Reconstruction 7.4 (2007)

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From Post-modernism to Post-Traditionalism: Rethinking Social Organization in a Post-Traditional Society / Said Graiouid

Abstract: This paper explores possible routes of reflecting on non-Western forms of social organization. Taking Morocco as its central site of study, the paper argues that fixed conceptual interpretations cannot provide a constructive understanding of a societal organization in a state of flux. The geographical position of Morocco at the tip of the Mediterranean rim and the country's geopolitical role as a mediator between the West and the Orient create a push and pull social dynamics which has generated conflicts, contradictions but also openings and possibilities. The paper proposes the concept "post-tradition" as a possible theoretical and methodological framework within and through which to think Moroccan society. The paper also argues that the notion of the "barzakh," as articulated by Moroccan philosopher and critical theorist Taieb Belghazi, stands as a viable conceptual tool to approach post-traditional society. While the paper documents sites of barzakh instances in culture, society and politics, the primary objective is to rehearse theoretical and methodological routes of thinking otherwise about post-traditional societies.



<1> In 1992, I attended a lecture given by Jacques Derrida at the Faculty of Letters, Rabat, Morocco. Abdelfattah Kilito, a Moroccan critical and cultural theorist, anticipated the mood of the lecture by humorously remarking that introducing Jacques Derrida was a task he never knew how to handle accurately. Kilito's remark was more than justified. For two hours, as he dismantled the intellectual, aesthetic, and moral implications embedded in the concept of Friendship in the Western philosophical Canon, Derrida displayed the power of post-structuralism and deconstructionism in recovering the "deferred" meanings left on the fringes of the text (Derrida later published The Politics of Friendship, 1997).

<2> As we walked our way through the crowd after the conference, a colleague who was himself a former student of Michel Foucault, remarked that Derrida's thought-provoking investigations were a "luxury" he personally could not afford. In what could be taken a self-justifying statement, he noted that though most of the texts referenced by Derrida were shelved in his library, it never dawned on him to invest his research time on topics such as "love" or "friendship," which would be viewed as a "frivolous" intellectual exercise. In a sense, the exclamation of this Moroccan academic sums up the state of intellectual and ethical uncertainty non-Western thinkers feel towards post-structuralist poetics in particular and the entire project of Modernity, in general, especially regarding the viability and relevance of its discourse to the non-Western social and cultural lifeworlds. A number of Arab and African intellectuals have grappled with the same problematic. The Nigerian critical theorist Denis Ekpo, for example, has articulated the controversy surrounding the relevance of post-modernism to the African reality by arguing that, after all, the "African" has every reason to view "the celebrated postmodern condition a little sarcastically as nothing but the hypocritical self-flattering cry of overfed and spoilt children of hypercapitalism" (Ekpo, 1995:122). As Ekpo argues, Africa and most countries of the South have encountered and been defeated by Western civilization. [1] This explains, in great part, why the project of Western Modernity, which was historically communicated through the colonial enterprise, has met with strong opposition from indigenous cultures. It is also true that over the last century, the priorities of states and civil society in the Arab world have mostly centered on issues of education, governance, and human development. [2]

<3> As post-colonial theory has shown, the imperial process has had lasting impact on cultures and societies affected by it because "there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression" (Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 1989:2). [3] In the context of Moroccan society, the "preoccupations" initiated by colonial rule relate in particular to the dialectical relationship between the past and the present, modernity and tradition, language and thought, at-turath wa al-hawiya (heritage and identity), al-assala wa al-mua'sara (authenticity and contemporaneity) and the struggle for a national cultural identity. The Moroccan historian Abdellah Laroui gives an insightful reading of the colonial impact on Moroccan society's relation to modernity: "As soon as colonization replaces reformation, because that is the historical sequence in Morocco as well as in the rest of the Arab world, the reformist is dismissed because he is automatically replaced by the colonial administrator ... Nationalism, that is the desire to preserve one's being, is naturally modernist before colonization and as naturally anti-modernist after it" (Laroui, 1997:46). The colonial interruption of the historical process of societies has created fractures not only at the level of everyday behavior but also at the level of discursive conceptualization and theorization of post-colonial societal organization.

<4> The paper builds on the emancipatory value in the concept of the barzakh, as articulated by Moroccan philosopher Taieb Belghazi (2001), and sketches possible openings for the articulation of a post-traditional research project. Translated as a "barrier" that prevents salty water from running into fresh water, the barzakh, a sign of divine miracle in Muslim theology, is used here as a metaphor to argue that the debate around polarizing issues such as tradition versus modernity and authenticity versus contemporaneity can be rearranged to maintain heterogeneity while underlining homogenizing inclinations. In this respect, Belghazi (2001) explains that:

A Barzakh is a Persian word, which means limit or barrier. In the Koran, it refers to the line that makes a difference ... The general understanding of [the two verses in which it occurs] is that they allude to three worlds: the spirits, the imaginable things and the corporeal things. However, as Ibn al-Arabi, the Sufi philosopher who was born in Andalusia and died in Syria and spent a long period of his life travelling across the Mediterranean shows, barzakhs do not offer mere syntheses of opposite forces. They do not homogenize difference or rise above conflicting forces. On the contrary, they keep heterogeneity in play while at the same time revealing homogenizing tendencies (220).

