Amazigh Culture and Media: Migration and Identity in Songs, Films and Websites
(Department of Media Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2014)
Supervisors: Patricia Pisters and Daniela Merolla
Dr. Abdelbasset Dahraoui was born in Morocco in 1976 and received his master’s degree in cultural analysis from The University of Amsterdam in 2006. On 29 April 2014, he successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis from the department of Media Studies from the same university. Currently, he is a member of the advisory committee of The Prince Bernhard Culture Fund [Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds], The Hague, The Netherlands and member of the advisory board of Africa Book Link [Boechout, Belguim].
Five decades ago, the exodus of Amazigh people from the Moroccan Rif region and their re-settlement to Europe began. Since then the notion of migration is constitutive to their subjectivity, where Imazighen perceptions of migration are usually ambivalent and problematic. Although parts of the Amazigh community tend to see migration as a threat to their cultural identity and memory, other parts of the community consider it to be a journey or a process during which the identity of an Amazigh migrant is partially re-constituted. This thesis deals explicitly with this tension.
Migration is a fluid process that has a beginning and an uncertain end, and many Imazighen attempt to articulate their identity within this uncertainty. Many reify their culture and try to create a sort of temporal certainty in their existence by portraying Amazigh culture as a stable, rooted culture, born and developed in North Africa. However, these reactions show the attitude of a community in extremis struggling against oppression in Morocco and against rejection in diaspora. It is important to note that many European states have recently become less welcome in offering re-settlement for immigrants. Like other minority groups in Europe, Imazighen have become the scapegoat of many far-right parties and their supporters. Diasporic Imazighen are now trying to articulate their identity in these uncertain environments.
In view of the contemporary uncertainty, I question the roles the Amazigh media play in highlighting and assisting the construction and re-articulation of identities concerning the situations in which many Imazighen live. To respond to these questions, I build on and extend Benedict Anderson’s model that regards a nation-state as an ‘imagined community’ that acquires a political consciousness through the exposure of its inhabitants to printed media (2006:6). I argue that the Amazigh media form a common ground for Imazighen both in Morocco and in diaspora, and that these media shape Amazigh consciousness and play a part in enhancing and re-generating a transnational Amazigh identity. That is to say, this imagined community makes use of media, such as songs, films, and websites, to enhance Amazigh transnational identity.
My thesis is situated in the interdisciplinary fields of media studies, literary theory, cultural anthropology, and socio-economic theory. My methodological framework is intertextual reading based on Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the dialogic interaction between what he calls ‘real and represented worlds’ (Bakhtin:254). I make use of this methodology to highlight the meanings yielded from semiotic interactions within and resulting from cinema, music, and internet forums. I build on Bakhtin’s idea of interaction to demonstrate that the media I address in this thesis have internal dialogues, dialogues with other texts, and dialogues with ‘the environment that surrounds them’ (1984:184-85).
Anderson, Benedict. O’G. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. Revised edition. London: Verso.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1988. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.
———. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Karim, H. Karim. 2003. ‘Mapping the Diapsoric Mediascape’. In The Media of Diaspora, ed. Karim H. Karim. London: Routledge.
Inspiration to undertake this research
Given that my MA research revolves about Amazigh music and a sense of identity, it was difficult for me to find academic works that deal with the issues of cultural artifacts and identity construction as far the Amazigh community is concerned, they are indeed scarce. I am also part of this Amazigh community which left North Africa and settled in the space of migration. These among other reasons inspired me to conduct research that looks at the way this migratory group makes use of cultural productions, such as songs, films and websites, to re-articulate our cultural identity.
An in-depth look into one aspect of the dissertation
One important aspect of my dissertation is dialogism and polyphony in Amazigh websites.
In light of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of dialogism and polyphony, I argue that many Amazigh websites allocate spaces where different voices express their divergent perspectives on topics vital for Imazighen in the Rif region and diaspora—especially in relation to the idea of home and cultural identity. In addition, I highlight how these websites assist in the interaction of Amazigh voices and elements at various levels, addressing and reflecting issues of communal interest to Imazighen. I contend that ‘home’, which usually symbolises stability and certainty, takes on another dimension online and becomes a complex process that involves various elements. In The Media of Diaspora, Karim writes, ‘Diaspora re-create home by instilling such resonance into the spaces they occupy; they do it with their languages, customs, art forms, arrangement of objects and ideas’ (2003:10). Here the meaning of home is the resonance of the livelihood of a particular community living in a geographical location, carved in spaces occupied by subjects who are far away from this location and believe that they are part of that community. Imazighen throughout the world believe they belong to Tamazgha, a politically and territorially unified Maghreb, or North Africa, and try to re-create home in the spaces they occupy. For instance, Riffian Imazighen in diaspora consider Amazigh websites as home because in and through these spaces they can gather, interact, re-articulate their cultural identity, learn the latest news about the Rif area, see the role of the past in the re-construction of their current identity and discuss and stimulate the use of their native language. These websites provide provisional certainty for their Amazigh users concerning their identity and the idea of ‘belonging’.
Amazigh websites address a range of issues such as the evolution of the Amazigh migration from Morocco, the uncertainty of migrants in their host country, cultural identities of Amazigh diasporas, memory, mobility of both migrants and Imazighen in their country of origin, and fantasies and desires relating to migration. Here, I focus mainly on the subject of ‘home online’ on the Amazigh websites: dalil-rif.com, agraw.com, and timazighin.nl. These sites allow visitors to access free articles, music, and films. They also provide space for chat rooms and discussion forums where participants can interact and share data. In effect, I use a combination of media, literary, and social theories to show the dialogic nature of these Amazigh websites that many Imazighen consider as online homes and examine the meanings that emerge out of these dialogues. I argue that ‘home online’, or the hominess procured online, for many Imazighen is an inspiration created by a necessity to interact and bond in an increasingly fragmented and chaotic world. Home online is also an idea projected by diasporic Imazighen into Amazigh websites to help to alleviate uncertainty and sustain and assist them in the process of re-articulating their cultural identity.
Perspective on the fields of nationalism, ethnicity, and race
In effect, nationalism, ethnicity and race are closely interrelated. The idea of a nation, ethnic group or a race depends on the perspectives of those who believe in these ideas. And given that people’s perspectives are shaped, affected and somehow determined by their expectations, knowledge and beliefs, that are set in memories, narratives and discourses. Therefore, I see nationalism, ethnicity and race as three invented and ongoing fields that are mutating, and at the same time, interacting with each other continuously, as they are addressed in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. I do not see the idea of a nation, for instance, in terms of common territory, history and political arrangements; instead, for me the idea of a nation is constituted when a significant number of individuals in a community accentuate their belief in the fact that they constitute a nation.
Reflections on the job market
It is difficult to assess the job market for those who are in the fields of nationalism, ethnicity and race because it depends on many factors, such as the researcher him/herself and his/her aspirations, how universities make and spend their money, the significance of these fields in a particular university, the impact of the economic crisis or growth on universities, and the particular country.
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