Our missions are to better identify the movements, the objects of their struggles and the responses provided by the governments. Our programme is based on fundamental research. We always define the subject, its problematic and the methodology ourselves. This methodology is based on the work in local languages, the attaching of great importance to the “inner” point of view and everyday situations, multiple checking and crossing of information received, and comparative perspective through collaboration. We can also carry out quantitative work, validate statistical data, assess the impacts of regulations, evaluate the pressures exerted by social and environmental changes, set up new measurement techniques and models for better understanding the trajectories of planned projects.

In conjunction with the production of scientific data, we provide access to the results to the wide audience and to the actors concerned. These actors can include the alter-political groups, the local populations and the persons in charge of public policy. Regarding the relationship with development professionals and funding providers, we will particularly work with mediators situated at the crossroads of the developed world and social sciences. These interactions (through brainstorming sessions, for example, or in establishing follow-up and feedback procedures) are particularly relevant to enable mutual collaboration between the two professions (Olivier de Sardan 2005: 212-215).

1. Researching on Multiple Political Definitions

Southeast Asian societies are characterized by a complex embedment and confrontations of world views and it is difficult to spot closed and fixed ontological types (for several propositions see Kaj Arhem and Guido Sprenger 2016: 16). Moreover, in each multi-scale process, multiple political ontologies enter in contact and by interconnecting through difference, these frictions generate misunderstandings, unpredictable and creative movements, actions, and effects (Tsing 2005). However, besides the divergent ontologies and potential conflictual definitions of scale, these worlds formulate different conceptions of what is politics.

As an example, for animic-type societies like Kanekes of West Java, people and other entities come into being together, co-emerge through interaction and have relationally performed agencies: their world is more enacted than represented (Verran 1998). One of the effects of the continuities between mind and body, personhood and collective organization, social group and the universe, and of the hierarchy between these relationship ensembles, is that the politician as subject is subordinated to the authority provided collectively. This authority is often polysemic: it ranges from the faculty of authorship, which is linked to charisma, to the authorisation to represent the group, which is the minimal definition of what we call political leadership. This authority can be doubled by other sources of legitimacy, for example potency. The person is then imbued with a particular concentration of what is vernacularly conceived as the flow of life, universe vibration, or divine energy; all contents that link the world’s elements together and operate hierarchy among them. Therefore, in contexts where power legitimacy is dominated by potency and authority, political representation is inherently relational.

In the course of onto-political encounters, we wonder how and why diversity, divergence and heterogeneity are essentialised as difference, that is to say interpreted separately from the other relational ensembles that compose their society (see Ales & Barraud 2001: 36). Oppositely, how is difference rendered invisible or singular? In between these processes, we observe the existence of crossroads: places where the worlds partially connect (Strathern 2004 [1991]) and participate in the social life construction in the same institutions, for example those of the state.

2. Scaling the Programmes

To apprehend how do scales are defined, do ignore, include or exclude each other, intersect and enter into friction, are the arena of hegemoniality and resistance, the notion of scale requires an effort of definition. This work of defining scales is particularly delicate because of the difficulty of identifying discrete entities, the porosities existing between social groups, and the political issues surrounding the processes of normalization, legitimation, labelling, valuation and exclusion. It will be a question of taking into account this lability of the groups by crossing points of views within the groups, to understand their logics and their strategies, to apprehend the socio-political and historical conditions of their development, and to probe the state and global frameworks that define their repertoires of action.

Then, we assume that scale is always a political construction. The definition of the local as a scale can be the object of controversies among people of a same social group, between elites, marginal members or external individual and collective agents. While the discourses of national development decision-makers are essentially state-centred, the projects actually implemented show a strong proliferation of supra-national entities (NGOs, global development agencies such as USAID, the World Bank, the United Nations) and a very strong personalization in the implementation of projects at the local level, with the interference of established clientelist networks that concentrate the capture of funds, the collection of resources and the distribution of aid. Therefore, state is in some cases personified by particular people, like leaders or political intermediaries, and the global is sometimes identified with elements from the state, for example agents who act at the crossroads of public-private activities. This process of personification is one of the sources of clientelist practices, and it provides them with their functioning and legitimacy levers.

The social construction of scale traces the limits to multi-scale rhetoric. Anthropologists, particularly the current known as “nomadology”, developed by anthropologists with a libertarian inclination, have shown the interest and the limits that there may be in bringing together studies on small societies that practice modes of resistance and transnational social movements, such as those claiming to be anti-globalizationists. To qualify the idea that these societies would manifest an exit from the space of the state and globalization, representing a kind of “alterotopy”, Riccardo Ciavolella (2013) has shown through the ethnography of the Fulani of Mauritania that nomadic peoples had fully integrated “modernity”, while they strove to surpass or bypass their marginalization by developing new forms of political representation within existing institutions of power.

