Edmund Burke III, The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2014.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Edmund Burke III (EB): Ever since my first book, Prelude to Protectorate in Morocco: Pre-colonial Protest and Resistance, 1860-1912 (1976), I had wanted to write a book about the role of French ethnography in the establishment of the Moroccan protectorate. Unfortunately my career did not go as planned, and my research interests moved on to a series of other subjects. Nonetheless, I continued to write about the French sociology of Islam over the intervening years.
I have written The Ethnographic State because I am convinced that the debate over orientalism has more to teach us, and that the way forward lies in the analysis of its inscription in the multiple historical contexts in which it flourished. The Moroccan materials are notable not only for the rich documentation they provide of pre-colonial society, but also because they allow us to see the gaps and silences, the wrinkles in the discursive force field, the continual struggles within French society and among French observers over how best to represent Moroccan realities.
My book makes two important claims. On one level, it argues that the creation of the Moroccan colonial archive was a substantial, if little-known, sociological achievement. The most complete inventory of a Muslim society undertaken by a European state, the Moroccan colonial archive provided a comprehensive survey of Moroccan society, group by group, city by city, institution by institution. At its best, the Moroccan colonial archive was notable both for the rapidity with which it had been assembled (1900-1918) as well as for its interpretive understanding of Moroccan society. In this, it challenges current understandings of the relationship of culture and power, even as it ultimately confirms them.
Second, I argue that the Moroccan colonial archive legitimized the French protectorate, while also providing the model for the protectorate government. In the diplomatic struggle known as “the Moroccan Question,” France argued that it alone possessed the expert knowledge of Moroccan society that qualified it to colonize Morocco. In this way, the Moroccan colonial archive provided the symbolic capital that enabled France to assert its intellectual authority over its European rivals. But this was not all. The book goes on to examine the successive instantiations of Moroccan Islam in the conquest and governing of Morocco.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
EB: Morocco, alone among Muslim countries, is today known for its national form of Islam. My book suggests Moroccan Islam was the collective product of a generation of French scholars and amateur ethnologists, who between 1900 and 1925 invented a new field called “Ethnographic Morocco,” and a new object of study, “Moroccan Islam.”
The Ethnographic State tells three over-lapping stories. First, through a detailed examination of the invention of Moroccan Islam, it seeks to historicize the ways in which French colonial thought asserted its ethnographic authority and political power, the better to exclude competitors and legitimate its rule.
Part One suggests that the invention of Moroccan Islam was not just a manifestation of French discursive power. Rather, it was shaped by overlapping crises at the global, the national, and the bureaucratic levels that created a momentary discursive opening. Only later did the racial stereotypes of the Algerian colonial gospel reassert themselves. A close reading of this history requires a reconsideration of the premises of orientalist theory.
The chapters in Part Two review the institutionalization of French ethnography, as well as the differential fate of French policies toward Moroccan Berbers, cities, and Islam. The situates the creation of the Moroccan colonial archive in the context of fin de siècle European scientific imperialism, notably the application of an ethnographically attuned native policy based upon European best colonial practices, or what I call Native Policy Morocco. One sign of this influence is the failed effort of Resident General Hubert Lyautey to model the Moroccan protectorate on the British colonial administration in India.
The chapters in Part Three trace how the discourse on Moroccan Islam provided the ideological template for the French protectorate over Morocco, a model of indirect rule that claimed to be deeply respectful of Moroccan traditions and culture and pre-existing Moroccan state structures. Meanwhile Morocco’s agricultural, mining, and other resources were gobbled up by the Omnium Nord-Africain, a French business group.
Ultimately, the French colonial project was deeply dependent upon the hegemony of the discourse on Moroccan Islam. It structured, organized, and institutionalized the perceptions of the protectorate for non-Moroccans and Moroccans alike, in the process creating the modern Moroccan polity.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous research?
EB: The Ethnographic State returns to many of the questions that preoccupied me in my first book, Prelude to Protectorate in Morocco, and in my writings on colonial representations. (See also my edited collection (with David Prochaska), Genealogies of Orientalism: History, Theory, Politics (2008).
The book challenges some aspects of the theory of orientalism, even as it validates Edward Said’s larger discursive achievement. By historicizing the unfolding of the discourse on Moroccan Islam and its successive transformations, it seeks to provide a more complexly situated understanding of the role of colonial forms of knowledge in colonial contexts.
“Moroccan Islam” was a discursive innovation (not an empirical reality). The very idea of the existence of a Moroccan Islam violates Islamic claims to universality. The creation of the Moroccan ethnographic state (the protectorate and the post-colonial Moroccan state) was its greatest achievement. Independent Morocco has assumed the discursive apparatus on Moroccan Islam (the better to shore up the legitimacy of the Moroccan King). It too is an ethnographic state. This book is an effort to recount its origins, development, and persistence to the present.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
EB: The Ethnographic State will be of interest to readers interested in orientalism and empire, colonialism and modernity, and the invention of traditions. It should appeal especially to social scientists and historians of the Middle East and North Africa.
In a moment of amnesia about the historical roots of modern states in the Middle East region, it proposes a recommitment to a globally inflected colonial history.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
EB: I am currently at work on two book projects.
The first, tentatively entitled France and the Sociology of Islam, considers the deep history of French ethnographic studies of Islam from the late eighteenth century until the end of French Algeria. It studies the connections between knowledge and power beginning with the Description de l’Egypte, and the distinctive sociological legacies of French involvement in Algeria, French West Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, and the Lebanese and Syrian mandates. It is well advanced and should be completed by the end of 2015.
A second book project, Making the Mediterranean Modern, will draw upon some of the ideas expressed in my essay “Toward a Comparative History of the Modern Mediterranean, 1750-1919” in The Journal of World History (2013), to propose a comparative eco-historical approach to the modernization of the Mediterranean as a global space.
