Dynamics of Political Participation: Disciplinary Knowledge through the Prism of “Area Studies”

Un compte rendu par Eymeric Quettier, stagiaire au CEFRES

This yearly workshop is organized within the cooperation agreement signed by EHESS, CEFRES, Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences. The 2023 session aimed to bring together Ph.D. students around the theme of political participation, which was to be understood broadly. It invited the participants to reflect on how their knowledge is situated within “area studies” (including Central Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America) and on the concepts and disciplines they mobilize. The debates drew on the strong philological tradition of the Central European area studies, while also questioning it to analyze the relationship between disciplinary knowledge and situated knowledge. The participants reflected on the dynamics of political participation through two non-exclusionary lenses proposed by the organizers of the conference.

  1. Norms and transgressions, or: What can “area studies”, situated fieldwork or archival work, teach to the disciplines of social sciences and humanities in order to advance our understanding of processes of political participation?
  2. Positionality, by analyzing to what extent a thorough reflection on researcher’s position can be at the forefront of the decolonization of the approaches to political participation in non-Western contexts.

The workshop was divided into three panels:

  1. Area studies through the Prism of Other « Studies »: Gender, Decolonization and Researchers’ Positionality,
  2. Area Studies Viewed from the Perspectives of Central Europe,
  3. Area Studies: The Challenges and Prospects of Interdisciplinarity.

During these three panels, several disciplines were represented. Alex Alexis (University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)’s contribution belonged to the field of law and political science and was devoted to the transposition of law. He first showed that French-speaking African States still experience a kind of dependence since several aspects of their national law was directly transposed from the French law. Alex Alexis stated that, rather than a transposition, a flexible translation would allow societies living in those newly independent States to politically participate in the creation of their own, more suitable laws.

In the field of sociology, Rebecca Saab Saade (EHESS) focused on Arab countries’ traditional identity and values and on the other hand on activism (be it LGBT or feminist). She relied on Jospeh Massad’s book Desiring Arabs to demonstrate how activism is denied in its very existence by the political sphere in Arab States and how this invisibilization is only partially ousted by the mobilization of exiled activists (most of them being in Europe). Moreover, according to Massad feminism is used exclusively to talk about men, and homosexuality always refers to men, not to women. The very existence of these movements in Arab societies seems, therefore, to depend on the visibility of Arab authors and activists in the “West”.

A series of contributions were devoted to the political participation of populations in various countries and at various levels: Roma in Slovakia (by Monika Stachová, Charles University), women in Kazakhstan, and in the Kazakh Parliament (by Anna Huláková, Charles University), local communities in South America, Brazil (by Noelia Noya Iglesias, EHESS), then local populations in the French oversea territory of Guadeloupe (Anne Goerens, University of Montpellier (CEPEL)). The two first cases highlighted the participation at the national level: Roma getting gradually involved, after socialism, in the political life at the national scale, whereas in Kazakhstan, the independence led to the creation of a patriarchal Islami-socialist State Apparatus (called neo-patrimonialism), where the rare women involved in the political life of their country are always handpicked by their husbands, or other men, who are already part of the political class of the State. The two last case studies shed light on local communities. In Brazil, comuneros and junta comunal allow for local communities to participate in the political organization of their local territories and directly impact political decision-making at the national level. The case of the French oversea territory of Guadeloupe showed the awareness of the local population, their concern about issues arising from the management of the territory’s energy resources or potential, and their political empowerment against the Jacobin centralizing tradition of Metropolitan (continental) France.

As a conclusion to the workshop, a collective masterclass was led by Antonella Romano (EHESS), which allowed the group to draw some of the main points of the rich encounter between various academic disciplines. Four main points must be addressed when studying political participation through the prism of areal studies:

  1. The first observation that emerged from this workshop is that there is almost no questioning of how area studies, and social sciences, are viewed elsewhere, in the other parts of the world. The contribution of Szilvia Nagy (CEU, Vienna) on this matter was hugely enriching, because it underlined the importance of local perspective on the researcher’s position, and identity. Research must be repositioned in the local context, in the society that is being studied, to take into account alternative ways of thinking.
  2. The second is the importance of including meta-geography in such studies. Researchers must question and challenge the definitions of the zones they are working on and never take them for granted and be aware of the meta-geographical discourse that gave birth to the areas and spaces they are studying at a precisely situated moment.
  3. Precision and academic rigor must be of particular importance to researchers, as they are the prerequisites that will prevent undue generalizations and, as much as possible, political instrumentalizations of their work.
  4. The last point addressed the question of the language. Researchers must use to the largest extent possible the deep knowledge of a language attached to their fieldwork. Researchers must be rigorous in their translation work and never erase the discrepancies and nuances of languages for the sake of translating. Publishing in the languages of their field of research is also giving to the local population the opportunity of appropriating knowledge acquired through those studies. The more diverse, the richer the research will be.

Visit CEFRES website for the program of the conference.

Citer ce billet
Claire Madl (2023, 30 octobre). Dynamics of Political Participation: Disciplinary Knowledge through the Prism of “Area Studies”. Forum Recherche du CEFRES. Consulté le 25 mai 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/mi9y