Finally, in addition to the multi-scale dimension of the common issues that compose the daily management of politics (think for example of supra-territorial ecological phenomena, like climate change), the political organization, public policies, and political action at the local scale are not inherently more likely to have desired social and ecological effects than activities organized at other scales (Brown and Purcell 2005). Re-localisation and short circuits generally favour sustainability and popular sovereignty, but the unequal resources between the regions and the interdependence between scales may require forms of universal solidarity. Moreover, the conditions for sustainability don’t automatically lie on nationalisation nor privatisation, but rather on socialisation of the common resources, eventually at the transnational level. Then, we argue that it is often at the intersection of the different scales that sustainability is conditioned.

By observing the multi-scalar options embedded by a multitude of Southeast Asian social groups and by favouring a dialogue between them we hope to explore the possibilities for alternative programs of preservation, adaptation, or transformation. Given that these groups are also development entrepreneurs, their study can directly impact the development models implemented by States. To bring to light these potentialities we work on two concomitant plans. The first aims to shed light on the characteristics of groups hitherto barely visible: their political agency, their historicity, and the particular forms of sovereignty they exercise. These characteristics are levers of legitimacy for undertaking collective discussions on public policies. From these levers, we argue that the multi-scalar articulation deployed by the groups can enrich the action repertoire of development institutions, by promoting what can be called an “economy of sustainability”.

3. Ethnographing the alter-political fabric

The scale of the groups determines their modalities of action and construction. In the case of individuals delegated to the management of relations between small societies and exterior entities, one can observe the pre-eminence of complex internal codes and a statutory hierarchy, limiting any frontal discord and favouring accommodation. In the case of national militant movements, such as the Anarcho-syndicalists in Indonesia, we observe a strategy of confrontation developed around the violence/non-violence dialectic, intended to reach audiences of plural sensibilities (Facal & Estrelita 2020). Activists of these movements usually ambition to translate the desire for alter-politics felt by a fragmented majority of the population, who is expressed silently or in disguised forms. This translation is designed to produce common sense in order to make the projects of the social movements politically intelligible to a wide audience. Within transnational organizations, the activists intend to transform society from below, through education, training and the transfer of practical knowledge.

The modes of organization and action of the movements are structured around political relations which are intended to be horizontal, or hierarchical but not stratified, based on popular and direct political participation. These forms of participation enhance, and even build on, the individual experiences of members, leveraging the capacity for innovation and other personal resources that allow the group to acquire, preserve or reinforce rooting m in society. The taking into account of subjectivities will be informed by the study of the emotions manifested in the course of militant action. These correspond to sensitivities forged throughout militant careers (punctuated by entries, attachments, retraining and exits) but also during the social trajectory and emotional history (Traïni 2010), often more decisive for militant engagement than individual utility or strategic springs.

Common mobilization transforms activists through ritualized engagement. This emphasis is reflected in the place given to events organized by the movements, whether they have a festive (concert and performances), formative (practice workshops) or protest (demonstrations and petitions) vocation. Risky forms of militancy, such as civil disobedience, help to strengthen the bonds of membership in the militant group, make disengagement complex, and in the long run nurture a culture of mobilization. For some religiously founded militant groups, the testing of activists in their commitments sometimes conceals a quasi-initiatory form, while helping to solidify ties to the group.

To study these phenomena, the classic tools of anthropology, interviews and participant observation, are privileged modes of access to the different facets of mobilizations. But faced with a process that is being formulated, more open and engaged forms of investigation are needed.

4. Fostering collaborative Science

Our objective is to develop a dialogue between the populations, academia, public institutions and development agencies which are interested in footbridges gathering contrasted cosmo-visions and plural relations to alterity. Based on qualitative ethnographic-style fieldwork led by a network of regional Work Groups, we develop a database on the alter-political groups, constituted by rough data, study notes, working papers, articles, yearbooks, online interviews, virtual and physical conferences. The observatory is then designed to serve both as a discussion platform and as a source for knowledge diffusion.

