Tangier from inside out


Among Moroccan cities, Tangier stands apart. Owing to its location on the Strait of Gibraltar just ten miles from Europe, the city has been a world crossroads since pre-Roman time. And its colonial experience (in the first half of the 20th century) was wholly unique – so many countries vied for control that it became an influential internationally governed city-state. Marginalized for decades following independence, it is now the site of major investment and is undergoing rapid change. One particular impact of these histories is that outsiders have long played big roles in the city; and my recent research has highlighted the pervasiveness and power of their English language stories over and within the city[1]. In order to begin to address the imbalance, this paper discusses my research and initiatives that have been designed to draw more attention to the voices of city citizens. During the grant, I have worked in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders including writers, artists, academics, and graduate students. Emphasizing process, I will show a sampling of our accomplishments and works-in-progress; these include - book and journal publishing, international conference development, website construction, collaborative outreach, curriculum evelopment, repatriation and accessibility of source documents.

[1] “Ephemeral Encounters, Enduring Narratives: Visitor Voices of Tangier” (Roberson 2006)
“Re/writing Tourist Tangier: Interrupting Visitor City-Narratives by Empowering Citizen Voices” (Roberson 2007) (http://interactive-worlds.blogspot.com/2007/05/project-introduction.html)
“Tangier: Visualizing the City” (Roberson 2007)
Worlds of Tangier, Morocco: Experiential, Narrative, and Place-Based Perspectives (Roberson 2006)

(Editor's note - a related paper about my collaborations (especially with Dr Khalid Amine) was presented in May 2008 at the Performing Tangier 2008 International Conference, to read the paper, click here)

First, a big thank you to Saadia and everyone at MACECE for pulling all this together. Having worked on conference planning myself this year, I have a much better appreciation for what a big job it is: thank you.

I’d also like to introduce my discussant, Dr Khalid Amine: he’s a -
  • Two time senior Fulbrighter to the USA
  • President and founder the International Centre for Performance Studies (ICPS, for short)
  • Convener of the annual Tangier International Conferences
  • Recent winner of Helsinki Prize – acknowledging his international contributions to the field of performance studies
  • And, my chief collaborator, and friend: welcome

Marshana: Words were Shakespeare's guns, but his words resurrect rather than kill. That is why his power lives on...
--Zoubeir Ben Bouchta
Shakespeare Lane

My work is titled “Tangier from inside out”. And the basic idea of my research concerns ways to pay closer attention to citizen voices – the people of the city.

Why Tangier? Why is it an important place to do this research?

Let’s begin with some context. Firstly, Tangier is a key meeting point of lands, seas and cultures, or what Pratt (1992) calls the “contact zone” in her post/colonial study Imperial Eyes.[1] And among Moroccan cities, Tangier stands apart. Owing to its location on the Strait of Gibraltar just ten miles from Europe, the city has been a world crossroads since pre-Roman times. A lot is said these days about globalization, and in a sense one could argue that in Tangier it started with the arrival of Phoenician traders more than twenty-five hundred years ago, but conquests have also left deep footprints in the city. Furthermore, the city’s colonial experience, in the first half of the 20th century, was wholly unique – so many countries vied for control, with no one power ever managing to prevail over the others, that it wound up in compromise: an influential internationally governed city-state (indeed, following World War II, it was even considered for the home of the –then new– United Nations). Then marginalized for decades following independence, it is now the site of rapid change and major investment: including, among many other things, construction of one of the largest container ports in the world and a Nissan-Renault factory that will employ fifty-thousand workers. It also receives about two million non-resident ship borne arrivals annually; that’s double the city’s population.

This all adds up to a city of unique complexity, challenges, and negotiations. One particular impact of these histories, geographies, economies, and politics is that outsiders have long played big roles in the city, and some of my research over the past few years has highlighted the pervasiveness and power of their English language stories over and within the city.[2]

In order to begin to address the imbalance, this paper discusses my research and initiatives designed to draw more attention to Tanjawi voices. The central theme to all these efforts is the concept of autoethnography. This is an emerging qualitative approach that Pratt (1992)[3] extends from ethnography,[4] or "writing culture." Citing Pratt, cultural geographers Butz and Besio (2004) explain it this way, 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.”[5] Like Butz and Besio’s work in Pakistan, I’m applying the concept to postcolonial encounters; and, the primary media of contestation is socio-travel oriented. Furthermore, I want to respond to what Butz and Besio argue are “two central responsibilities,” for researchers in post-colonial settings, 1) "to identify and analyze the lingering effects of colonialism", and 2) "to contribute to processes that dismantle those effects".[6] Where some post-colonial research has a historical orientation, this concept is informed by the past while primarily negotiating and renegotiating the present and the future.