Within this framework, the barzakh is a middle ground but not in the sense of a compromising or reconciliatory function that maintains contradictions or conflicts at opposite ends. Rather, the barzakh is a mediatory position in which no opposite can be interpreted or explained except in relation to that which it claims to be dialectically opposed to. The image of the barzakh as "partition" standing in-between two oceans, one salty and the other fresh, preventing that they overpass or overrun each other (The Koran, 55:20) reveals the contradictory nature of borders and frontiers while simultaneously pointing to sites of possibility. Also, the relational positioning of opposite ends serves as a metaphor of relativist thought and allows an escape from the grip of homogenizing narratives. The barzakh, for example, opens up alternative possibilities in the way we think relations along the Mediterranean rim. The rise of conservative and right wing ideologies on both sides of the Mediterranean has nursed a climate of skepticism and fear leading to the promotion of a politics of exclusion on one side and a rather "suicidal" insistence on the implosion of frontiers and borders on the other side. In its subversive and disruptive dimension, the metaphor of the barzakh undermines fixity and calls for an imaginative revisionist reading of the relation between the two sides of the Mediterranean. Thus, Barzakh instances function as spatial and temporal sites of contestation, negotiation, imagining and opening.

<5> This paper is an invitation to explore alternative conceptual and methodological routes of thinking other societal projects for post-traditional societies. This is also an exercise in rehearsing how to by-pass polarizing visions when mapping this project. In the words of Homi Bhabha (1991), this is a call for "negotiation" rather than "negation." The paper is structured around three major moments. In the first moment, I argue that critical thought in both West and East has generally been biased against "tradition." I revisit a sample of readings that have addressed the interface between "tradition" and "modernity" and contend that to move beyond polarizing positions, we need to proceed with a "vernacularization" of conceptual frameworks. In this context, I propose the concept "post-tradition" as a descriptive category of Moroccan forms of organization and argue that the "barzakh" stands as an insightful conceptual and methodological tool through which to approach post-traditional society. In the second moment, I sketch a brief outline of the socio-cultural context in which post-traditional subjectivities emerge. The point I make is that while they lead a relentless struggle for individual autonomy, post-traditional subjectivities are molded in a context of association and collective action. In the third moment, I sketch preliminary signposts for a post-traditional research agenda. I focus on the role of agency and argue that we need to displace grand narratives in favor of sites of subalternity. Throughout, I document barzakh moments in politics, culture and social interaction. The overriding objective is to rehearse other ways of thinking about post-traditional forms of social, political and cultural organization.


From Post-Modernism to Post-Traditionalism: Post-Tradition as Barzakh

<6> The debate about the project of modernity or the condition of post-modernity has generated conflicting views among theorists who stand at opposing ends of the critical spectrum. For Anthony Giddens (1992), post-modernity has upstaged the authority of the epistemological "foundations" of Enlightenment thought, fractured the grand narratives of "history" and shown that no version of absolute or universal "progress" can be legitimated. Jean-Fran çois Lyotard (1984) detects a renunciation of the claim to continuity, exactitude, and absolutism in the post-modern science. Similarly, Terry Eagleton (1987) notes a shift in the orientation of scientific knowledge and argues that, following the death of "metanarratives," "[science] and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives." In his turn, Jurgen Habermas (1992:310) diagnoses Western "logocentrism" "not as an excess but a deficit of rationality" and explains the favorable reception of postmodernism ("with its wholesale rejection of modern life") by "the fact that the efforts of praxis philosophy to reformulate the project along Marxist lines has suffered a loss in credibility" while Fredric Jameson (1992) asserts that postmodernism is but another variation on the theme of accommodation and appropriation staged by revitalized late capitalism.

<7> Also, modern social theory has generally shown a pronounced bias against "tradition." While the project of "modernity" is often interpreted as a proponent of a utopian form of social organization always in the process of making, "tradition" is criticized for maintaining a worldview based on patterns, customs, beliefs and rituals inherited from the past and orally transmitted through generations. For Anthony Giddins (1992:36), "[inherent] in the idea of modernity is a contrast with tradition." The idea of "modernity" incorporates a linear conception of time, a secularized form of the lifeworld, a differentiated interpretation of spheres of action and knowledge and the organization of social relations around individual rather than group interests. Conversely, "tradition" has been stereotyped for its circular conception of time, an "enchanted" structure of the lifeworld (Weber, 1930), "a lack of differentiation" among spheres of action and knowledge (Habermas, 1987) and a type of social organization where group ties are more important than the autonomy of individual subjects (Durkheim, 1965).

<8> Moroccan theorists, too, have reflected on the dynamics between "tradition" and contemporary society from different angles. For the historian Abdellah Laroui, the rationalization of both lifeworlds and systems is a mandatory step towards the initiation of the project of modernity in the Arab world. Laroui argues that there has been much confusion around concepts, especially the concept of "modernity." His point is that once a distinction is made between modernity as "a process" and modernity as "ideology," it becomes clear that processes of "modernization" and "traditionalization" are concomitant movements in every society (Laroui, 1997:23-24). Laroui has no faith in the contribution of the masses and believes that the intellectual elite should lead the modernizing process of society. In his opinion, the institutionalizing process of the nation-state is a narrative that only the national intelligentsia can write and impose on the rest of the population. For him, the modernization of Europe went through a similar homogenizing process and, thus, the Arab society must follow course: "No exception to this rule" (25).

