English overview | Lines of research

Line 1 - Ethnography of domination: Power, emancipation, subjectivity

Coordination : Isabelle Clair and Benoît Trépied

This line focuses on all forms of domination by studying a plurality of areas of differentiation (gender, class, race, etc.). Here, the notion of domination includes different ways of conceptualising social hierarchies (power relations, social relations, inequalities). This line endeavours to engage with them primarily through an ethnographical approach, which allows access not only to the forms of interactions in power relations, but also to the ways in which subjective commitments, resistance, and emancipation take shape in ordinary practices. It then becomes a question of studying the structures of domination, as well as the capacity to act and resist and the degrees of autonomy, action, and movement that subjects may have within these structures. Without ignoring the economic, legal, normative and other constraints that define the bounds of possibility, our analyses discover forms of power or resistance that are not limited to organised or politicised collective mobilisations.

A meeting point

The ethnography of domination today serves as a meeting point for the members of IRIS who are developing a political anthropology or a critical sociology. It is at once an object of transdisciplinary discussion permitting the sharing and contrasting of experiments in the field and various bibliographical corpuses, and a methodological position shared across disciplines: it is a question of understanding domination based on the localised observation of its ordinary manifestations. Ethnography is not the only way to access the multiple forms of domination, and much of our research uses other empirical methods. However, we want to emphasise the specific contributions of the ethnographic approach. First, the attention to long-term processes and singular lives makes it possible to understand hierarchical systems at the local level in their always unique forms. It also highlights the forms of resistance (but also of reaction, initiative, consent, and membership) that are the least visible or least conventional, and prevents subjectivities from being reduced to the power relations in which they are shaped. Finally, ethnographic studies, designed as socialising and engaging experiences, elicit reflection on the political effects of the relationship between the subject and object of knowledge—between the researcher and those whom he or she studies—, from solidarity to theoretical violence.

Areas of research

Line 1 is deployed through the exploration of several individual and collective areas of research that resonate with each other. This large body of work will establish a dialogue between a broad diversity of research locations, with the main hubs being France (urban and rural), Oceania (New Caledonia, Vanuatu), Africa (Maghreb, Central Africa), Asia (Iran, India), and Latin America. Overcoming the presumed limits of ‘cultural areas’ is at the heart of the IRIS paradigm, without ignoring the role that these cultural areas have in social situations and on the way we study them.

Subjectivities and ordinary forms of resistance

We are interested in the way subjectivities and ordinary forms of resistance are manifested in less-politicised groups or groups that are undergoing politicisation. This is the case for situations of migration and postcolonial situations, with all that they imply for understanding the state and the nation today.

Gender, sexuality, race, and social class in power relations

We are also interested in the links between gender, sexuality, race, and social class in power relations, with attention paid to a variety of empirical objects: the recomposition of social classes and social mobility, relations to work, the ethics of free things or of illegality, the ethnography of racialised social relations, of sexual violence, and of conjugal norms.

Law and the lives of individuals

A collection of works focuses on the way in which the law enters the lives of individuals through the study of conflicts and mobilisations in the administrative and legal domains by paying particular attention to environmental mobilisations, healthcare issues at work, and relations to taxes, and by reflecting on punishment and impunity.

Ethnography of situations of violence

Other studies aim specifically to approach situations of physical and political violence from an ethnographical perspective.

Ordinary places and objects in social and power relations

Finally, a series of works delves into the way in which individuals take charge of places and objects, in particular ordinary or everyday objects, focusing on social and power relations, in particular in relation to ‘heritage’.

Sorbonne Paris Nord

Bâtiment Recherche Sud
5 cours des Humanités
93322 Aubervilliers cedex

UFR SMBH 74 rue Marcel Cachin, 93017 Bobigny cedex



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