During the grant, I've worked in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders including writers, academics, and students. Emphasizing process, I'll show some of what we've done, including - NGO and conference development, website construction, collaborative outreach, curriculum design, publishing, promotion, and repatriation and accessibility of source documents. As a specific example of autoethnography, I
’ll conclude by explaining in detail the collaborative process that we developed for our new play translation, Shakespeare Lane, published by ICPS.

Website construction

We want people to know about what we’re doing, so I’m building two interrelated Tangier research websites:

Space and Place
– to facilitate my work, click here
And a site for ICPS – Khalid’s new NGO, click here

1. They are meant to work together, you can see they have a similar “look” and they have numerous cross links

2. Both have the major links listed along the right hand side bar
  • This paper, for example, is available here
3. And the ICPS site also has featured links on the opening page
  • Like upcoming events and new publications
4. Using the web provides many advantages: using them -
  • has immediate impact, connecting likeminded people and organizations
  • can be updated quickly, using multiple contributors
  • can be web searched and accessed worldwide
  • its cheap and easy and remains in place into the future
  • facilitates dialogue and interaction
  • and crucially, it provides a direct challenge to other online sources that often feature “outside” voices exclusively
5. Together these two sites already contain 150 postings / over 400 pages of information

To pull all these things together, I’ve done a lot of -

Collaborative outreach

This is trying to connect the dots between a myriad of stakeholders: Professors, students, writers, artists, web contributors, cultural venues, media companies, publishers, archives, the press, and granting agencies (including trying to find some potential future Fulbrighters). Besides person-to-person contact, I’ve assembled a large email database of allied people and organizations. This allows us to keep in regular touch with hundreds of people worldwide. This database will stay in place in the city to facilitate future ICPS activities. Mentoring activities, besides our translation and promotional efforts, have also included theses development and graduate school applications.

Another important area is -

Curriculum development

Khalid and I are collaborating on a bilingual textbook, English – Darija, titled Tangier: Mindscapes and Dreamscapes. It will make the city's travelscapes more readily available for study and critique by Moroccans. In our search for constructive alternatives, it will include strategies like autoethnography and creative processes like visualization for research and implementation.

Key to this effort is the -

Repatriation and accessibility of source documents

Since many important documents about Morocco only exist outside the country, and since there is a shortage of source documents in general, I’ve compiled a five hundred page reader titled, Reading Tangier: An English Language Introduction; it features a selection of thirty-seven travel oriented city narratives, 1660 to 2006. ICPS has a one copy, all set up for easy zeroxing and distribution; another bound copy is now available at the library at Tangier American Legation Museum. In addition, ICPS has recently donated many of their publications to the library; we also hope that soon they will be available in their bookstore for purchase at a very low price. They also have a copy of my dissertation, Worlds of Tangier, Morocco: Experiential, Narrative, and Place-Based Perspectives, the first to exclusively examine Tangier and its contested cityscapes. Having these materials widely and publicly available will facilitate future autoethnographies and research.

Another cornerstone of my efforts has been on -

Conference development

Next month ICPS will host Performing Tangier 2008; it’s a great opportunity for Tangier to explain itself to the world. As a conference co-convener, I’ve worked all year on things like the CFP, working with speakers, developing programming, lining up venues and doing event promotion. I’ve been particularly involved in growing the event into the future. What began four years ago as a literary conference has now adopted a larger vision, here’s an excerpt from a new position statement we’ve developed:

The conference performs the city – from the actors on stage to those on the streets, everyone contributing to creating the here-and-the-now; the conference explores borders – empowering the margins, challenging political and other divides, and stretching our individual and societal limits; the conference reorients the Beat Generation – searching, resisting and reacting anew, half-way around the world and half a century after the sensation began; and most importantly, the conference negotiates the future – asking, what kind of world do we want to live in and how will we create it?

This year, thanks in part to generous funding from both MACECE and the Embassy, ICPS will welcome well over a hundred presenters from a dozen countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific (including both of my Senior Scholar colleagues: Jim and Vanessa.) In addition to academic papers, it will feature theatre, art, music, and film; the conference will occupy all the major cultural venues of the city. Of the conference series, Khalid explains,

It is a forum that aims at bridging the gap of difference and connecting cultures, as well as reaching across the divide to the Other. The setting of Tangier makes a perfect home for new intercultural encounters that celebrate and honor our essential humanity. It offers a glimmer of hope during a dark time marked by the hegemony of the post 9/11 discourse of horror.