<9> Taking a different route, the philosopher Mohamed Abed al-Jabri (1995) argues for a reconciliatory ground between modernity and tradition that safeguards a central position for society's "sacred" values. For al-Jabri, "[modernity] does not mean a rejection of tradition or a break with the past" but "a re-examination of the ways in which we relate to tradition at the level of 'contemporaneity'" (24). The sociologist Fatima Mernissi (1992) revisits the foundations of Islam through a critical analysis of the literature on women's rights and concludes that much of Muslim scholars' "misogynous" interpretation of the Qur'an and the Tradition (reported words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad) were in the most part politically motivated. Like al-Jabri, Mernissi argues that caution is needed when we deal or study "tradition:" "It is our tradition to question everything and everybody, especially the fuqaha and imams (religious jurists and leaders). And it is more than necessary for us to disinter out true tradition from the centuries of oblivion that have managed to obscure it" (Mernissi, 1992:76-77). Mernissi's book The Veil and the Male Elite (1992), originally published in French under the title Le Harem politique (1987), was banned for many years in Morocco and the author herself was victim of a demonization campaign staged by Islamists who judged her book blasphemous and derogatory to Islam and the memory of the Prophet.

<10> Thus, in the context of ongoing interface between "tradition" and "modernity," there have generally been two dominant schools of thought in the Arab world. While a group of thinkers calls for the adoption of Western scientific methods while preserving the integrity of Muslim belief system, a school of "new thinkers" calls for more freedom and liberty in the practice of reason and scientific methods including in the areas of theology, Muslim jurisprudence and tafsir (interpretation of the Qur'an) (Rachid Benzine, 2004). For the new thinkers, "modernity" is primarily a strategic undertaking in critical thinking and should be extended to the study of the Scripture and the Tradition. For this emancipatory school of thought, "renovation is not 'innovation'" and in both secular and religious thinking, "renewal is constructed on the basis of a solid foundation: an exhaustive critique of the past" (Benzine, 2004:24). Muslim new thinkers are as critical of the hegemonic systems of Western modernity as they are of the systems of thought and organization in the Muslim society. Though they adopt different critical methods, their overriding objective is the development of alternative systems of thinking capable of mediating the construction of local and organic forms of rationality, critical thought and modes of organization.

<11> As a general rule, concepts are constructed ideals/ideas and as such, they are both residues of commitment and apprehension. Constructed ideals are not only about emancipaton and freedom. They can also be used to legitimize dominant social relations and to homogenize conflicts and contradictions. All theories nurse a germ of the ideal and the only way to bring idealized theoretical threads to inform our understanding of cultural practices is to historicize theory, not in the sense of a mere enumeration of the contextual imperatives which have helped in its shaping, but along the lines of Fredric Jameson's revised formulation in which "history" is defined "'not' as text, not a narrative, master or otherwise, but that, as an absent cause, it is inaccessible to us except in textual form, and that our approach to it and to the Real itself necessarily passes through its prior textualization, its narrativisation in the political unconscious" (Jameson, 1981:35). As "an absent cause," history retains the tension that every act of textualization or narrativization involves and, that tension, it is worth emphasizing, is an offshoot of a politically conscious/unconscious struggle to accommodate social contradictions and service specific interests.

<12> In addition, concepts and conceptual frameworks become even more problematic when they travel through different socio-cultural contexts. Globalization has not only facilitated the traffic of cultural commodities but has also impacted group and individual strategies in identity reconstruction. Processes of identity reconstruction often lead to the imagining or invention of cultural particulars and particulars that were resented yesterday may be sanctified today (Anderson, 1993; Hobsbawm, 1983; Tomlinson, 2003). There is also the fact that over more than two centuries, colonial Europe used its dominant position and hegemonic power to promote its own cultural particulars as universal values. Fundamental categories of thought, because initially articulated in the language of the metropolis, now seem as "universal necessities of human thought" (Wiredu, 1996:4). As the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu argues, "conceptual contrasts as those between the physical and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial, being and nothingness, substance and attribute," when thought in vernacular languages by African philosophers may reveal "an independent character" (Wiredu, 1996:4). To emancipate from the "colonial mentality," it is necessary to experiment with vernacular formulations and to proceed with a "conceptual soul-searching" and a "conceptual decolonization" (4). The objective is to unmask spurious universals and develop a conceptual system that is more appropriate to local cultural particulars. Concepts are "of" the mind not "in" the mind (18). As Wiredu further explains:

The development of mind is the development of communication ... Language is a system, and a concept is necessarily an element of a language. Given the social establishment of a certain minimum of linguistic abilities, individual conceptual inventiveness is possible and its results are interpersonally intelligible because of the rule-governed character of language (19).

The recommendation is not for post-colonial societies to close their borders to imported conceptual or societal models because this would make practically impossible any form of intercultural communication. However, there is an urgent need for a vernacularization of concepts and peripherization of analytical systems to sift through hegemonic dogmas for locally adaptable modes of reflection and organization.

