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A Century of Hands: Work, Communities, and Identities among the Ayt Khebbach Fossil Artisans in a Moroccan Oasis

Majuka Tanabe defended her thesis on 17 June 2015

M. (Majuka) Tanabe
17 June 2015
Leiden University Repository

This study analyses the everyday practices and the multiplicious identification processes in Amazigh mineral and fossil artisan communities, focusing on the Ayt Khebbash group in Rissani and Tafraoute of southeastern Morocco. I address the following questions: how do the Ayt Khebbash artisans identify themselves and others through everyday work and participation in different communities? What is their relation to the space that surrounds them? How do they deal with the discourse power of the state and the penetrating influences of capitalism? I argue that in the context of the Tafilalet, the collective Amazigh ethnic identity promoted by the activists holds little importance compared to a tribal sense of belonging based on agnatic ties. Also, the local Ayt Khebbash artisans see themselves contextually through social interactions in everyday work and in relation to external power structures. This dissertation consists of an introduction, four main chapters, and a conclusion. The division of the main content of this study into four chapters is in accordance with the geography of the region: Tafilalet (Ar-Rachidia Province), the village Tafraoute, the town Rissani, and reḥla (‘open space’). I examine the development of fossil ex¬traction and sculpting work in Tafraoute and Rissani in the context of environmental factors and the local history of French colonial rule, so as to situate the practice of Ayt Khebbash men in the historical process of herding, agriculture and mining work. Then I analyse the apprenticeship of fossil artisans as a process of participation in social practice, by using the notion of ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ within the ‘communities of practice’ developed by Lave and Wenger (Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998). This is to demonstrate that work is a social practice wherein acting agents acquire new knowledge, techniques, and lifestyles, in the multiple processes of confrontations and contradictions. Furthermore, through an analysis of the Ayt Kheb¬bash artisans’ work experiences in Nador and barite mining, I argue that their identifi¬cation processes also involve ‘marginality’, ‘dis-identification’, and ‘non-participation’ (Hodges 1998). Contrary to Lave and Wenger’s model (1991; 1998), ‘participation’ was an experience in constant conflict with their historically situated self within the new socio-economic frameworks, which in the case of the Ayt Khebbash artisans induced sympathy for their own tribal identities, rather than assimilation to the structural conditions of the capitalist labour market. I conclude that the Ayt Khebbash artisans counteract the effect of globalisation in their own terms with their own initiatives, by constantly imagining, reinventing and reconstructing their spatial and tribal senses of belonging.

Supervisors: Prof. dr. L.P.H.M. Buskens and Prof. dr. H.J. Stroomer

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