by the historical circumstances from which they arise and by evolving discourses and settings. This paper examines how and why transnationalism came to be perceived as negative in the Netherlands, but is currently placed into a positive light by the Moroccan state. My research will be based on an analysis of several academic reports which have touched on the topic of changing discourses in both the Netherlands and Morocco. It will be complemented by the narratives of nine individuals comprising of persons who have migrated to build their lives in the Netherlands, second-generation Moroccans who were born there and transmigrants who commute between the Netherlands and Morocco. I will introduce you to Aziz, Taib, Mohammed, Karim, Hajat, Jia, Mr. N and his son, Mr. Yousfi. All of these individuals proudly claim their Moroccan roots but they also all acknowledge that having a Dutch nationality has impacted their lives tremendously. These individuals have shared their stories with me through in person semi-structured interviews individually or in a focus group. Two people spoke to me through video conference and phone. Some scholars have maintained (i.e Ruba Salih) that research on transnationalism cannot be accounted for by remaining focused on one single site of intensive investigation, which is why multi-sited ethnography –which acknowledges ‘macrotheoretical narratives and concepts of the world system and aims to follow the circulation of cultural meanings, objects, identities, in diffuse time-space’–has been suggested as the best mode of research. (Marcus,1995:96) Though I was able to interview people in both the Netherlands and Morocco, I would have liked to conduct more extensive and accurate multi-sited ethnographic research. Participant observation has also been crucial in informing my findings. In the first chapter of this paper I will look at the emergence of transnationalism as a research field and how scholarship on transnationalism has developed over the years. I will also point out in this chapter why I think one should analyze the impact of public and political discourses on transnationalism. In the second chapter, I will discuss the migration transitions and national transformations of the Netherlands and Morocco. An overview on Morocco’s emigration history will be juxtaposed to the Netherlands’ transition to an immigration country. To understand the two countries national discourses on migration, one must know the development of their migration narratives. Subsequently, I will present an analysis of the politics of integration and culturalization in the Netherlands, and the protocols of Moroccan hospitality towards citizens abroad. Last but not least, I will give the podium to the individuals I have interviewed so that their perspectives can be heard. Unfortunately, I encountered some inherent obstacles while trying to complete this Independent Research Project. First of all, my research subjects were a select group of people that were decidly hard to find on an average day in Morocco: citizens who have or have had Moroccan and Dutch citizenship. Preferably I would have conducted more ethnographic research, but this was limited by time and place. Luckily, through a contact from SIT Amsterdam, I was able to interview four gentlemen in the Netherlands during our short visit. Through the generous help of NIMAR and SSR in Berkane, I was also able to speak to four people in Morocco. Furthermore, with the help of a friend, I was able to reach two Dutch-Moroccan females. I only have the stories of 2 women, which is a reflection of both the gendered nature of migration as the limitation of time I faced. In terms of language, most of my informants felt comfortable speaking in Dutch, my first language. Eventhough there were no perceivable inhibitions to communication between me and the participants, the fact that I could only interview people with a good command of Dutch or French did narrow my options in Morocco. A lot of work could still be done to build on this research but I hope to continue this project.


Human Geography | Sociology of Culture


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