Planning as Risk Management: Soldiers, Land Agents and Spies in Colonial Morocco

Asmaa Elgamal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In the Middle East and North Africa, planning is often the purview of a wide range of actors, including military officers, political parties, religious institutions, and non-governmental organizations. These multiple roles of planners as security agents, state administrators, and religious representatives are often described as symptoms of authoritarian rule, weak states, or ongoing contexts of conflict. In contrast to these frameworks, I propose that this multiplicity of roles is not an aberration, but a central component of planning rationalities, one that dates back to the colonial history of the region. Through an investigation of collective land management under the French protectorate in Morocco, I explore how colonial administrators – both military and civilian – conceived of their multiple roles as planners, land agents, and intelligence officers. I then argue for an alternative conception of planning as a form of risk management in which not only is risk culturally constructed, but culture itself – including the relationships of subject populations to their land – is constructed as risk. Risk mitigation, in the form of what I call “finding tolerable levels of endogeneity” then becomes the primary mechanism through which multiple actors assume the role of planning agents. Effectively, this translates into an obsession with binding planning policy to presumably traditional, legal, social, and political institutions, thus producing a manufactured path dependency as a proxy for cultural authenticity. Employing methods of historical ethnography, I illustrate these arguments through an investigation of the collectively owned guich lands on the outskirts of Morocco’s imperial cities, which today form a vital component of the expansion of these urban agglomerations, particularly Rabat. I also suggest that the conception of planning as risk management allows for a greater and more complex understanding of the cultural and institutional continuities between colonial and post-colonial planning.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 36. Land and Empire in North Africa