<13> It is from this perspective that I propose "post-tradition" as a vernacular frame of analysis to reflect on Morocco in particular and Muslim societies in general. The proposed "post-traditional" mode of reflection seeks to short-circuit polarizing attitudes between "tradition" and "modernity" which have for long impaired thought and action and limited the scope of "Ijtihad" (innovative scholarship) in the Muslim world. Social theory has shown that traditions are "invented" (Hobsbawm, 1983). There is also evidence that the Western model of modernity is not necessarily the universal archetype of social organization (Feenberg, 1995). Within this context, the idea of "post-tradition" stands for an emergent mode of reflection about social organization in which the focus is simultaneously on strategies of appropriation and resistance to practices inherited from the past and expanding industries and technologies of globalization.

<14> Post-tradition is better thought of along the imaginative space of the barzakh. Like the barzakh, post-tradition does not mediate homogenized resolutions. Rather, post-tradition is more about irruption and about exposing thought to that which it can not synthesize. The "post" in "post-tradition" operates like the "re" in the revision effected by Jean-Fran ço is Lyotard of the concept of "post-modernism." In The Inhuman (1991), Lyotard expresses his discontent with the term "post-modernism" because, in his view, it instantiates linear thinking. Instead, he proposes "re-writing modernity." Although at odds with "post-modernism," "post-tradition" partakes of some of its subversive moves, especially in its exploitation of the state of in-betweenness. As phrased by Paul Ricoeur, "we have thought too much in terms of a will which submits and not enough of an imagination which opens up" (as cited in Belghazi, 2001:226-227). In the next section, I look at the socio-cultural context in which post-traditional subjectivities emerge. I argue that the context of association and collective action mediates the emergence of collective subjectivities. I also argue that while they seek individual autonomy, collective subjectivities cannot be dissociated from group and community networks. The point is also made that this barzakh position is not without risks, especially in the case of subversive feminist politics and social and political satire.


The Context of Post-Traditionalism: Subject and Culture

<15> The post-traditional subject is not a "composite" of a coherent mix but a subject shot through with contradictions (Pascon, 1971). Constructed in barzakh space, the post-traditional subject is a residue of willed tradition and imposed global culture. Post-traditional subjects are inextricably engaged in ongoing negotiation to maintain a partition sphere in-between inherited custom, invented tradition and imported modes of thinking and being. In a study on the emergence of new social movements in Morocco, Belghazi and Madani (2001:9) note the dominant collective character of social and political action in post-traditional Morocco. This political and social action brings out in street protest formal organizations and informal networks and non-politically affiliated individuals who are all committed to different strategies of resistance and struggle. In this context, Belghazi and Madani, for example, argue against a one-dimensional interpretation of the Islamist movement, usually taken as the epitome of traditionalism. The two critics make the insightful argument that:

Islamism is not a traditionalist movement. Despite the efforts of its religious leaders ("sheikhs") to embed the movement in sacred texts (the Quran) and the hadiths (recorded sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohamed), Islamism is more about identity reconstruction in a rather post-modern way. Its main bastion is the city and it is in particular dominant among the student population, teachers, merchants, artisans and among networks of the informal sector (138).

Historians and anthropologists have frequently noted that Moroccan social and cultural styles of organization and expression mediate forms of collective decision-making processes and mechanisms of management. The Swiss historian Edouard Montet (1902) highlighted "cooperation" as the most outstanding trait of Moroccan character, a value that can be observed, for example, in the organization and appropriation of café culture (Graiouid, 2003). David Hart (1981) noted that tribal history in southern Morocco could be written along the principles of what he termed the "syndrome of collectivity" (Hart, 1981) and Hsain Ilahiane (1999; 2001) talked about "peasant corporateness" as the organizing principle of common property institution and irrigation system in the southeast of Morocco and the Atlas Mountains. On a similar note, Jacques Berque (1969) argued that the post-traditional subject's fascination with thawra (revolution) might be traced to the pleasure of communion and "collective trance" which mediate everyday practices of post-traditional subjects. Cafés, public baths, souks and public squares function as sites of "collective trance" where body proxemics, noise, song, music, and smoke create an intoxicating ambiance wherein the individual simultaneously acknowledges and transcends the material limitations of corporal reality and immerses in the ethereal ecstasy of the crowd (Graiouid, 2004a; Graiouid, 2004b).

<16> Post-traditional Morocco is also characterized by the emergence of new cultural identities. In an insightful analysis of Morocco's cultural scene, political scientist Abdelhay Moudden (1996) lists religious fundamentalism, Amazighism (a movement that calls for the emancipation of the historically marginalized Amazighi -Berber- language and culture) and feminism as the main cultural movements over the last decade. Moudden argues that while the three movements have played an important role in advancing the interests of their communities (in fact, since then, Morocco passed a more emancipatory family code in 2004, opened an Institute for the Amazighi Language and Culture in 2001 and managed a successful incorporation of an Islamist party into mainstream politics in 1996) and achieved an important recognition in the public sphere, cultural struggle in Morocco stands out for its "peaceful character." Moudden explains this by the successful circulation of a "loosely defined ideology" that has allowed the state a "greater flexibility for maneuvering the emerging identities" and civil society more space for the promotion of cultural pluralism (144). In a way, by creating spaces for multi-vocal debate, the makhzen (ruling elite centered around the monarch) expands the boundaries of the barzakh and, thus, can astutely absorb contestations and protests. In post-traditional dynamics, culture is simultaneously a site of struggle and a consensus-movement where politics are rehearsed and identities reconstructed. Besides the three cultural movements listed by Moudden, youth culture provides another barzakh site where the interface between a traditionalist frame of interpretation and subversive politics entails contentious conversations between local and translocal identity politics and thought-structure.

