Land and the politics of custom in a Moroccan Oasis town

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5 Scopus citations


In this article, I explore a case of agrarian transformation in a Moroccan oasis to reflect on the role of customary land tenure and discourses of tradition in current movements for food sovereignty and land rights. A half-century of labor migration from Morocco to Europe enabled formerly subjugated groups to challenge indentured sharecropping as a regime of racialized domination in Morocco’s pre-Saharan oases. By methodically refashioning the same customary institutions that had enforced their historical subjugation, the strategies of former sharecroppers shed light on the role of custom in movements for land and food sovereignty. Rather than using custom to return to traditional modes of farming, peasant farmers in the oasis valley invoked customary land tenure to challenge repressive traditions and forge a nascent commercial agricultural sector. I argue that one way custom works is through its performative and transactional qualities. Instead of challenging the relationship between political authority and land, former sharecroppers reworked status relationships by investing customary land tenure institutions with new meanings. They produced forms of communality that managed exclusions productively, eschewing rights talk for the language of custom and tradition. I extend recent scholarship on movements around land and agrofood systems, exploring how a politics rooted in the practice of agriculture can challenge repressive institutions not by dismantling the architecture of exclusion so much as reworking its boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-968
Number of pages28
JournalAnthropological Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.


  • Agrarian change
  • Customary law
  • Labor migration
  • Land tenure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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