J: How do you see your argument regarding the "invention of Moroccan Islam" by French ethnographers and colonial administrators as potentially affecting both the study of contemporary Morocco and the work of contemporary ethnographers? In what ways was the discourse on colonial forms of knowledge productive of an informed practice of native government?
EB: Contrary to the grim determinisms of some post-colonial critics, for whom orientalism was a totalizing system whose history remains unknowable, my book inserts the development of the ethnography of Morocco into the deeply conflicted French political and intellectual fields of the time. The Moroccan case is key, since Morocco is arguably the leading success story of the application of social science to colonial government.
Upon investigation, while Moroccan Islam was generative of a prose of counter-insurgency, it was with a few exceptions unable to produce a usable native policy. The binaries of the French colonial gospel profoundly shaped French perceptions as well as practice. Despite the earnest belief of many of its proponents, a scientifically based native policy was more of a marketing device than a reality. Pacification was war, not social science. Here my conclusions join those of Martin Thomas, as well as scholars of colonial India.
Scholars of post-colonial Morocco have so far been incapable of transcending the myth of Moroccan Islam that continues to encourage the belief that under French tutelage, colonialism was a victimless crime, or, as one Moroccan scholar has called it “our industrial revolution.” Morocco has yet to awaken from its colonial nightmare. It is not the only MENA state to find itself in this place.
Excerpt from The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam
From Chapter Four: “Political and Discursive Contexts of the Moroccan Question”
Does orientalism have a history, or only an epistemology? Said’s Orientalism doesn’t allow for the possibility of a temporary rupture in the discourse of orientalism since the same essentialist stereotypes about colonial societies endlessly recirculate. Thus it does not in important respects “have a history.” Yet, as we’ve just seen, something very like this occurred with respect to French representations of Morocco during the period 1900-1904. Said derived this aspect of his approach to orientalism from French theorist Michel Foucault’s notion of discourse. He argued that as a discourse (and not just a set of intellectual practices) orientalism provided the lens through which Europeans viewed the Middle East, the set of stereotypes that “stood for” the region. In so doing orientalism the discourse summoned “the Orient” into existence while reducing it to a set of reductive binaries. However, Said’s appropriation of Foucault’s idea of discourse was flawed in important respects. While Said stressed the discursive context, (as James Clifford has pointed out) he also sought to restore the preeminent position of the canonical author. Thus he “fail[ed] sufficiently to historicize the discourse of orientalism,” and “relapse[d] into traditional intellectual history.” In order to account for the struggle over the control of research on Morocco in the period 1900-1904, we must switch theorists.
This is where the work of Pierre Bourdieu becomes relevant to our inquiry. Bourdieu’s sociology of symbolic domination in French life hypothesizes a division between what he refers to as the political field and the scientific field. As opposed to Said’s orientalism in which history does not exist, Bourdieu’s concept of field (champs) opens outward towards history and allows for change. It permits us to consider the relationship of individuals and groups to one another as well as to the fields in which they are inserted. For Bourdieu the political and intellectual fields have specific properties that can be ascertained. It’s also worth stating that his theory works best for France, where the so-called Grandes écoles (among them the Ecole polytechnique, the Ecole normale Superièure, the Ecole des ponts et chaussées, the Ecole des Mines, more recently the Ecole nationale d`administration) are the center of the nested hierarchies at the apex of the intellectual field. But intellectual prestige is only one element of Bourdieu’s schema. A second feature that can be used to locate an individual in a specific field is the rank or job title. Again, in the French field, the place of a given bureaucratic title in a wider field is readily ascertainable. Also, there is Bourdieu`s idea of symbolic capital (the symbolic tokens of authority and prestige) the possession of which determines the place of an individual in a status/honor hierarchy. In Bourdieuian terms, the struggle for the control of scientific research on Morocco between 1900-1904 is best understood as a struggle over symbolic capital. It was also a competition in which the position in the French intellectual and political fields of the followers of the Ecole d’Alger and of Le Chatelier shaped what happened later. With this brief excursus, let’s return to the dramatic exclusion of Algerian scholars from research on Morocco by the Quai d’Orsay in October 1903.
The battle over the control of social research on Morocco provides a precious window into the operation of the government and institutions of Third Republic France, and the connections between its political scientific fields. Somehow what had begun as a turf war between a provincial university research group and a politically connected interloper morphed into a pitched battle that split the French government into rival factions. Behind the factions stood major political and economic interests. Although conflicts over research are not unprecedented in academia, few have had such far-reaching consequences. As the crisis unfolded, it activated political faultlines within French state and the world of French orientalism, greatly magnifying the upheaval. The struggle over the Mission scientifique mobilized political forces in the highest reaches of the French government. The affair was only resolved after the intervention of the Foreign Minister, Delcassé and the head of the parti colonial, Eugène Etienne, the heads of key government departments and parliamentary committees, and some of the leading academic figures of the day. Questions of persons, of politics, even of patriotism were raised. Bitterness, skullduggery, and petty-mindedness wore the masks of scientific detachment, personal altruism and French national interest. How can we explain this? What can the struggle to control social research on Morocco tell us about the structure and operation of the intellectual and political fields in France at the turn of the century? Let us return to a consideration of the multiple contexts in which the struggle over the Mission scientifique can be situated.
 James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).
 Edmund Burke III and David Prochaska, Genealogies of Orientalism: History, Theory, Politics (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), Ch. 1.
 Pierre Bourdieu, Sociology in Question (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1993 ). See also his Outline of a Theory of Practice (New York: Cambridge University, 1977 ).
[Excerpted from The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam, by Edmund Burke III, by permission of the author. Copyright 2014 by The Regents of the University of California. For more information, or to purchase this book, click here.]