<17> Elsewhere, I argue that the interaction between post-traditional subjects and the forces of globalization is predominantly taking place in "undocumented" spaces in-between the dominant and the subversive, the creative and the transgressive, the hegemonic and the resistant, order and chaos and capital and bankruptcy, thus creating moments of indeterminacy and nervousness but also openings for agency. This "undocumented" space is a barzakh site where post-traditional groups appropriate global commodities through indigenized strategies which range from counterfeiting and brand kick-offs to software and music piracy and the dubbing of video clips and film strips in darija (a vernacular form of Moroccan Arabic). It is within this barzakh space that Moroccan audiences and publics, for example, interact with local versions of Hollywood and Indian cinemas, global culture industries and underground literature on religion circulated by international fundamentalist networks (Graiouid, 2005).

<18> However, the value of collective association or creative intervention should not hide the nature of conflicts and contradictions that run through post-traditional communities and which surface in the form of "political rivalry," "status differentiation" (Ilahiane, 2001) and everyday interaction. Gender relations represent one prominent site where such post-traditional contradictions can be observed. The guardians of patriarchal structures, for example, take very seriously the playful strategies of post-traditional discourse and do not hesitate to use intimidating tactics to smother the emergence of post-traditional identities. Fatima Mernissi (1982) has repeatedly denounced the "terrorist practices" of the traditional patriarchal discourse. In an article entitled "La conversation de salon comme pratique térroriste" ["Salon Conversation as a Terrorist Practice"], she tells of how, in the course of a friendly conversation, patriarchal discourse can potentially turn into a terrorist practice if it is "threatened" by a feminist counterdiscourse. As a proponent of post-traditional critical thought, she has herself been accused of being "totally cut off from the reality of her society" and "ignorant of Islam and the Tradition" or that what she says is "simply" plain "stupid."

<19> The transition to a more equitable society has also to be mediated through an emancipation of the body. The emergence of new post-traditional communities coincides with the foregrounding of previously marginalized and disenfranchised bodies: the female body, the physically impaired body and bodies of children and the poor. The reinscription of the body in community spatial and temporal landscapes makes of it a site of contestation and struggle. For the researcher faced with "the problem of the participation of the mute, the severed, the preserved," the growing visibility of the body allows the insertion of the personal along with the political (Canclini, 1993:14). Thus, a new ethics of post-traditional bodies is needed to debunk the claims of both the guardians of Tradition who have relentlessly sought to keep the body behind cloistered walls or opaque veils and the proponents of a modernity that considers the body as a mere commodity to be sold and exchanged. While the new ethics underlines the expanding space of freedom and justice achieved in the last decades, it should also bracket any idealization of post-traditional communities. The barzakh space is overwhelmed with power struggles and conflicts that do not necessarily play out to the interests of marginalized or disenfranchised bodies.

<20> Also, while freedom of the press has significantly expanded over the last decade, discussions of monarchy, Islam or the country's territorial integrity are still closely monitored by the powers that be. Journalists jeopardize their personal liberty and the survival of their media institution if they transgress the "red lines" delimited for public debate of "taboo" topics. However, the "authorized limit zone" is loosely defined and media players have often to use their own sense of judgment and discernment in deciding how far they can go in expanding the scope of analysis. This barzakh situation does not necessarily contribute to the expansion of press freedom and public liberties since it creates a context favorable to self-censorship and many media outlets and journalists have paid a high price for daring to "play with fire." In one of the most recent cases, the Arabic magazine Nichane was banned for two months and its editor sentenced to a three-year probation for publishing a document on jokes about Islam and Moroccan monarchy. It is common approach for the guardians of Tradition to adopt the tactics of moral panic when they feel that barzakh voices are threatening the status quo. In another case, the managing editor of Le Journal Hebdomadaire was forced to resign because of a libel suit in which he was sentenced to pay an exorbitant sum of damages (about 270.000 euros) that would have certainly driven the magazine to bankruptcy. The editor explained that he was personally targeted by the powers that be who were determined to mute his voice because of his incessant critique of the political establishment and "too enterprising" treatment of taboo subjects. However, while cases such as these jeopardize the expansion of press freedom, debate on a number of issues is still undeniably multi-vocal and keeps rehearsing untrammeled zones including the debate on religion, monarchy, politics and human rights. [4] In the section that follows, I underline ways through which post-traditional research can contribute to the articulation and rehearsal of a more emancipatory mode of organization and representation. In the same context, I highlight the importance that post-traditional research should give both to subaltern voices and agency.


