Emslie Horniman Award – Brian Campbell

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Award Holder: Brian Campbell
University: University of Kent
Title of Research: Enacting Trust: Multiculturalism, Personal Relationships and Law in a Spanish Enclave in Morocco

Ceuta and Confianza

Ceuta is a small enclave town (official population: 86,000) on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, belonging to Spain and subject to the laws of the European Union. Although the conquest of the town by Christian forces in the 15th Century was meant to extend the crusading spirit of the Reconquista onto North Africa, Ceuta was, for most of its modern history, a small, vulnerable border fort/prison (presidio) constantly under attack by Muslim forces.

In the 20th century, spearheading Spanish colonial enterprise in northern Morocco, Ceuta became the main port of a large and rich colonial hinterland. Ceuta saw its population explode, with the settlement of Spanish and Moroccan soldiers and labourers and the establishment of affluent Jewish, Hindu and Chinese traders and businessmen. The few ethnographies of the enclave describe how, following the dismantling of the protectorate in the 50s, the economic vulnerability of the enclave meant that individuals had to form trust-based (confianza) working alliances (amistades) with other citizens of the town based on the recognition of individual abilities (lo que valga) and trustworthiness (ser de confianza). Such personal relationships and friendships between unsubstitutable partners cut across and through religious identities and categories.  

Towards an Anthropological model of trust.

My original goal was to provide an anthropological model of trust. Both economics and sociology, as academic disciplines, had developed complex models of trust. Neo-classical economic theory largely seeks to explore the role of trust in the calculation of loss and gain, with the aim of ‘measuring’ its economic value. Sociological models, by contrast, depict trust as a positive, collective social trait, the main opponent of ‘corruption’ and ‘crime’. Similarly, recent anthropological work in the Mediterranean region observes how such personal trust relationships proving essential in the integration of migrants and foreigners by assigning them rights which are distinct from the legal ones granted by the state.

Such models fail to account for the Ceutan case. My preliminary visits to the town, and very early on in my fieldwork, it became clear how such personal relationships based on ‘tener confianza’ (lit. to hold someone in trust), are often also exclusive and informal, excluding state law, regulation and contract. While, ties of ‘tener confianza’ could, in some cases, lead into long term alliance and legal and economic benefits for both local and migrant, it is also clear that the migrant continues to be vulnerable, weak and often heavily exploited during such periods, vulnerable to the local and stronger definition of what trustworthiness implies. Trust based relationships, exclusive and informal, could have a darker side to them. Mediterranean anthropology has continued to report such relationships forming throughout southern Europe, warranting the analysis of such a phenomenon.

The Ceutan Reality (la realdad ceuti)

Any field research in the social sciences will face its unique set of problems and obstacles. I quickly learnt that anthropologists, through the methodological and conceptual tools they carry, are the best equipped in dealing with such issues. Not only are anthropologists trained to identify and responsibly overcome such limitations, but they see them as challenges that engross them in the practice of their discipline and the experiencing of their fieldsite. I will illustrate:

If there is one thing which is crystal clear about Ceutans is that, perhaps more than any other town or village in Spain, they boast a very strong sense of local identity and belonging. A ‘caballa’ or a ‘ceuti’ is more than someone who is born in Ceuta, he or she is a person who would defend the city and seek to constantly improve it.  And Ceuta’s special context often calls for such active defence.

Such a strong sense of identity in relation to both morocco and peninsular spain is hardly surprising. Up until very recently, Ceuta has been the periphery of a periphery (Cadiz) of a periphery (Andalucia) of a periphery (Spain within Europe). Economically vulnerable, constantly receiving irregular migration from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa, the target of outsider politicians who wish to rally Muslims and Christians against each other, and used by Madrid as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Rabat, Ceutans have a reason to be suspicious of the outsider Spaniard (de fuera) and the Moroccan migrant (moro). Ceutans have developed the concept of ‘realdad ceuti’ (Ceutan reality), a sense that Ceuta, in its multiculturalism and peripherality is unique, and requires a unique approach. It is, most importantly, a reality which only Ceutans can really understand. One can see how such a concept could easily (and it has) delegitimized outsider (de fuera) intervention in Ceuta, where the outsider, of course, includes the anthropologist. Towards the start of my fieldwork I have been asked several times, by cordial yet unimpressed acquaintances ‘that you’re not the first, and won’t be the last. What will you offer?’

I found that anthropology provides researchers with a set of conceptual and methodological tools that is instrumental in penetrating such barriers. Anthropology equips us to deconstruct, problematize, ask new questions and give new perspectives on old problems. Real foothold amongst my informants was gained when I had argued that ‘convivencia’ is not simply the mix of values and customs, but a real political and moral idea used to identify and check social injustice. In this sense I was lucky – ‘caballas’ are deeply interested in such issues, and such contributions did allow me access to new information, contacts and social circles. It climaxed with two appearances on radio and one on TV, and me being dragged by my informants to contribute on local research projects. In my case, fieldwork was a captivating process of taking and giving, of gaining authority and trust.

