Theses Doctoral

Genealogies of feminism : leftist feminist subjectivity in the wake of the Islamic revival in contemporary Morocco

Guessous, Nadia

This dissertation is an ethnographic and genealogical study of leftist feminist subjectivity in the wake of the Islamic Revival in contemporary Morocco. It draws on two years (2004-2006) of field research amongst founding members of the Moroccan feminist movement whose activism emerged out of their immersion in and subsequent disenchantment with leftist and Marxist politics in the early 1980s.

Based on ethnographic observations and detailed life histories, it explores how Moroccan feminists of this generation came to be constituted as particular kinds of modern leftist subjects who: 1) discursively construct "tradition" as a problem, even while positively invoking it and drawing on its internal resources; 2) posit themselves as "guardians of modernity" despite struggling with modernity's constitutive contradictions; and 3) are unable to parochialize their own normative assumptions about progress, modernity, freedom, the body, and religion in their encounter with a new generation of women who wear the hijab.

How and why a strong commitment to ideas associated with modernity, with women's rights and with the left is seen as necessitating a condemnation and disavowal of "traditional" and of non-secular ways of being is one of the main themes animating this project. If I pay particular attention to the affective, visceral and embodied nature of these repudiations, it is to argue that modern political subjectivity operates not simply at the level of ideas but at a more complex register that is made manifest by the difficulties entailed in inter-subjective and inter-generational engagements.

At the same time I draw inspiration from the work of feminist scholars and political theorists to argue for a more generous and unthreatened relationship to difference — one that is able to reconcile itself both with the past (tradition) and with the future (new generations). By analyzing the conundrums and aporias of contemporary Moroccan leftist feminist politics, this dissertation seeks to participate in thinking about modernity and feminism in non-teleological ways, and to contribute to an anthropology of modern power and of leftist/progressive political subjectivity.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Abu-Lughod, Lila
Messick, Brinkley M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 22, 2011