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Anthro Prof Wins Fulbright for Moroccan Diaspora

By Kevin Myers on July 15, 2015 03:54 PM

VIRTUOUS CYCLE. Prof. Paul Silverstein will investigate the Moroccan diaspora in Belgium.

Prof. Paul Silverstein [anthropology 2000-] has won a Fulbright fellowship to investigate historical genealogy, lived experience, and political engagements of Belgian citizens of Moroccan Berber heritage.

His teaching and research fellowship will take him to Belgium to the Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre of the Anthropology Department of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from September 2015 to June 2016 on a project entitled, "Moroccan Miners, Berber Activists, and the Future of Belgian Cosmopolitanism."

Since the 1980s, Western European media and governmental reports have consistently represented ethno-racial and religious diversity as an existential challenge to national coherence. The prevailing narrative is that when immigrant groups are integrated into social and cultural norms they will assimilate the identifications and loyalties of the state. When groups resist assimilation it creates anxieties. Since September 11th, these anxieties have centered largely on those Muslim citizens of North Africa, South Asian, and Turkish descent.

For the past 15 years, Prof. Silverstein has focused on the concerns that arise over Europe’s cosmopolitan future by looking into the everyday practices and diversity within enclaves that emerged from the North African diaspora. In his book, Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race and Nation (Indiana University Press, 2004), Silverstein explored the transformations that took place in France as Algerian populations moved permanently to the country that once colonialized their homeland. The book ethnographically detailed how new generations of Franco-Algerians have confronted the educational, urban, and security policies designed to assimilate them into normative French public life by responding with novel forms of transpolitical engagement.

Silverstein’s Fulbright fellowship will enable him to build on several aspects of his research by exploring historical and contemporary effects of the Moroccan diaspora to Belgium. The early 1960s saw an influx of Moroccan men to work in the burgeoning mining industry. Today, Belgium hosts one of the largest outside communities of Moroccans. The majority traces their heritage to the Berber-speaking Rif Mountains. One aspect of Silverstein’s research will investigate the phenomena of the younger generation’s focus on the transnational political practices in the struggle for Berber linguistic and cultural rights. Ethnographically investigating how these activists have positioned themselves within the Belgian public debate over national identity and multilingualism, he will pay particular attention to how they have countered Islamic revivalist articulations of immigrant life through insisting on the incipient secular dimension of North African indigenous culture. These contemporary forms of engagement will be contrasted to the history of labor militancy in the now-closed coalmines in which Moroccan workers struggled alongside those of other immigrant backgrounds.

Silverstein was named a Carnegie Scholar in 2005.