Furthermore, in contrast to the vast majority of temporary, short term researchers, I found myself dealing with my informants over an extended period of time, understanding their histories, characters, prejudices, attitudes, what they hold dear and respect. Perhaps what helped more than anything in my fieldwork is that anthropology has driven to see ordinary people as rather quite extra-ordinary. They too complex to be reduced to simple statuses – Muslim, Christian, southerner, European. This coincides with their own narratives of ‘convivencia real (see below) and ‘confianza’, which actively fight such stereotypisation, outsiders – both politicians and researchers – have engaged in.

Confianza and Convivencia

Equally absorbing is watching how one’s understanding of the field slowly, yet surely expands, transforms and modifies one’s questions, focuses and conceptual frameworks, when discoveries are made that contribute to existing debates in anthropology and when active research can push the discipline’s boundaries a bit further. Fieldwork is engrossing because it develops the researcher in both the intimate spaces of the field and the theoretical developments of the discipline.

The main focus of my fieldwork did not drastically change. It still sought to provide an anthropological model of trust. What had changed was the way such a goal has/had to be approached within the Ceutan context. My initial months in Ceuta, largely dedicated to the study of Moroccan migrants and informal relationships within the city justified the validity of my research questions: Tener confianza (to hold someone in trust), denoting a closed alliance and confidence between two or more unsubtitutable actors who recognise each other’s’ trustworthiness and individual worth, is an important discursive concept endlessly used in Ceutan social life. Its use in daily Ceutan life, however, was a lot more complex and interesting than what I had originally suspected. Muslims and Christians, migrants, locals and the city itself all employed, distorted, twisted and re-interpreted this concept.

In Ceuta, the idea of ‘tener confiaza’ is deeply intertwined, and inextricably linked with another local, central and monumental concept, that of ‘convivencia’ (co-existence). Convivencia denotes the idea of a city in which ‘the four cultures’ (las cuatros culturas) of the city (Christian, Muslim, Hebrew and Hindu) live in an integrated society (integracion), in peace and mutual-respect. It is a sense of how things ought to rightly be, a sense of social justice and equality, a utopia in the most classical of senses.
To a ‘visitor from the outside’ (pa alguien de fuera), Ceuta truly appears like a strange zodiac of cultures (crisol de culturas). Elegant minarets and imposing bell-towers punctuate the landscape. The stern ringing of the church bells is pierced by the sharp and dominant Muslim call to prayer. In the narrow peninsula, with the glittering straits of Gibraltar on one side and the long coast of Morocco on the other, a Hebrew synagogue shares the street with a Hindu temple. Months into my fieldwork, Ceuta still tends to surprise in this respect: Muslims protest so that the highly revered statue (talla) of the Christ of Medinaceli (el cristo de medinaceli) stays in their 97% Muslim neighbourhood (barrio), Christians joke (in moroccan dialect) with their Muslim neighbours in the ghid el fitr feast. Lord Ganesha’s dances down calle real to Paco de Lucia’s ‘entre dos aguas’, stopping only to pay homage to the Virgen de Africa. The rabbi, wields the aarti fire like an expert. Yet a closer look often revealed that such exchanges were initiated, enforced and maintained by personal relationships – mixed marriages, life-long friendships, economic partnerships, neighbourhood identities – between peoples belonging to the various ethno-religious communities. They talk of their ties of confianza as ‘proof of convivencia’ (una prueba que en Ceuta, si que hay convivencia), that inter-ethnic respect is what allows such personal ties between individuals. Relations of personal trust are sometimes seized upon by the state and turned into examples of convivencia, of categorical trust between members of different faiths.
Convivencia real’

It hardly surprising to know that, despite the image shown to outsiders, Ceutan society often fails to live up to the difficult ideals of convivencia, inter-ethnic peace, equality and respect. Long term fieldwork places the researcher in a position to see how the utopic notion of convivencia often and inevitably breaks down. The Muslim community takes insult at carnival jibes, sparking year long court trials, Christians protest at plans to officialise the Moroccan dialect, foreign non-accompanied children are rejected, state ‘charity’ jobs (el plan de empleo) are almost exclusively given to Muslims, infrastructure and urban order is the domain of Christian neighbourhoods. Muslim oriented parties complain that convivencia is distracting from the real social injustices of the city. Occupying itself with trivial things such as – festivals, music, art, cuisine – convivencia blinds the social, economic and legal inequalities of the city. Christians similarly insists that convivencia is a sham. Very much like Trojan horse, the ideals of equality and tolerance are allowing the hostile moro to leech onto Spanish resources and seeking to displace the Christian Spaniard community.