The Field of Post-Tradition: Research and Agency

<21> The vignette which opens this paper embeds the assumption that "truth" and "reality" are approachable only through a dialectical analysis of institutional politics, economic relations and class struggle. This view is still dominant in Moroccan academia where the tradition has for long been to theorize Moroccan society and history along the lines of grand narratives such as pan-Arabism (al-Jabri), nationalism and modernization (Laroui) and homogenizing interpretations of Islam as normative system rather than as actually lived by Moroccans (Burke, 1988). In the same way, social contradictions and conflicts such as riots, upsurges, protests, unemployment, migration, Islamism or terrorism have mostly been approached through indexical figures of per capita income and GDP performance. The economic variable is undeniably a very important factor in understanding social change and politics but it is not enough in tracking the dynamics which run through the capillaries and interstices of society and which are in the process of reconstructing power relations along cultural, not only economic or social, lines.

<22> Post-traditional research is positioned to go beyond "sanitized history with which we are relatively comfortable" (Pandey, 1997:19). Post-traditional thinking can be a painful exercise since it must leave much room for "the emotions of people, for feelings and perceptions - in short for agency" (Pandey, 1997:18). For post-traditional subjects, identity formation involves group and individual choices and openings. Even if traditional structures have been relatively weakened, possibilities available to the post-traditional subject are still processed through a negotiation mechanism that engages the entire collectivity. The post-traditional consciousness is molded by both individual cognitive and perceptive categories and the lifeworld dynamics (Simon, 1998).

<23> In the case of Morocco, Abdellah Laroui (2005) problematizes the issue of agency by arguing that the retraditionalization of Moroccan political and social culture is a figment of the strategic will of Moroccan monarchy. Laroui explains the contradictions in Moroccan society by the irreconcilable disparity between a systematic reinstitutionalization of nineteenth-century political and social traditions (that have reemerged in the form of political allegiance [bay'a] and national costume [djellabah and the Fez hat] and the will to liberalize the economy. However, to explain a society's move towards retraditionalization by the will of its political establishment is to overlook the power of human agency. On one hand, Moroccan society's retraditionalizing tendencies started emerging in the late 1960s, that is at a time when the Moroccan Marxist movement was aggressively promoting the need for a radical cut with inherited traditional values. In the case of religion, for example, a study conducted by Andr é Adam (1963) on a sample of Muslim high school students concluded that 80% of respondents predicted that religion would have a less important role in the future while an early 1980s study showed a shift in this trend since 85% of informants admitted that they maintained an "ambivalent" relationship with Islam (Tozy, 1984) and, therefore, repositioned religion central stage in the politics of everyday life.

<24> The trend towards conservatism would be confirmed in the next decades. By mid 1990s, more than 54.4% of university students said they did their prayers on a regular basis (Bourqia, El Harras and Bensaid, 1995) while in 2000, more than 70.5% defined themselves as Muslims first (and only 14.6% self-defined as Moroccans first), 65% believed that religion had to play an even bigger role in private life and 56% saw that it had to be further involved in the political management of the country (Rachik, 2000). A study conducted in 2003 on a sample of 635 university students confirmed this inclination towards conservative and traditional values. In this study, for example, 85% thought that religion should influence family life decisions, 60% believed that religion should run socio-economic life while 58% believed that it should inform political decisions. Also, while 85% were in favor of mixed education, 78% supported women's employment outside the home and 65% had a positive view of women's participation in politics, more than 60% opposed a mixed workplace (Graiouid and Kaboli, 2003). In the final analysis, while retraditionalization may have been designed from above, the process itself has emerged out of interactions and confrontations between Traditional thought, imported worldviews, regional and international dynamics and a society in flux.

<25> From a methodological perspective, the concept post-tradition displaces the polarizng debate regarding whether "high" or "popular" culture should take centre stage on the research agenda of post-traditional thinkers. Post-tradition shares with post-modernism its rejection of the practices of "the kind of discourse which insists on the categorical distinction between high art and mass culture" (Huyssen, 1986:viii). Post-tradition studies everyday life struggles of emergent groups and communities as they negotiate barzakh spaces within hegemonic economic, political, social, and cultural systems. This includes the interaction of post-traditional groups with exogenous leisure experiences and their reconstruction of endogenous practices. As mentioned earlier, cultural production and consumption in post-traditional society take place mostly in "undocumented" spaces, a practice which mediates the emergence of undocumented cultures. [5] More specifically, post-traditional cultures operate in the spatial barzakh that summons global cultural practices while simultaneously creating sites of possible cultural reproductions, imploding borders for cultural flow while at the same time resisting norms of global cultural consumption. Any methodological approach must first acknowledge the play of post-traditional agency and should read post-tradition in the same way as Belghazi recommends we read the Mediterranean, that is through an approach that focuses on ways in which it "can be imagined, rather than on the ways it is lived through the media which present it as a conflict-ridden, intolerant space, with not much consequence in the global scene" (Belghazi, 2001: 227).

