The Structure of Traditional Moroccan Rural Society. 
BERNARD G. HOFFMAN. Studies in Social Anthropology, 2. 
The Hague, Paris, Mouton & Co., 1967. 223 pp., 
bibliography, 11 figures ( 1 foldout), glossary, index, list of tribes of Morocco, 1 pocket map, 9 tables (cloth).

 

Reviewed by CLIFFORD GEERTZ, University of Chicago

 

 

Hoffman's work, drawn entirely from the literature, is a compilation of ide╦s recues concerning rural culture and social structure in Morocco. From the first page (where we are told that "the basic feature of Moroccan life is ... the division of the population into plainsdwelling Arabic-speakers and mountain-dwelling Berbers,") to the last (where we are told that "those [Moroccan students] which came under the influence of French schools and were imbued with idealistic democratic viewpoints eventually formed the nucleus of a 'modem reformist' group, while those who received their education in Egypt, or in traditional Moroccan colleges such as the Karouine in Fez, formed the core of the 'traditional reformist' and envisaged a return to the original simplicity and purity of Islam") the book consists of a cascade of cliches culled, largely, from French and Spanish writings on Morocco. Like most cliches, those that Hoffman collects are not wholly without truth. But, like all cliches, they are more likely to mislead than to enlighten, unless the reader is familiar with both the reality that gave rise to them and the outlook of their originators.

 

The book is divided into five chapters, of which the fourth, "Traditional Rural Social Structure," comprises about two-thirds of the text. Mter a brief introduction in which such debatable notions as that the "detribalized peoples [of the city] are a world apart from the tribesmen which characterize rural Morocco," that "the smallest acting units of social organization within the Moslem inhabitants of the city is the patrilineally extended, and often polygynous, extended family," and that "urban society is ... so well organized ... that it needs but three main government officials and their staffs-the ... governor of the city, the ... judge of Koranic law, and the ... [market inspector]," Hoffman turns to a highly generalized and unsystematic classification of ethnic groups in Morocco-Berbers, Arabs, Harratines, Jews, and Europeans. This is followed by a four-page chapter on the interrelationships of these "groups" (in what sense, or senses, if any, they are "groups" is not the sort of question to which Hoffman gives attention), in which, among other things, it is asserted that Berber speakers consider themselves the only true Moroccans and regard the Arab speakers as invaders, usurpers, and-because (unlike the Berbers?) they marry parallel cousins-incestuous, a generalization that reflects French colonial ideology circa 1930 but very little else. After the long chapter on traditional rural social structure, the book concludes with fifteen pages on "the end of traditional culture," in which the most eventful half century in Moroccan history is reduced to such notations as that the country's class structure has been transformed and that there has been large-scale migration into the major cities.

 

In the major central chapter on rural social structure Hoffman reviews, topic by topic, the literature on the major institutions of traditional society in what he calls an "ethnohistorical" effort to reconstruct the nature of tribal life prior to French-Spanish domination. "Basic Traditional Units of Organization" (nuclear family, extended family, lineage, district, tribe, confederation), "Population Foci" (mosque, market), "Political Institutions" (representative councils, alliance, negotiation, arbitration, centrally dependent local government), "Other Institutions and Associations" (religious, economic, socioeconomic), and "Social Stratification" serve as headings under which to assemble, in a one-fact-after-another manner, excerpts from and summaries of the literature. The treatment here is as stereotypic, uncritical, and unanalytical as elsewhere, but an enormous range of material, much of it not otherwise easily accessible, in just about every relevant European language (including Danish), is covered. Whatever its values as a synthetic picture of pretwentieth-century social structure may be, or whether this sort of scrapbook making is what "ethnohistory" really is or should be, this chapter provides a thoroughgoing, and in its own terms, extremely useful guide to the literature on Morocco. Combined with the superb 220-item bibliography, to which the book might be considered an annotation, it comprises the best map we have of a very diverse, scattered, and somewhat individualistic scholarly tradition.

 

What, then, are we to say of the book in general? Usually, this sort of work is recommended to beginners in the field, or to outsiders who are concerned to discover a society's general features without wading through a great deal of fine detail, while specialists are warned off it as elementary and inadequate. In this case, the correct prescription seems to me exactly the reverse. People who do not know Morocco, or at least some part of North Africa, reasonably well should avoid it like the plague, for if they take its substantive discussions as useful general summaries, they will come away with a picture that is simplistic in the extreme when it isn't outright false. For those more immediately concerned with Morocco or the Maghreb generally, and who will not therefore take Hoffman's pastiche for more than it is worth as ethnographic description or sociological analysis, it will prove an invaluable aid to finding in the original sources what one is looking for. After which it may be put back on the shelf next to Notes and Queries, the Ethnographic Atlas, and the index to the Human Relations Area Files.

 

 


Book Review, in: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 70, No. 6 (Dec., 1968), pp. 1209-1210.


 

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