Re-Mapping Tangier: National Geographic Workshop


TALIM Tangier Map 1924 s


1924 Map of Tangier (TALIM library)

Under the direction of Dr. Luiza Bialasiewicz, University of Amsterdam, scholars from Europe, the United States, and Morocco joined the inter-disciplinary workshop "Re-Mapping Tangier: Fractured Mobilities, New Borders," held at TALIM on May 31.


TALIM National Geographic logoSponsored by the National Geographic Society under its Global Exploration Fund, the Nederlands Instituut Marokko (NIMAR) also provided support.

From the project précis:

"This research project will look to the ways in which Tangier is being re-positioned with an emerging Euro-Mediterranean space as a cosmopolitan border city 'at the gates of Europe'. Adopting a range of innovative methodologies including mobile ethnographies and multi-site interviews, it will attempt to map the complex geography of 'mobilities' that are currently transforming this metropolis, from labour migration to domestic and international tourism, to a range of other cultural, ideational and material flows that extend far beyond the immediate border region and connect Tangier to other European cities. In thus 're-mapping' Tangier and its multiple connections, the project can hopefully shed important light on the changing nature of Europe's borders, no longer a neat demarcation line between a European inside and a non-European exterior. What is more, by examining the diverse 'mobilities' that make Tangier what it is today — and connect it to other places — it can hopefully also yield important lessons for understanding the shifting geographies of identity and belonging in today's Europe."

Well, as Xavier Ferrer-Gallardo of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona showed in his presentation on Europe's southernmost point, Punta Tarifa, just opposite Tangier, there is a demarcation very visible to all who approach Tarifa by sea: the Las Palomas migrant detention center.

Crossing what Ferrer-Gallardo calls the "limboscape" of the Strait of Gibraltar, those lucky enough to survive might make it to this bit of Europe jutting out towards Africa.  There's no Statue of Liberty to mask the immigrant quarantines of Ellis Island; instead of a lookout point to make the most of the site's tourism potential, there's just a locked gateway to the old fortress at the end of the causeway.  Who would have known that there are rescued migrants incarcerated behind the wall?

TALIM Tarifa Las Palomas
Others presented their research on Tangier's rapidly-changing landscape, which has moved so quickly that it defies cartographers and demographers to define the outlines of the city and its true size.  Attempts by authorities to channel growth to certain areas and by applying some norms are overtaken by neighborhoods mushrooming like replicas of the medina across the hills of the city, but with muddier "streets."  People just can't wait for the planners.


TALIM Tangier in Brussels metro

Brussels Metro by Luiza Bialasiewicz

The hype about Tangier – many overseas Moroccans or "MREs" living in Europe are enticed by real-estate ads in Brussels and Amsterdam – has led to speculation, further squeezing the low-income Moroccan families looking for shelter.  MREs might see a second home in Tangier as a symbol of their success, but the sight of block after block of unlit apartment buildings (except for the summer vacation influx of Belgian, Dutch, and other European licence plates) are a source of friction.

Dr. Lauren Wagner of Wageningen University in the Netherlands is working on a multi-year project to analyze the impact of such "semi-citizen" populations, and the nature of migrants with footholds in Europe and Morocco. 

Participants voiced concern about the impact of large infrastructure projects, with "Gucci" shops slated to welcome tourists arriving at the new port currently under construction.  While the real Gucci might have some tough competition with the fake reproductions currently on sale in the souk, the question is how this big-ticket Casablanca-style glitz will sit with a population that strives to deal with a galloping cost of living.

This workshop provided scholars with similar areas of interest to meet each other for the first time, and may result in a special issue in a scholarly journal like JNAS, the Journal of North African Studies, the publication of AIMS, the American Institute for Maghrib Studies.  Several of the participants will again collaborate in a panel at this year's MESA (Middle East Studies Association) conference, initiated by workshop participant and longtime TALIM researcher, Janell Rothenberg of UCLA.

Gerald Loftus

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