  • The potential missions are defined jointly with the studied groups, case by case, with the following propositional order:
  1. Collaborative road map: the legitimate resource actors for the social group are solicited in order to conduct interviews, the research methods are defined on the basis of reciprocal proposals, the guidelines are adjusted collectively at each stage of the survey (implementation of protocols, data collection, exploitation and ownership of part of the results, public promotion, restitution to communities), the inaudible segments (women, young, elderly) are involved in collective discussions.
  2. Impact study: on the basis of systematic qualitative and quantitative surveys and following their needs and demands we provide prospective and impact studies of the groups’ actions. We take into account the following indicators, to be adjusted in consultation with the groups: robust monitoring carried out by the action committees, sustainability of the practices implemented, degree of emancipation achieved according to the groups’ standards.
  3. Diagnosis of projects: development of strengths, identification of obstacles encountered, possible solutions to explore collectively.
  4. Analysis of the public policies framework: watch over current programs, link to the governments’ political and economic guidelines, identification of decision-making levers, taking in consideration the clientelist networks determining the implementation of programs, consideration of the role played by para-, private or semi-private states.
  5. Translation between the groups and development institutions: interviews with programs’ representatives, presentation of survey results, triangular discussion involving groups.
  6. Support for projects, if required by the groups: identification of vernacular know-how, translation and valorisation of the local projects, implementation of inclusionary solutions.
  7. Citizen expertise and knowledge transfer: the framing of the projects is realized on the basis of public discussions (citizen consultations, round tables, forums), with platforms already mobilized by the groups themselves and targeting a variety of audiences. The role of partners like Pondok Perancis (Malaysia) and the UNESCO chair on social practices in intercultural communication  & Social Cohesion (UKM, KITA, Malaysia) is decisive in mobilizing citizen interfaces. These platforms can intervene at the various stages of the research projects. They are intended to a wide variety of audiences, with the possibility of online publication with regional publishers and in the vernacular languages. The training workshops for citizen scientific research have an interactive dimension, the theme of alter-politics being conducive to a cross-reflection on citizen sciences and commitment of the researchers.
  8. Ethics: since the study cases may blur the frontier between humans, non-humans, and environments (ecological and technological), they lead to develop an embedded field of ethics which encompasses bio-ethics, geo-ethics and eco-ethics. A charter will be developed in the next future, in collaboration with the different interlocutors participating to the observatory.

5. Contributing to the epistemological reflection on alter-politics 

Examining the alternative movements to political projects conveyed by states, transnational agencies and financial market actors, many works have brought about a circularity of values and programs between anthropology, radical political theory and social movements in order to apprehend and construct other ways of thinking and doing politics. Reciprocal influences are reflected in the conceptualization of themes such as egalitarianism, deliberative assembly, consensus and solidarity. The militant categories borrow from the social sciences, with the concepts of culture, hybridity, network, widely mobilized in the reflections of alter. In turn, inspired by the political anthropology of Edward E. Evans-Pritchard (1956) or Pierre Clastres (1974), anarchist, libertarian and post-Marxist anthropologists such as James Ferguson (1985), James C. Scott (1998) and David Graeber (2007), mobilize pastoral, nomadic, acephalic or “against the state” societies as counter-examples of political modernity. In return, anthropological and sociological studies are used by alternative movements as levers of legitimacy and activist information tools, to supervise their activities, to challenge the public authorities, and even for political mobilization.

These dynamics converge with open science and participatory science projects, which increasingly influence conventional scientific practices (Guillaud et al. 2017). The intersections between social mobilizations and the epistemology of our discipline also resonate with the challenges faced by scientists to defend their professional interests in a context of increased political and institutional constraints, leading them on the one hand to better promote their transfer activities (Gozlan 2015) but also to act to transform their concrete professional condition. More fundamentally still, some researchers are asking the question of whether the anthropology of alternative political forms should turn into anthropology for these alternative forms (Shear and Burke 2013) and thus take a militant position.

Therefore, the conditions for the application of research are related to the conditions of involvement for research. This articulated is endorsed by the social scientist as an interpret-translator. We mobilise this role at three levels: in a participatory research framework, drawing on the political knowledge and know-how of the social groups studied; in the course of a reflection on public policy models, without however engaging in action research; in the scientific restitution of the intelligibility of the actions and meanings studied, against the backdrop of the question of the conditions for an involved anthropology. From the objectives of pooling knowledge and sharing know-how, the status of the social scientist as interpreter will be put at the service of the emergence of new forms of political practice, which could give rise to reflection on choice of layout and management. However, the operationality objectives cited in this project will depend on the debates conducted with the alter-political groups and the populations themselves, their expectations, their resources and their mobilization capacities. Recognizing that the establishment of participatory mechanisms does not automatically amount to laying the foundations for sustainability and that the size of projects (Demeulenaere et al. 2017) and their form must be adapted to the situation, the research will ultimately aim at better knowledge populations, their relationship to themselves and to the world.

Moreover, participating in the transformation of the devices that it analyses, social science must necessarily undertake a reflective process, reveal its subjective biases and allow a contextualized analysis of its conclusions, in order to put in place the conditions for its autonomy vis-à-vis to the militant discourse. However, we are in favour of intervention-research, when social scientists become activists for the place of research within the social space and to contribute to a more just and sustainable society (Marcel and Pichon 2019: 89), implementing what some call “responsible scientific research” (Sciences citoyennes 2015). On this condition, it acquires a double validity, scientific and social, that is to say that it co-produces knowledge rooted in a place and at a particular moment in history.