Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cliggett


This dissertation explores the relationship between land tenure and livelihoods in pre-Saharan Morocco as an ethical struggle over subsistence rights and the definition of community. Research in an oasis valley of southern Morocco indicated how changing land use practices framed contestations over community, political authority, and social hierarchies. The dissertation specifically examines the extension of settlement and cultivation from the oasis into the arid steppe. The research methodology contextualizes household decision-making around land use and livelihood strategies within the framework of land tenure regimes and other regional, national, and global processes. Households with the resources and prestige to navigate customary tenure regimes in their favor used these institutions to facilitate land acquisition and investments in commercial agricultural production. Rather than push for capitalist land markets, they invoked a discourse of communalism in support of customary regimes. In contrast, marginalized families without access to land mobilized to divide collective lands and secure individual freehold tenure. This complicates a prominent critique in agrarian studies that privatization signals the immersion of peripheral lands into neoliberal tenure regimes. The research shows that in southern Morocco, resistance to communal tenure regimes favoring elites was rooted in a discourse of subsistence rights and ethical claims to membership in a just community rather than a simple acquiescence to the power of neoliberal property relations. The dissertation therefore explores the shifting fault lines of social differentiation and the political and cultural embeddedness of land in processes of "repeasantization," the resurgence of rural peasantries in the context of the growing industrialization of global food production. The research draws on cultural anthropology, geography, and political economy to explore an understudied issue in the anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa: the economic and environmental dimensions of agrarian livelihoods and rural social dynamics from a critical theoretical perspective.

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Anthropology Commons