What sort of Fieldwork and Participant Observation in today’s Maghreb?

Convenors: Mohamed Kerrou (University of Tunis El Manar) & Paola Gandolfi (University of Bergamo)

Within “The Mediterranean of the antropologists” (Albera, Tozy, 2001), the Maghrebian societies have always been a privileged case study for many qualitative researchers and several anthropologists and ethnographers specialised in the Arabic and Islamic countries. Many authors have debated the ambiguities and peculiarities of achieving fieldworks in the Maghreb of the past.

What about trying “to encounter” (Crawford, Newcomb, 2013) theses societies and cultures in contemporary times? What does it mean to do a fieldwork in a changing society such as one of the Maghreb after 2011? Above all, what does participant observation mean in contemporary Maghreb? Which is the “ethnogrpafic situation”, as Hassan Rachik suggests to call it, or rather the ensemble of the practical conditions permitting the encounter and the observation of the other?

Going back to some emblematic names of the anthropology of the Maghreb (from Berque, Westermark, Gellner, Geertz, Rabinow, up to Hammoudi, Rachik, Tozy, Arrif, and others) not only we can analyse the different ethnographic situations illustrated by the multiple paths of the researchers but we also would like to explore the complex interrelations among classical theories and ethnographic practices today

One of our main questions concerns the necessity and the ambiguity of investigating social movements in the Maghreb today (Veriel, Beinin 2013). How can we explore these complex ongoing dynamics by means of a participant observation? Which are the implications of and the conditions for a participant observation today?

Taking into consideration the most recent fieldworks and in-depth qualitative studies in the Maghreb, we will especially explore the meaning of the “ethnographic engagement” (Cefai, 2010) within ongoing change processes and within the social movements (Cefai ,2007). The panel welcomes case studies and fieldworks proposing a critical approach to understand social movements, mobilisations, daily practices of resistance and expressions of contestation within the rapidly and deeply changing societies of the Maghreb region.


Albera D., Tozy M., « Introduction, fractures, filiations, contiguïtés », dans La Méditerranée des anthropologues, A.

Cefai, D. L’engagement ethnographique, EHESS, Paris, 2010.

Cefai, D., Porquoi se mobilise-t-on? La Découverte, Paris, 2007.

Crawford D., Newcomb, R. (eds), Encountering Morocco: Fieldwork and Cultural Understanding, Indiana Unviersity Press, Indiana, 2013.

Veriel, F. , Beinin, J. (eds) Social Movements , Mobilisation and Contestation in Middle East and North Africa, Stanford Unviersity Press, 2013.

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