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The Networked Self: Hip Hop Musicking and Muslim Identities in Neoliberal Morocco


This dissertation explores the emergence of a postcolonial neoliberal subjectivity amongst urban Moroccan Muslim youth through an ethnography of Moroccan hip hop practitioners' aesthetic preferences, performance practice, disciplinary strategies, and socio-musical networks. The hip hop arts, including emceeing, deejaying, b-boying or b-girling (dancing), and graffiti, were first introduced to Morocco in the early 1990s through existing networks of migrants to and from Francophone Europe. Today hip hop music-making flourishes in the nation's major cities and in smaller enclaves throughout the country.

Under the late King Hassan II and his son, King Mohamed VI, the Moroccan state has adopted neoliberalizing policies and forms of governance since the early 1980s with far-reaching social and economic consequences. In this context, I ask how hip hop practitioners' musical work enables and expresses new modes of citizenship and belonging while neoliberalization renders older forms of political participation less effective. To do this, I first situate Moroccan hip hop in relation to local musico-poetic traditions, already informed by previous generations' encounters with processes of globalization, and translocally circulating hip hop aesthetics. Drawing from an archive of interactions, interviews, observations, documents, recordings, and live performances, I then show how practitioners use hip hop to intervene in national debates, and to respond to, critique, and take advantage of the effects of neoliberalization.

While bringing the insights of network theory and Foucault's notion of governmentality to an ethnography of neoliberalization, I describe practitioners' techniques of self-management and self-care as they strive towards musical competence as well as greater economic and social mobility. In contrast with much scholarship on hip hop beyond the United States, I show that Moroccan hip hop music-making is critical, but not resistant. By locating their critiques in the terrain of the self rather than in movement-based politics, artists and their audiences effect political quietism through, not despite, their embrace of the transnational hip hop tradition's normative ideology of critique and opposition as both a stylistic and an ethical goal. The practitioners' construction of valued selves within their socio-musical networks prompt a reconsideration of agency, citizenship, and political action in a neoliberalizing postcolonial environment.

Explicitly attracted by the discourses of freedom and resistance which hip hop and other Afro-diasporic sounds evoke in many parts of the world, members of Moroccan hip hop networks depend on those discourses to create music that enables local and translocal connections, even as their music-making and entrepreneurship conform to the goals of the neoliberalizing state. In a conjuncture profoundly shaped by Morocco's adherence to neoliberal economic orthodoxy, Moroccan hip hop practitioners offer to the national imaginary an alternative expression of pious "modern" citizenship, to transnational markets a calculated balance of proficiency and difference, and to music scholarship an alternative to the frequently unquestioned association of hip hop production and oppositional politics.

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