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  • The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam by Edmund Burke III
  • David Motadel
The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam. By edmund burke iii. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014. 288 pp. $49.95 (hardcover).

Over the last three decades, scholars, often inspired by the works of Foucault and Said, have shown a persistent interest in the intersection of knowledge and power in the modern world. At the forefront of this research have been historians of Europe's overseas empires, who have explored processes of gathering, distilling, and ordering of colonial knowledge, and the relationships between this knowledge and colonial conquest. Major studies in the field, such as Bernard Cohn's Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (1996), Christopher Bayly's Empire and Information (1997), and Saul Dubow's A Commonwealth of Knowledge (2006), have examined the mechanisms by which ethnographic, cartographic, linguistic, and ecological knowledge was produced and used.

Islam often played a crucial role in this story. As European empires expanded into lands inhabited by Muslims, colonial scholars and officials created an extensive body of texts about the religion. Their writings provide us with insights not only into the diversity and complexity of European ideas about Islam but also into the ways in which these ideas shaped the policies of colonial administrators. The colonial archive on Islam has attracted increasing scholarly attention, with the works of Holger Weiss on German West Africa, Alex Padamsee on British India, or George Trumbull IV on French Algeria.

In The Ethnographic State, Edmund Burke III now looks at one of the vastest European inventories of knowledge about a Muslim country, showing that French colonial ethnography and modern social sciences were crucial in the administration of the Moroccan protectorate. According to Burke, the French colonial archive had several functions. It informed French policies towards Moroccans, from tribal legislation to the engagement with the sultan. Equally importantly, it legitimized French colonial rule, with French officials regularly claiming that they alone had the 'scientific' expertise, the intellectual authority, to govern the country.

Burke discusses these questions in three parts. The first part ('Ethnographic Morocco') traces the French ethnographic discourses about Morocco prior to the creation of the protectorate in 1912. It convincingly shows that the French colonial archive on Morocco was significantly shaped by the study of Egypt, briefly conquered by Napoleon in 1798, and Algeria, subdued by the French in the 1830s and 1840s. To be sure, much of this knowledge had little to do with the actual realities on the ground. Also, differing scholarly agendas (and rivalries) and political [End Page 316] debates in the metropolis, for example about general questions on the relationship between state and faith, had a significant impact on colonial writings about Morocco. Overall, the French colonial archive about Morocco was heterogeneous and continuously evolving.

The second part of the book ('Native Policy Morocco') discusses the history of ethnographic knowledge production, its institutionalization, and its influence on colonial policies in the era of the protectorate, 1912–1956. After 1912, the project to record and document the country's ethnographic landscape expanded massively. The protectorate's first governor general, Louis-Hubert-Gonzalve Lyautey, established a technocratic administration based on a bureaucracy of ethnographic information and analysis – the 'ethnographic state'.

The chapters of the third part ('Governmental Morocco') examine the construction and evolution of the essentialist notion of 'Moroccan Islam', which, in the French colonial mind, was a distinct national form of Islam. In fact, 'Moroccan Islam' became a central bureaucratic category. In the eyes of French scholars and officials, it was a timeless system of beliefs and practices, as well as a political system with the sultan, as 'Commander of the Faithful', at its center. Indeed, there are obvious similarities with other regional or ethnic notions of Islam invented by the French in the imperial age, such as 'black Islam', Islam noire, created to map Muslim populations in sub-Saharan Africa, and 'white Islam', Islam bidan, or 'Moorish Islam', Islam maure, created to categorize Muslims in Mauritania, the Maghrib, and the wider Arab world. Fascinatingly, the discourse of 'Moroccan Islam' continued into the post-colonial period, influencing Western scholarship on Morocco, including...