<26> Post-traditional research can also borrow from prescribed methods and critical strategies of the school of subaltern studies. Like the philosophy of subalternity, post-traditional scholarship engages with "an alternative mode of thematization" which displaces the question of power, defines the colonial state as dominance without hegemony and explores the relation and tensions between state and civil society (Guha, 1997). The post-traditional approach does not take its object of study as a closed system with self-regulating mechanisms and autonomous spatial and temporal references but interpellates various systems concurrently and problematizes the notions of space and time. The café, for example, is simultaneously a public and a private space where debates on general matters and constructions of intimate life stories are inextricably interconnected. In the exclusively female space of the public bath, women weave narratives that are intricately linked to their social world and the nature of dominant gender relations in Morocco. Even family television viewing is a complex social enterprise that is informed by the spatial division within the family sphere, the economic status of the household, the educational background of family members, the moral standards which regulate the parents/children relations, the historical relationship of the Moroccan viewer with the media in addition to the narratives which viewers write on the margins of the television text.

<27> To account for the diverse and often contradictory variables that inform post-traditional performances, the post-traditional approach views the world of everyday practices as a field of contestation and negotiation. In the words of E. P. Thompson (1993:6), it looks at culture as "a pool of diverse resources, in which traffic passes between the literate and the oral, the superordinate and the subordinate, the village and the metropolis." As noted by Thompson, the concept popular culture should be used with caution since popular culture is not a homogeneous and coherent composite. Garcia Canclini, too, is alert to the power conflicts and internal contradictions that run through the body of practices we define as popular culture since he proposes that we speak of "popular cultures" rather than "popular culture." For Canclini, popular culture can not be defined "according to a priori essence" because popular cultures operate in a continual flux between the space regulated and organized by the capitalist system and another space of the creation of popular sector through which people "conceptualize and express their own reality, their own subordinate role in the spheres of production, circulation, and consumption" (Canclini, 1993:22).

<28> Eventually, post-tradition needs to generate strategic mechanisms to bracket the risks of normalcy, appropriation and normalization. As a metaphor, the barzakh can help in processing strategies of vigilance against normalcy. In Morocco, the advent of the government of alternance in 1998 (a coalition led by the socialist party USFP and other formerly opposition parties) created a barzakh moment for political and social players. This was an instance when it was possible to track heterogeneity in politics while of course observing the workings of homogeneity. This barzakh moment generated so much hope and expectations that unemployed graduate students "camped" in front of the House of Parliament in an attempt to pressure the government to provide employment for college graduates. Many other interest groups including women NGOs, workers' unions and associations for the impaired and human rights associations took their claims to the street in protest marches and sit-ins, a context that led the socialist Prime Minister, who himself had lived for decades in exile, to quip that Morocco was finally having its May 1968, in reference to the social upheavals which spread through Europe and other world capitals in late 1960s. The advent of a young monarch in 1999 further highlighted the barzakh moment in Moroccan politics and society. The moment was celebrated as a historical paradigm shift in Moroccan politics and the beginning of a "new era" towards "democracy" and "modernity."

<29> However, a few years into the new reign, insistent attempts are made to smother the barzakh moment by "normalizing" both ongoing social, cultural and political changes and accompanying forms of resistance and protest. Dominant paradigms continue to read world experiences through the Western model of democracy and find it difficult to "make sense" of the endeavors of other peoples and communities. In their analysis of the nature of ongoing social and political reforms in Morocco, Ottaway and Riley (2006), for example, can not think outside the framework of the Western model of democracy and thus conclude that the reform process has been brought to "a halt" and much now depends on the "assistance" of the outside world to implement a "democratic transition" in the country. While no one argues the fact that the expansion of public liberties and social justice and equity are on top of the agenda of political players, civil society militants and disenfranchised communities, caution is needed in the interpretation of ongoing power struggles and social change. Post-traditional analysts should also heed the risks of normalcy in the representation of people's ongoing forms of resistance and struggle. The "untranslatability" of Western value systems into other cultures "can be a problem," as Wiredu (1996:25) explains, but "it does not necessarily argue unintelligibility." Also, "[if] the provisionality of our units of analysis needs stressing, so does the provisionality of our interpretations and of our theoretical conceits" (Pandey, 1997:29). The metaphor of the barzakh reminds us that fluctuations, flux and instability are integrated part of social rearrangement and reconfiguration. At the same time, it is also a signpost to warn against the temptation of always seeking totalizing explanations that mute agency and the will of the people.


Concluding Thoughts

<30> This paper has tried to argue for the urgency of thinking over alternative ways of approaching non-Western forms of social organization. The paper proposes the concept of post-tradition as a metaphorical site where we can reflect on the dynamics taking place in a society where tradition, religion, secularism, modernity and post-modernity open up real and imagined possibilities for individuals and groups to think over relations with self and with others. Taking Moroccan society as its site of analysis, the point is made that the concept of the barzakh is better suited for the theorizing of a culture in which tradition is an integrated component of identity politics and society is interpellated in complex ways by global norms, values and aesthetics. The argument I have tried to get across is that post-tradition must be read as a conceptual and methodological framework where Tradition stands on weak foundations and post-modernity is acknowledged and displaced. In the process, post-traditional approach must be centered on the emancipatory potential latent in practices performed in the partition site between Tradition and Modernity.

