Franco-era electric infrastructure renovated in the 1980s by former Moroccan King Hassan II, Akchour region, Morocco. Photo by author, 2017

anthropology and human sciences

A. George Bajalia / Department of Anthropology /4th year, PhD Candidate

m.phil Columbia University 2017/m.a. Columbia University 2016/b.a Northwestern University 2011

keywords: Morocco; North Africa; Morocco-Spain borderlands, Morocco-Algeria borderlands; migration; mobility; infrastructure; political economy 

Proposed Dissertation Title: Waiting at the Border: Language, Labor, and Infrastructure in Northern Morocco


Research Abstract// While the flow of migrants into Europe has become one of the pressing issues of our time, and this continuous flow is coming to restructure political relations between Europe and North Africa, more examination is needed of the routes and communities forged before migrants reach Europe. The language of flow and the political emphasis on movement effaces the most common experience of migrants- waiting. Across North Africa, hundreds of thousands of migrants wait to cross to Europe, some having waited as long as 10 years. In this project, Bajalia seeks to understand waiting in Morocco as a productive event, rather than a negative interruption in migratory flow, that reworks systems of signs like language and infrastructure through a larger logic of exchange. This project examines the practice of waiting and the forms of social life, subjectivity, and labor that waiting gives rise to across three different sorts of borders: (i) Tangier and the coastal border between Morocco and Spain along the Strait of Gibraltar; (ii) the closed land border between Morocco and Algeria at Oujda; (iii) the open land border between Morocco and Spain around the Euro-African enclave of Ceuta. To do so, he will work with groups of North and West African migrants as they connect these three border infrastructures through novel forms of social, linguistic, and economic exchange. Through these lived experiences of waiting, the actual cartography of this region reemerges as a complex layering of productive points of interruption and events of departure across multiple forms of borders and crossing. These borders re-appear as actual and immanent routes forging new worlds of sociality across religious and ethnic boundaries and fostering emergent languages of social belonging in northern Morocco.

THIS RESEARCH SUPPORTED BY: Fulbright-Hays DDRA / Council of American Overseas Research Center - Mellon Foundation Mediterranean Regional Research Fellowship / the American Institute Maghrib Studies / the Middle East Institute at Columbia University / the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University