Project Introduction

Re/writing Tourist Tangier
interrupting visitor city-narratives by empowering citizen voices

At its strategic location, where the continents of Europe and Africa and the seas of the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet, Tangier has been a contested and cross-cultural place since at least Roman times.[1] However, conquests of Tangier, like elsewhere, have taken differing forms – sometimes with brute force and just as often by other means. Said’s Orientialism (1978), for example, argues that literature and art are mechanisms of ordering and control; likewise, Nash’s “Tourism as a Form of Imperialism” (1989) draws attention to the ways that tourism expresses power and acts as a means of appropriation. The intersection of these themes is fertile ground for research in a dynamic city like Tangier that is best known for its crossroads hybridity, its transnational literary / creative traditions, and its international resort status.

The project takes its lead from Tuan (1991) who observed, a “city may be seen as the construction of words as well as stone” (p. 686). It does so by approaching travel-writing (in the broadest sense of the term) as an active force, not unlike the gun and the hammer, in the construction of environments.[2] Specifically, it looks at the recurring city themes in English language travel materials and argues that they have contributed powerfully to Tangier (Roberson 2006a). In one of its often repeated schema, the city is presented in dichotic fashion, on the one hand, as a place of freedom, mystery & intrigue – and conversely – as a place of hassles, hustles, and decay (Tromanhauser, ed. 1991, p. 506; Ellingham 1993, pp. 57-9). This project interrogates these narratives, through a wide sweep of history and as contained in a variety of media, and seeks to identify and challenge shortcomings of the genre.

Several key aspects already identified include: 1) the privileging of outside city views based on brief visits; 2) a preoccupation and nostalgia for the city’s colonial past; and, 3) the city as “exotic” and profoundly different, as is commonly said, “Though just an hour’s ride on the ferry from Spain, it seems at once very far from Europe … [and] is almost wholly unfamiliar” (Ellingham et all, 1993, unnumbered introduction). The project seeks to interrupt such discourses, transcend binary analyses, and promote synthesis by empowering local people[3] (Tangier writers, academics, students, etc.) to study these narratives and begin rewriting the city from their “insiders” perspective and within the context of the comprehensive city transformations that are currently underway.

The central questions being addressed are: What contributions have English language city-narratives made to the place-making of Tangier? What inadequacies can be identified in these city-narratives? How can Tangier citizen voices be empowered to strengthen the genre with their contributions?

[1] The city’s origins and cultural complexities are discussed in Vaidon (1977); however, an updated and extended English language city history is long overdue.

[2] See also Pratt (1992).

[3] The project employs “autoethnography,” a qualitative method that Pratt (1992) extends from Geertz’s (1973) “ethnography;” Citing Pratt, Butz and Besio (2004, p. 350) explain it thus, it is “[w]here members of colonized groups … represent themselves to their colonizers … (using the) … colonizers terms while also remaining faithful to their own self-understandings.” In this case, it’s a postcolonial encounter and the media is travel-writing. Furthermore, Butz and Besio see “two central responsibilities,” for researchers in post-colonial settings, “to identify and analyze the lingering effects of colonialism, and to contribute to processes that dismantle those effects” (2004, p. 351).

To access the bibliography, click here