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Tragic Moderns: Towards a Non-Teleological Reading of Feminist Politics in Contemporary Morocco


Institute For Middle East Studies

When Moroccan leftist feminists narrate their life stories and talk about formative influences in their lives, many recall the influence of a “traditional” and pious father figure who was just and egalitarian, and who inspired their commitment to and struggle for gender equality. If this positive invocation of an enabling tradition is noteworthy for how consistently it recurs in the life stories of a cross-section of Moroccan leftist feminists, it is equally notable for how dramatically it disappears and is displaced by a notion of tradition as obstacle to women’s emancipation and progress.

In her new paper, Dr. Guessous juxtaposes invocations of the “traditional, pious but egalitarian” father figure with that of “the failed and disappointing leftist husband who claims to be modern but is in fact traditional” in order to complicate our understanding of the relationship between feminism and tradition and to think about the imperatives of modern progressive politics. She argues that the tragedy of Moroccan leftist feminist subjectivity lies in the fact that it is predicated on locating the possibility of women’s progress and feminist politics in the repudiation of the very tradition that makes it possible in the first place; and that this constitutive disavowal comes in the way of a more generous ethos of intergenerational and intersubjective engagement.


  • Dr. Nadia Guessous is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research on Women and the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers. She received her PhD in anthropology from Columbia University in 2011. Her research interests include gender and feminism; the anthropology of politics; religion and secularism; modern subjectivity; affect and viscerality; postcolonial feminist theory; the Middle East, North Africa, and Islam. She has published articles and book reviews in Confluences Mediterranee, The Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, and Jadaliyya; and has forthcoming articles in The Review of Middle East Studies and Arab Studies Journal. She is also the author of a study on women and political violence during the repressive years of lead in Morocco, which was commissioned by the Moroccan Truth Commission and published by the Consultative Council on Human Rights.