Middle East Studies

Daniel Williford

Ph.D. candidate in History, University of Michigan


Environmental Protection and Morocco’s Post-Colonial Urban Order

Following the tumultuous first decade of Morocco’s independence from France and two attempted coups in the early 1970s, the post-colonial state under King Hassan II aimed to consolidate power over the country’s unruly urban spaces. Drawing on international discussions of the “human environment,” post-colonial urbanists, architects, and officials deployed the concept of an “urban environment” to re-imagine conflicts over public hygiene, infrastructural attachment, scarcity, and political authority. This paper will trace how notions of “locality” and “pollution” transformed post-colonial urban and environmental politics in Morocco during the 1970s. In Casablanca, for instance, conflicts over air pollution from the cement industry generated new dynamics and sites of encounter between urban residents and officials. The rise of arguments within state ministries about conservation and pollution also coincided with a renewed interest among architects and engineers in local construction methods and materials as “environmentally appropriate” solutions to the problem of providing low-cost housing. This revalorization of “traditional” construction techniques—institutionally enshrined in the Centre d’Expérimentation, des Recherches et de Formation (CERF)—cast the figure of the Moroccan craftsman, the muʿallim, as a guide for practices of sustainable development. The CERF sought to systematize local knowledge about construction in Morocco—remaking urban landscapes in the process. Building upon literature in urban environmental history and Science and Technology Studies, this paper will analyze changes in Morocco’s post-colonial urban environments in relation to debates about who can claim knowledge and ownership over the built world—debates that were themselves entwined with the politics of decolonization. The conclusion will consider the limits of environmental framings of Morocco’s urban problems and will explore how the materiality of the built world—the environmental and cultural appropriateness of particular materials—remains central to struggles over urban knowledge and authority in the country today.


Daniel Williford is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at the University of Michigan. His research examines the financial, organizational, and material technologies designed to deal with “crisis” in colonial and post-colonial Morocco. He is currently preparing to defend his dissertation, entitled “Concrete Futures: Technologies and Ecologies of Urban Crisis in Colonial and Post-Colonial Morocco.” In the fall of 2020, he will join the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor.