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Sefrou, the “Little Jerusalem” of all times Part 3

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24.09.2021

The bazaar economy of Sefrou

The Suq de Sefrou is the focus of the second part of a three-part book entitled: Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society. Three Essays in Cultural Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1979) [xxiii] by Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz, and Lawrence Rosen. This empirical analysis of a form of social organization with an economic vocation is a continuation of anthropological research on economics, politics, kinship, and religion undertaken in Indonesia. [xxiv] This book is complete in the sense that its three distinct parts can interest both the student in search of an approach to begin his fieldwork and the one who seeks accurate analyzes of the bazaar economy or finally a researcher with statistical or cartographic materials that he would like to compare with those of Geertz on Sefrou.

The preface by Daniel Cefaï opportunely traces the path of the anthropologist Geertz, once a Ph.D. student at Harvard University under the direction of Talcott Parsons in the 1950s, where he began his first collective inquiry work in Java, Indonesia. [xxv]

The teamwork approach to anthropological research was the high intellectual fashion at post-war American universities, it was the very same scientific research philosophy device used in Sefrou when Geertz became a lecturer at the University of Chicago. This collective work spread from 1965 to 1971 and involved a number of specialists in particular Hildred Geertz, Lawrence Rosen, Paul Rabinow, and Thomas Dichter. The team members took turns in Morocco and passed on their field notes to each other.

Each of the researchers has his specialty, but all “shared the conviction that social relations are the result of coordinated actions rather than the product of structural effects and that they are understood, motivated, articulated and ordered by networks of significant importance,” according to Cefaï (p.13). [xxvi]

The richness of the preface of the book makes it an exemplary work tool in every respect. We situate the study of the client-seller relationship between dense description and ethnographic analysis, between comprehensive sociology and interpretive anthropology. In turn, are described the practices of marriage, hospitality developed within the family, the house (dar), the neighborhood (derb), all understood as so many networks of meanings.

Geertz shows how Moroccans are constantly negotiating reality. The bazaar is treated as a cultural form, a social institution, and an economic type. But the way in which the research work is conducted shows an incredible level of cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural understanding, people of Sefrou still remember, today, this « gentleman scholar » conducting his work with much respect for traditions and beliefs.

We are dealing with a personal narrative based on surveys, which is elementary teaching of scientific fieldwork. The result is not lacking in style. In the end, the uninformed reader is familiar with a whole social world to face, to understand, to circulate in an anthill of stories and anecdotes. Take the example of the semantic interpretation of the usual suq discourse in Sefrou. Geertz succeeded in twenty pages (pp. 158-178) in laying the foundations of a theory of communication, a kind of practical epistemology in which Arabic words are translated with a multiplicity of meanings and derivations from the same root. The researcher bends to the constraints of the context and adapts the text to these. We are far from a reductive interpretation of the social world and the scientific narrative does not lose its logic. The reading of the book is like the narrative of an experiment.

The cartographic and statistical presentation in the appendix finds its place as a trace of a situated and dated survey. In addition, there is a text by Geertz that goes back to Sefrou in 1995. He reports on the evolution of the social and economic fabric of the medina of Sefrou, as well as on the metamorphosis of a small provincial town in three decades. Apparently, the unit that made the original suq of Sefrou seems to have disappeared with time.

While Geertz, in 1974, made the “understanding of the native point of view” one of the ankles of his interpretative........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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