Taking historical instances of globalization as a point of departure, the project analyzes how a unique forest ecosystem integrates into the global economy in the form of a local natural resource. It addresses the ways normative and technological elements intertwine and are coproduced in the politics of natural resource use. Special attention is paid to the ways in which such entanglements of lawmaking with science, technology, and other knowledge regimes interact in scalar arrangements with complex plural legal configurations on the ground.

The argan region has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve on account of its unique forest ecosystem. At the same time, it is also a ‘Garden of Europe’, i.e. the site of high-standard agrobusiness cash-crop production; this activity goes back to the time of the French protectorate in Morocco (1912-1956) and has seen progressive technologization of extractive practices. The region is a site in which multiple worlds come into contact, each with different, but interrelated, notions of resource extraction, different epistemic visions of knowledge production, and normative and techno-normative standards of ordering.

While there exists a wide variety of established modes of resource use, three interdependent and mutually constitutive and coproduced forms of human intervention in the landscape are of particular importance: high-standard agrobusiness cash-crop production, especially methods that integrate the woodlands into global cash-crop production; mobile herding; and forest exploitation proper with argan oil as a secondary product.

Following an STS-inspired approach, this project studies the transformation of an ecosystem from ‘being a forest’ into a plantation via lawmaking, bioprospecting and techno-normative tree standardization and molecular tree enhancement. At the same time, it looks at how the argan zone constitutes a site of multispecies encounter and more-than-human normativity. Collaborative resistance to technoscientific optimization of the argan woodlands and the legal consequences of this connects humans, trees, mycorrhizal fungi and many others. The arganosphere thus constitutes an extended community of plural law and legal practice. The normative power of technoscientific practices and artifacts, of matter and materiality joins with the plural legal configurations on the ground, creating socio-techno-legal assemblages.


Moroccan Argan Oil

At the center of this study is the emergence of argan oil on the world market. Elements of this argan oil economy include: a global supply-chain infrastructure and the specific normativity that governs it; production cooperatives as interfaces integrating a local economy of solidarity into global markets; biotechnology; and pharmaceutical and cosmetic multinational enterprises.

Argan oil is one of the world’s most expensive nutritional oils. Prized for its unique nutty flavors, it has even found its way into the world of high-end cuisine. The oil has also become an important ingredient in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. It is a non-timber forest product extracted from the fruits of the argan tree, which is endemic to southwest Morocco. The infrastructure that links up production with consumption also connects local Amazigh people with the global economy and, it is claimed, supports nature conservation and sustainable resource management of the endangered argan woodlands ecosystem.

The case study illustrates how legal pluralism is inherently inscribed into infrastructural design. It analyzes global value-chain (GVC) infrastructures connected with argan oil harvesting and looks at the emergence of this oil as a niche product that has been ‘bio-prospected’ from a local natural resource and launched onto the global market.

The main layers of this infrastructure are identified as corresponding with the elements of neoliberal resource design: the normative framing of the resource, the formation of production cooperatives and supply units as appropriate tools for a ‘socially responsible’ inclusion of local people, and the setup of an overarching infrastructural design for harvesting the base product. At the center of this research are the consequences of such a strategic alignment for local people, holders of use rights, and their multispecies associates in the Moroccan southwest in general, with particular attention given to livelihood conditions and legal agency.

The main socio-legal approaches to understanding the arganosphere’s biodiversity, nature-cultures, more-than-human and multispecies agency, conservation, environment, and plant manipulation technologies include the rights-of-nature debate and its interplay with the concepts of pluriversal law and onto-legalities, its inherent socio-techno-normativity and eco-normativity as a matter of care. One major goal of this project is to shed light on the ways that the analysis of those techno-legal assemblages can contribute to the decolonialization of the nomosphere by challenging the notion of a unifying legal universe.