Research in High Atlas Mountains Receives National Recognition

“They know they’re discriminated against in the cities,” he said. “They are considered dirty and backwards, and people openly make fun of them. They were pretty clear about what they wanted to say about village life, very forceful in their conversations to me.”

Dr. Crawford wrote, “I quickly came to see that the main point everybody wanted to make was that life was hard … As it turned out, I did not need any special anthropological training to understand it, or any subtle linguistic preparation. I only had to listen. Life. Here. Is. Hard. Men would gather my hands in theirs, stare into my eyes, and repeat it slowly enough that they were assured I could not miss the message.”

The Fairfield professor’s award-winning book was far more than a catalog of hard work and hard times. Dr. Crawford, like most modern anthropologists, found himself confronted by the riddle of a swiftly expanding global economy, which has shoved its way into all of the margins, including the relatively isolated Tadrar, which is 17 miles from the nearest paved road.

In the book’s conclusion, “The Market Has No Memory,” Dr. Crawford takes note of the rapid changes that swept through Tadrar during the decade he was a recurring visitor. Solar power, piped water, satellite dishes and VCRs appeared. A tourist hotel opened. Two of Abdurrahman’s sons married and fled to the city. The family unit gave a little but still held sway, as did the household, which was “the primary unit of production” in the village. Dr. Crawford discovered that there is no reliable way to measure the impact of globalization. The reality of Tadrar was too complex, he said, to fit neatly into any theory.

Instead he found that, in fact, village life was not necessarily simpler, less stressful, or less materialistic than modern Western urban life. Though some young men did leave to make fresh starts in Morocco’s urban centers, just as many returned in disgust, to be folded back into the family and household.

What Dr. Crawford believes we can learn from Tadrar is that, first, “capitalism is not the best of all possible worlds, but merely one possible world.” Also, in Tadrar “caring for others is part of caring for land, part of normal existence, part of life; ‘home’ and ‘work’ are not separate places, are not conceptually separable … By contrast, where I live, it is those who choose to care who suffer. In the United States the people who devote themselves to the infirm and the immature, who nurture elderly parents and young children, these are the people who lose wages, who have to explain the gaps in their resumes to ‘re-enter’ the workforce.”

Finally, though the village life held some “terrible hardships,” it also has “great warmth, humanity, and elegance.”

Now 44, Dr. Crawford is in his sixth year of teaching in the departments of sociology, anthropology, and international studies at Fairfield. A popular instructor, he recently was named the University’s Alpha Sigma Nu “Teacher of the Year.”

While working on his book, the Fairfield anthropologist found a kindred spirit in Bart Deseyn, a Belgian photographer who has spent part of his career documenting rural Berber life. Unbeknownst to Dr. Crawford, Deseyn had read everything he had published. He contacted Dr. Crawford and asked if they could meet.

“I was biased against photographers,” Dr. Crawford admitted. “They tend to come in, snap a few shots and leave, thinking they know all about the culture. But Bart was different. We met in Marrakesh and within five minutes were friends. His method is like something out of the 19th century. He uses a large format camera and he spends an hour or so with every subject. He lets the person decide what they want to wear, how they want to be portrayed. Each frame presents that person in the same head-to-toe way.”

Deseyn, in short, does with a camera what the Fairfield professor does with words. Their collaboration continues, as they work on another prospective book about Berber life, tentatively called Nostalgia for the Present.

This chance connection with Deseyn recalls Dr. Crawford’s own stumbling into Tadrar as a young wannabe poet 20 years ago. His simple explanation for how he arrived at his career in anthropology recalls the opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

“I got lost walking in the mountains and met a guy who let me stay at his house. I told him that I would be back and, years later, I was.”

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