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Pursuing Opacity: Geographies of Visibility in the Western Mediterranean
Governments pursue the enhanced visibility of people and things. They observe and survey in order to codify, catalogue, classify and calculate. Rather than trace the contours of such projects, this paper seeks to provoke a more sustained engagement with modes of errantry that confound their logics of command and control. Building on more than twelve months of multi-sited ethnography in southern Spain and northern Morocco, it explores how marginalized communities in spatial peripheries navigate unequal geographies of visibility. To do so, I revisit the work of Édouard Glissant and some of his interlocutors in the anti-colonial and Black critical thought traditions in order to contemplate fluctuating vectors of opacity amongst communities living in hashish trafficking hubs. Frequently stigmatized as violent criminals and indolent freeloaders—their itineraries effaced—inhabitants of the provinces of the Campo de Gibraltar (Spain) and Rif (Morocco) are regularly told that the solution to their ills lies in legality, in giving up on the shadowy activities that place them in opposition to the law’s luminous strictures. Yet transparency offers little, suspicions of criminality potentially annulled in exchange for a few bucks of welfare support, if that. Spaces grappling with detection and wrestling with capture may very well offer more. This paper explores these spaces, and the ostensibly deviant actors that populate them, without reading them as anomaly or disturbance but as compromised responses to imposed situations worthy of political and ethnographic reflection. Borderlands not only generate anxiety and trepidation amongst the governments of the Western Mediterranean. They are also sites of production, exchange and trade, making lives and livelihoods possible amidst the exclusion and abandonment to which such areas are often subject.
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