Hoffman, Katherine E., and Susan Gilson Miller, eds.: Berbers and Others: Beyond Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Zeigler, Donald J.|
|Publication:||Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308|
|Issue:||Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Berbers and Others: Beyond Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib (Essay collection)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Hoffman, Katherine E.; Miller, Susan Gilson|
Hoffman, Katherine E., and Susan Gilson Miller, eds. Berbers and
Others: Beyond Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press, 2010. xi + 225 pages. Paper, $25.95.
Berbers and Others is a collection of nine essays written by anthropologists and historians, all well-grounded in the discourse of cultural studies. The authors (minus one) are from British and American universities; two have deep roots in Morocco, but only one teaches in the Maghrib. Included among the contributors are prominent names in Berber studies, including the lead editor, Katherine E. Hoffman, a linguist. These critiques of Berber identity and assessments of Berber practice are based on Berber arts (including how they are displayed in museums), the pre-Islamic literature, the household or takat, and the transcripts of a human rights trial. Together, the contributing authors has woven together threads of content and method to give the reader a few snapshots, if not a comprehensive synthesis, of the Berber/Amazigh/Kabyle peoples (all three referents are used) in a post-colonial world.
The "others" in the book's title refers to what the "the state" has done to the Berbers: it has "othered" them. The states of North Africa have promulgated an Arab-Islamic "state idea" and cast the Berbers as a rural remnant on the road to assimilation. In fielding this collection of papers (derived from a workshop at Harvard University), the editors appear to be seeking answers to two essential questions: Is the field of Berber studies approaching maturity? And can the Berbers of North Africa project their own voices and resist the pressure to assimilate into North Africa's nationalistic Arab cultures? Of course, post-publication events (i.e., North Africa's Arab Spring), may have more to do with answering the second question than any action the Berbers could take.
Nationalisms in North Africa have insisted that "we are all the same," minorities do not exist, and any identity pre-dating the arrival of Islam has been or eventually will be over-ridden. The Berbers have never fit into that mold: they are not the same as the state-forming Arabs; they do exist as minorities in a land where they were once the titular majority; and their identity is acknowledged in Greco-Roman manuscripts. Furthermore, they do not fit the prevailing dichotomy: urban Arabs vs. rural Berbers, a categorization that almost all of the authors attack. What Hoffman and Miller's book does well is demolish the structural lenses through which we have viewed the original North African population; what is does less well is offer a coherent schema for understanding where the Berbers find themselves today.
The book's first three essays are methodological; all question the boundaries that state and religion have drawn between the Berbers and others, and the expectations that have been imposed on Berbers by nationalism and post-nationalist rhetoric. At the heart of the methodological discussion is a question that is transnational in scope: Why do nationalisms find minority groups so threatening and do so much to suppress their voices? These insights will be of interest to all scholars interested in identity politics and political geography, not just those in the humanities.
The second part of Berbers and Others presents three case studies localized in Morocco and Algeria but contextualized within a global environment that has inspired Berber activism and constrained assimilationist actions. The essay by Jane Goodman, in fact, may be read as a study of globalization's role in maintaining cultural diversity rather than effacing it. Goodman offers a post-colonial, linguistic perspective on a group of Kabyle Berbers who were put on trial for "creating associations without state authorization." It is based on court transcripts, supplemented with interviews. The Berbers on trial created a narrative delivered in French (not Arabic or Berber) that could be understood by the larger world and the Berber diaspora. They also used international human rights doctrines to bring gravitas to their cause.
Deconstructing the urban Arab/rural Berber dichotomy pervades the book, but only one author gets close to showing us how the Berber economy transcends that divide. David Crawford's essay on child labor challenges the assumption that poverty and broken families drive young girls out of the mountains and into the cities (as child maids). Rather, he shows convincingly that these girls are the result of rationale decision-making on the part of the family and that migration decisions occur at the household level.
The final section of the book looks at how Berbers are represented in literature and the arts. By focusing on the place-name Numidia, Mokhtar Ghambou examines how pre-Islamic texts have been used to valorize Berber history and how they are being used by Berbers themselves as validations of identity. Lisa Bernasek delves into the museology of the Berbers by studying how their arts have been presented to the public in Paris's new museum of "first arts," the Musee du Quay Branly. Cynthia Becker focuses on the propensity to view Berber art as rural and divorced from Arab-Islamic art. As a post-modernist, she questions the boundaries put around tribes by those who have studied Berber arts, yet she never offers a better organizing idea. What she does offer are the only five illustrations in a book that could use more visuals. The modern Berber painting on the cover, in fact, is drawn from Becker's chapter and seems to be as important as any of the chapters in making the case for "Berbers without boundaries."
Although this group of authors seems intent on proving that the field of Berber Studies has come of age, there is no concluding chapter that weaves together a persuasive case for maturity. Nevertheless, after reading this collection of essays, one can see the progress academics have made in understanding Berber culture and the progress Berbers have made in asserting their identity, resisting easy categorization, and standing up to the "others."
Donald J. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Professor of Geography
Old Dominion University--Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach, Virginia
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