Title: Between Local Ethics and State Aspirations: Child Corporal Discipline in Rural Morocco
Name: Christine Nutter-El Ouardani
Department of Human Development
California State University-Long Beach
Year: 2010
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

Discipline and Development: Negotiating Childhood and Authority in Rural Morocco, is an ethnographic study of the everyday lives of marginalized children and youth in a Moroccan village. Drawing from twenty-nine months of fieldwork, I analyze disciplinary interactions between children and caretakers in their extended families and local schools. Older kin routinely hit and even beat children for minor infractions and often use graphically violent language to threaten children in ways that most US observers would find abhorrent. At the same time, adults and children often infuse affection, play, and humor into these violent interactions in ways that appear inconsistent with the severity of the discipline. Despite attempts by state actors in medical clinics and schools to eradicate these disciplinary practices, villagers, including children, value them. I argue that these disciplinary practices go beyond simply deterring children from transgressing the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Rather, I show how kin use these interactions to strengthen the bonds of kinship and to convey to children that they are cared for and protected. I show how these practices are used to socialize children, how children learn to use the practices to negotiate authority, and what happens when these practices become disordered, injurious, and potentially traumatic.

I demonstrate that ideas about pain, anger, and fear that underpin liberal notions of violence are not universal, nor are they uniformly experienced across the life course. Instead I show how local conceptions of authority, care, pain, and violence are constructed and enacted in everyday life at different points throughout childhood, and in different institutions, with variable effects. I thus show how examining the nuances of child socialization practices over time and childrens roles in family and community life provides a sharp lens through which to consider larger-scale political, economic, and social changein this case contested norms of authority and violence in Moroccan families. In addition, my findings demonstrate the importance of attending to local perspectives and local conceptions of violence when building programs that focus on the eradication of child abuse and family violence, even when those conceptions make international development and social workers uneasy.


Nutter, Christine. 2013. Discipline and Development: Negotiating Childhood and Authority in Rural Morocco. PhD diss, University of Chicago.

Nutter-El Ouardani. Forthcoming. "Childhood and Development in Rural Morocco: Cultivating Reason and Strength." In Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East, 3rd ed. Edited by Donna Lee Bowen, Evelyn A. Early, and Becky Schulthies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.