Ceuta is also being marked by a rapid religious transformation. A newer form of Islam – stern, orthodox, legalistic and organised – is taking root amongst the younger generations of the city, and is slowly displacing the older, mystic traditions of Islam ‘native’ to the town. Accompanying these new ideologies is a set of new vocabularies, moralities and attitude towards practice. Muslims ought not to mingle with individuals from other faiths, especially if such mingling involves alcohol or other forbidden substances. Islam is the one true faith: Muslims are right, others are wrong. Focus is on being a good Muslim, regardless of the effect such a behaviour one’s existing role in society. Such new ways of interacting, based on normative, categorising ideas of what a Muslim ought to be, are rapidly and painfully breaking dense networks of friendship, kinship and neighbourhood identity. Viewed from the Christian side, such changes are marked by puzzlement. Veils and beards are instilling unease and fear. ‘This,’ I was told ‘is not convivencia’.

Many of my older informants, both Christian and Muslim, constantly talk about a time where ‘you did not care what your neighbour was called’, or ‘such friendships were above it all’ or ‘it scares me when people say they have ‘Muslim’ friends… you either have friends or not’.  Informants talk of times where ‘a real convivencia existed’ (habia convivencia real), where convivencia was so strong because it was based on individual respect and networks, where religious identity mattered very little. Back then, convivencia was so prevalent people never even talked about it, I was told. Nowadays, the focus is on food, and art, and whatnot, it is no wonder that things go wrong. Discourse of a ‘convivencia real’ seeks to resist such break ups. It focuses of nostalgia, of narratives, it invokes personal friendships between individuals which are all being thrown away by new, and in their view, superficial ways of religious thinking. Discourses of confianza also show that if convivencia fails, it is not because the ideal is un-achievable, but because they are ‘doing it wrong’.  

Some informants could have easily made it to the topmost ranks of academia.

The Ceutan context shows that if I am to study the central concept of ‘tener confianza’, one cannot avoid an in-depth study of multiculturalism (‘convivencia’), with the way it is negotiated, distorted, upset, contested and used as a claim and defence against social injustice. Likewise, I argue that multiculturalism in Ceuta cannot be understood without an anthropological analysis of ‘tener confianza’.

Ceuta and the anthropology of the Mediterranean

The twin concepts of ‘confianza’ and ‘convivencia’ have also led me to the study of the ‘realdad ceuti’ (the Ceutan reality), an idea that only Ceutans can really understand their social context, based on convivencia. Ceuta is unique, and should govern itself. The city has attempted to reconceptualise its growing migrant and Muslim population, from being a threat to ‘Spanishness’ (españolidad) into being first a touristic resource and then to the idea that ‘we have gone back to the way the Mediterranean originally was’ and that ‘we are all migrants here’. ‘Ceuta’, I was told, ‘has always been a place of exchange…it is normal…anyone who doesn’t understand this basic fact – who pits Muslim against Christian, who doubts that we are all Ceutans and Spaniards – is a danger to the city.’

In Ceuta, this ‘realdad ceuti’ has been employed to mark difference from an oppressive centre and wrest as much political power from the centre as possible (Ceuta is an autonomous city). Such discursive changes, however, are not limited to Ceuta, and have been observed in other peripheral regions of southern European states. The case of Ceuta places me in a position from where I can comment upon such phenomena in the Mediterranean, thus allowing me to re-emerging field of Mediterranean anthropology, this time based not upon inherent cultural characteristics but upon shared social processes and responses to such phenomena.

From 3-D to 2-D… and future projects.

Being engaged in a socio-cultural context for an extended period of time, absorbing social life and engaging with informants’ daily file, is engaging in yet another way. Through both positive and negative experiences in the field, characters encountered (or avoided), concepts and perspectives slowly (and perhaps not completely) understood, of information formally obtained or revelations unexpectedly encountered, an anthropologist forms what I have come to call a ‘3-D conceptualization of society’, where local issues and problems, events, aspects of social life, rituals, hopes and fears, political structures, relationships and categories are all interlinked and woven into a complex, emotionally charged whole. If the reader cannot quite understand what I am saying, then I have made my point, for if the greatest challenge of an anthropologist is to ‘step into the field’, the second one must surely be ‘to step out of it’. It is a problem of translation, of how to convert such constellations of experiences, such a 3D view of society, into a 2D narrative, of progressing concepts and ideas, without losing that essential understanding and experience. It is a good problem to have.

But such a 3-D experience of society, one which I think is almost exclusively obtained by anthropologists, also places the researcher to see the amazing richness of any local contexts, to identify avenues of research, investigation and observation for the future. It is with a strange mixture of comfort and regret that I report that many such avenues of research (eg. Mixed marriages, informal trading, the statistical approach to ‘values’ and ‘integration’ that dominates local academia, etc.) have been left unexplored. I hope that supplementary, post-doctorate visits and projects will allow me to explore such aspects providing an even deeper understanding of frontier life and multiculturalism in the Mediterranean.

It is a deeper understanding which I expect to be of interest to both ‘caballas’ and anthropologists.

In this, I thank the Horniman grant for providing me with the opportunity to immerse myself in the Ceutan context and through a productive field experience, paving the way for further research in the future.  A doctoral research is, an in-depth, intensive study, but it is also a beginning, a starting point.