Let me briefly show some highlights from our online program, click here

Finally, I'll turn to our literary initiatives -


With limited time today, I will just quickly show our literary portal on the web, click here. One feature is a series of articles contributed by Mohamed Elkouche, a leading literary critic and Bowles and Tangier expert. Another is Zoubeir Ben Bouchta’s Tangier themed play trilogy: Lalla J’mila, Shakespeare Lane, and The Red Fire; translated by Mustapha Hilal Sousi and Rajae Kaloufi, and edited my myself and Pamela Balfanz.

For the final section today, again focusing on process, I’d like to highlight some specific details about how we’ve done our work. I’ll use the example of Shakespeare Lane[7] click here

It’s the result of a diligent five stage creative / collaborative process. Firstly, working in Darija, Ben Bouchta wrote, published and performed the play. Then Rajae translated it into English and Khalid did a side-by-side review of the two texts checking for precision. Then I put the text into contemporary U.S. American-English parlance. Finally, the four of us met together to review details as it neared completion. Throughout the process, innumerable phone calls, emails, and conversations further strengthened the web of creative collaboration.

The editing process is all about details and there were some unique challenges and solutions, for example:

1. To maintain and reflect the richness and polyphony of the city, some non-English words were retained in the text. These words are translated and explained in footnotes at their first appearance.

2. Accordingly, the footnotes (over 120 in all) reflect the collaboration: some come from the original text while others were added during the translating and editing processes. The footnotes also provide a powerful resource of context and factual data about the city.

So, just as the play springs forth from the crossroads city, so too does our collaborative team. A bit of my own geoautobiography[8] (in spatial rather than chronological terms) underscores the centrality and multidimensional significance of the city itself to the project. I first saw the play at its premier at last year’s Tangier conference.[9] It was the second of a sort of double-bill exploring the city; first was a screening of German director Peter Goedel’s film, Tangier: Legend of City. The pairing made a wonderful study in contrasts and perspectives. Whereas the first looks from the outside in ―that is, made by foreigners and primarily featuring expatriates’ experiences of the city, the second looks from the inside in and inside out ―that is, Tanjawi’s looking deeply at themselves and also out at the world. Since I had given a paper at the conference calling for more attention to be drawn to the voices of city-insiders,[10] the play and the present work are theory put into practice.

Furthermore, I first met Rajae at the above mentioned conference. We quickly realized mutual interests and began a transatlantic exchange of ideas and work on another play translation by email. Since I was already familiar with the significance of the play and with the skills of the translator, I was happy to put other things aside to serve as editor; plus, given the play’s post-colonial and autoethnographic[11] qualities, it fit well with my research agenda. Where English language stories about the city have often come from short-term outside perspectives, this translation begins to provide some counter balance as Ben Bouchta looks from an insider’s perspective probing deeply into the lives, histories, concerns, and challenges of contemporary Tanjawi society. Using Bard-like comedy and social commentary set in a magical garden, Shakespeare Lane persistently calls norms into question as it informs, surprises, and challenges the audience again and again. One point stands clear, the famous crossroads city is at a societal crossroads: what will the citizenry choose for their future?

I’d like to invite everyone to join our mailing list, to attend the May conference, and to join ICPS.

I’d like also to acknowledge and thank the following people and organizations, click here


[1] Pratt, M. 1992. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London and New York: Routledge, p6.
[2] “Ephemeral Encounters, Enduring Narratives: Visitor Voices of Tangier” (Roberson 2006)
Re/writing Tourist Tangier: Interrupting Visitor City-Narratives by Empowering Citizen Voices” (Roberson 2007)
Tangier: Visualizing the City” (Roberson 2007)
Worlds of Tangier, Morocco: Experiential, Narrative, and Place-Based Perspectives (Roberson 2006)
[3] Pratt, p7.
[4] Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. BasicBooks, A Subsidiary of Perseus Books.
[5] Butz, D. and K. Besio. “The Value of Autoethnography for Field Research in Transcultural Settings” in The Professional Geographer, T. Hartshorn, ed., August 2004, v. 56, n. 3, p350.
[6] Ibid, p351.
[7] Additional information about the play project, along with future updates are available at http://interactive-worlds.blogspot.com/2008/02/shakespeare-lane.html
[8] More about this concept at http://interactive-worlds.blogspot.com/2006/12/dissertation-abstract.html [9] Read about the conferences at http://icpsresearch.blogspot.com/2007/12/welcome.html
[10] Read the article at http://interactive-worlds.blogspot.com/2007/01/tangier-visualizing-city.html
[11] Read more about this concept at http://interactive-worlds.blogspot.com/2007/05/project-introduction.html