<31> Post-traditional research must not be selective or discriminatory in the choice of its fields of interest. The task of the post-traditional researcher is to document and analyze everyday performances in the spaces in which they are produced. Decades of research focused on modes of institutionalized organization have led thinkers to overlook the potential of emancipation latent in people's everyday practices. Likewise, the foregrounding of the political at the expense of the cultural has gradually widened the gap between the conceptual constructs of the intelligentsia and people's worldviews. The personal is political since it is shot through with identity politics whether they pertain to gender, class or race. Institutional politics is not the only viable site of analysis. Rather, what is needed is an approach that highlights the role of culture as a site of negotiation and struggle over meaning.

<32> The foregrounding of the political at the expense of the personal has also led to an underestimation of "the spontaneous philosophy which is proper to everybody." For Antonio Gramsci, "spontaneous philosophy" is derived from "language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts, and not just of words, grammatically devoid of content," "common sense," and traditions and folklore (as cited in Thompson, 1993:10). [6] The recognition of the contradictory character of common sense can contribute to a better reading of hegemony processes and an understanding of the "originality" of the precepts of common sense thought. Traditional philosophical systems have canonized reason and fetishized its structuring processes while the "untidy" workings of feeling, emotion and intuition have been overlooked. The fact is that any conceptual coherence that does not take into consideration the contradictions in everyday practices is bound to remain a mere ideal construct removed from the reality of the people. The potential of emancipation lies not only in the systematic processes of sophisticated theory but also in the interstices of common sense thought and performances. As Arun Patnaik argues, subaltern commonsense is a creative thought-process characteristic of subaltern groups and "could well be directly received by the subaltern groups from the structure/traditions proper, and not necessarily from the traditional intellectuals" (Patnaik, 1987:19).

<33> Post-traditional communities are also involved, though yet as a marginal power, in the globalization process which is restructuring the economic, political, social, and cultural map of the world. The expansion of mass media and culture industries is creating a context where peripheral and subaltern communities interpellate inherited traditions and worldviews and negotiate meanings embedded in the imported cultural commodities. Without minimizing the risk of cultural imperialism, the interpellation of imported cultural signs is also an expression and manifestation of agency. The hybrid cultural expression of post-traditional communities supports the claim that people make different things out of the same thing.

<34> Finally, a new dynamics of change is already at work and post-traditional communities are called upon to negotiate their condition in the barzakh moment of an imagined universalizing past and an institutionalized system of an-other modernity. For the researcher, the articulation of emergent forms of organization should be bracketed neither within the scripturalist tradition nor the mire of the politics of government. The current task of the post-traditional researcher is to explain how everyday organization and performance relate to on-going changes affecting society at large, to interpret how spatial practices contribute to the emergence of new subject positions for individuals and collectivities and investigate the implications of such emergence. More importantly, the ultimate objective is to conceptualize ongoing reconstruction and reconfiguration of more liberating habitus within barzakh moments and instances. This does not necessarily entail that we map oppositionality or critique automatically and deterministically on barzakh spaces. As the site of post-tradition, barzakh moments are marked by flux inextricably linked with but not entirely shaped by the play of power. Post-traditional communities are better viewed as a barzakh simultaneously joining and disjoining thoughts and practices, referents and signs and construing in-between an imagined site where self and other depend on each other's existence.



The author would like to thank the two Reconstruction reviewers whose feedback helped a great deal in restructuring this paper. The author is also grateful to Driss Maghraoui, Professor of History and International Relations at Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco, for his insightful comments on an earlier draft of the paper.


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[1] I use the terms "West," or the "Occident" as a descriptive geographical entity to refer to Europe (and more specifically Western Europe) and as an epistemological category that defines the thought, the history, the culture, the ideas, and the lifestyle that have shaped the distinctive identity and civilization of Europe and North America over the last four centuries. [^]

[2] Akbar S. Ahmed's statement in this respect is quite comprehensive: "The modern period had led Muslims into a cul-de-sac. Dictators, coups, corruption and nepotism in politics; low education standards; an intellectual paresis; the continuing oppression of women and under-privileged and grossly unequal distribution of wealth were some of its characteristics. The multi-national companies and their visible efforts in supporting what was seen as a corrupt elite, the large scale-migration from the rural to the urban areas and consequent social disruption in traditional life and the failure to build effective institutions of the modern state were other characteristics. Muslims were coming to the same conclusion [...] on the question of modernity [...]; they, too, saw it as 'a Western project'" (Akbar, 1992:33). [^]

[3] I note here that Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin's notion of "continuity of preoccupations" between the past and the present of colonial sites must be historicized. In fact, "preoccupations" may be couched in terms that may be similar but they manifest themselves differently and call for different modes of engagement. [^]

[4] For a succinct summary of cases involving encroachment on the freedom of the press over the last few years, see Le Journal Hebdomadaire, N0. 286, January 20-26, 2007 and Annual Reports of Reporters Without Borders on Morocco. [^]

[5] This is the argument I put forward: "The idea of undocumented cultures is as much about strategic interventions in the global flow of products, services, and people as it is a proposal to think differently about the ongoing indigenization of culture industries and the resistance put up by disenfranchised groups and communities against global exclusion and marginalization" (Graiouid, 2005:160). [^]

[6] I note here Jacques Berque's statement that "folklore is the infrastructure;" (italics in original) (Berque, 1969:210) or again, his proposal that the researcher investigate "the infinitesimal folklore in the interstices of urban space" (Berque, 1967:67). [^]


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