Daniel Williford

Position title: Resident Fellow (2023-2024)

Assistant Professor, History Department, UW–Madison

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Concrete Futures: Technology and Decolonization in Modern Morocco

Concrete Futures explores the colonial and postcolonial history of expert attempts to govern urban environments in Morocco through technologies that structured who could intervene in the built world and how. During the French Protectorate (1912-1956), migration, epidemics, scarcity, and urban unrest transformed cities like Casablanca into sites of experimentation with new forms of governance. Technologies that were new to the country such as reinforced concrete not only changed the way that Moroccan cities were built but also rearranged relations of authority among engineers, officials, workers, and residents. Concrete Futures demonstrates that struggles over critical urban technologies reveal a more fundamental conflict over the nature of decolonization in Morocco and the extent to which practices rooted in colonial projects could enable other types of political organization and action. These technologies—from materials like cinder blocks and techniques of demolition to forms of housing finance and labor organization—enabled colonial and postcolonial experts and officials to harness the skills and knowledges of Moroccan workers while restricting their capacity to shape the urban environment. At the same time, Moroccan residents also put new methods for building and financing to their own, often anticolonial, ends. Drawing upon oral and archival research, this book tracks colonial engineers and architects, Moroccan cement plant workers, urban Muslim notables, and postcolonial officials as they designed, adapted, and deployed construction technologies to promote conflicting visions of social and political order. The ultimately uncontrollable qualities of colonial technologies made them ambiguous sites for both contestation and control. In Morocco today, desires for concrete futures continue to shape political and technical imaginaries, as well as their limits.

Daniel Williford is Assistant Professor of History at UW–Madison. He is a historian of technology with a focus on twentieth-century North Africa and the Middle East. His work examines the links between colonial modernization projects, the construction of racialized technical hierarchies, local forms of political contestation and labor, and the remaking of urban environments in the region.