Society for Psychological Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
As social and economic development programs in Morocco are increasing their efforts to improve access to education, healthcare, and economic aid in impoverished rural areas, children are being exposed to new ways of thinking about themselves, their families, and their community. One of the unintended consequences of these programs are the hyper-negative messages that children receive about being ‘arubiya—Arabic-speakers who come from or reside in the countryside. These international development discourses, which characterize rural Morocco as “underdeveloped,” “traditional,” or even “backwards,” are rooted in historical tensions between urban and rural communities going back several centuries. Such depictions articulate with everyday talk in Morocco that characterizes the ‘arubiya as uneducated, violent, and even sub-human.
I will explore the effect that these development discourses, and the community response to these representations, have on children in the village of Douar Tahtani. In particular, I argue that through the teasing and joking that occurs in extended families, children come to inhabit an ambivalent understanding of what it means to be ‘arubi. Tahtanis use this unstable category at times as a self-critique and a marker of their low social status, while at other times they use it to assert superiority over their urban neighbors in terms of their strength, morality, and sociability. Because of the way that teasing and joking can potentially mediate ambivalence, these practices are especially effective in socializing young people into a marginalized rural identity, allowing them to better negotiate how they are located as political subjects in the Moroccan polity.