Exploring Collaborations between Researchers, Activists and Citizens

Conference Description

As authoritarianism grows across Southeast Asia (Case 2019) and some forms of “violent neoliberalism” (Springer 2015) penetrate the governance of environments, cities, workplaces and labour markets, dissident voices sometimes emerge from unexpected places. To study these voices and examine the movements that are taking shape involves tackling the question of the researcher’s engagement in a particularly pressing way. While this question has become a vital one in social sciences over the past decades (e‧g. Kirsch 2018, Low & Engle Merry 2010, Ortner 2019, Salemink 2016, Speed 2006), it is even more inescapable when it comes to studying alterpolitics (Ciavolella & Boni 2015), that is, movements that struggle to bring about alternatives to established powers such as States, transnational agencies or financial market players. Similarly, activists and all who fight for their rights might consider what it means for them to connect to researchers, as well as to engage in intercultural and ideo-praxical translations.

This online conference will reflect upon different forms that research on and with social movements can take. We’ll think together through questions and dilemmas that are likely to arise along the way. How might lines between researchers and activists become blurred or, on the contrary, be sharply recast? How do these different actors influence each other and their ways of conceiving their undertakings? What are conflicting expectations that might emerge and how can they be handled? Rather than referring to fixed, generic ethical guidelines, we think that the most fruitful way to learn how to navigate such delicate collaborations is by considering people’s experiences and their shared reflexivities. For many people across Southeast Asia it is becoming increasingly dangerous to express disagreement, so such an exchange only appears more urgent.

By proposing different formats for presentation and discussion —panels, roundtables, Focus Group Discussions and posters— we wish to favour the participation of people from both academic and activist backgrounds and to provide space for a variety of approaches. While we consider, along with many others (e‧g. Low and Engle Merry 2010) that researchers always already write from a particular, unneutral position, we rely upon the tools of reflexivity and contextualization to approach the study of social movements in a scientific, but also committed, manner.


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Ciavolella, Riccardo, and Stefano Boni. 2015. “Aspiring to alterpolitics: Anthropology, radical theory, and social movements.” Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 72: 3–8.

Kirsch, Stuart. 2018. Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text. University of California Press.

Low, Setha M., and Sally Engle Merry. 2010. “Engaged Anthropology: Diversity and Dilemmas: An Introduction to Supplement 2.” Current Anthropology 51, no. 2 (October): 203–26.

Ortner, Sherry. 2019. “Practicing Engaged Anthropology.” Anthropology of This Century 25. http://aotcpress.com/articles/practicing-engaged-anthropology/.

Salemink, Oscar, ed. 2016. Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia. Bangkok: Silkworm Books.

Speed, Shannon. 2006. “At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Toward a Critically Engaged Activist Research.” American Anthropologist 108 (1): 66–76.

Springer, Simon. 2015. Violent Neoliberalism – Development, Discourse, and Dispossession in Cambodia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.