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The Social Life of Logistics on the Moroccan Mediterranean Coast

  • Author(s): Rothenberg, Janell
  • Advisor(s): Slyomovics, Suzanne
  • et al.
Abstract

ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION

The Social Life of Logistics on the Moroccan Mediterranean Coast

by

Janell Rothenberg

Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology

University of California, Los Angeles, 2015

Professor Suzanne Slyomovics, Chair

If Morocco is the historic crossroads between Africa and Europe, then Tangier is the informal capital of crossing. To be urban denizens of this city includes the everyday experience of seeing Spain and Gibraltar on the horizon, and of navigating between the winds that blow from the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. This dissertation follows the Tangier Med Port, a new infrastructure opened in 2007 at this intersection between lands and seas in order to transform Morocco into a major actor in the global logistics of trade. Merely nine miles from Europe, this port was built at one of the busiest bottlenecks in world shipping to serve as a platform for global commodity circulation. To be Moroccan actors in the industries of this emerging global hub includes the shared experience of seeing this bottleneck translated into the materials of work. While mega-ports are planned as infrastructures of commodity circulation, port actors translate plans into the everyday logistics of circulating commodities.

In the five chapters of this dissertation, I analyze both the aspirations of this global logistics hub as well as the everyday logistics of commodity circulation in the port region. In chapter one, I examine the global, national, and regional context of the Tangier Med Port through an analysis sensitive to the past, present and future. I show how the perspectives of Tangier inhabitants and port administrators reveal contrasting versions of global regionalism. In chapter two, I follow the regional social worlds of trailers and containers in order to illustrate how these objects of physical movement connect the Tangier Med Port to a larger region of socio-technical practice. In chapter three, I examine how the aspirational discourses at the port authority exclude concerns deemed too “Moroccan” in order to qualify the Tangier Med Port as a uniquely modern infrastructure. These discourses position the port as the ideal platform for transcending the perceived temporal incongruity between Morocco and the Global North. In chapter four, I propose the concept of “practical connectivity” to replace traditional metaphors of friction or flow for understanding how emerging port connections are mediated in particular projects of global logistics. In the final chapter, I contrast the shifting visibilities of labor and infrastructure during and after a major work stoppage at the port’s container terminals in 2011. Stoppages reveal how these terminals, designed primarily for moving transshipped goods between vessels, are reframed by dockworkers into innovative platforms of global solidarity.

My ethnographic study of the Tangier Med Port and its actors reveals multiple, planned and unplanned ways through which commodity movement is assembled in a particular context. I intend this dissertation to advance the ethnography of logistics as a discrete field of inquiry into the maritime infrastructures changing the shores of the Global South, creating new supply-chain subjectivities, and altering how commodities move in the world.

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