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Epistemologies of the Souths

Thematic issue of the journal Interventions économiques /Papers in Political Economy , with guest editors:

  • Sid Ahmed SOUSSI, Professor at the Dept. of Sociology at UQAM, Co-Head of the Research Area on Work of the Center for Research on Social Innovations (CRISES), Université du Québec à Montréal

  • Yousef SADIK, Professor of Sociology at Mohammed V University of Rabat, President of the Observatory of Social Transformations

  • Jean-Louis LAVILLE, Professor of Sociology and holder of the Chair in Social Economy at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, Paris

1. Perspectives

Are Southern Realities Soluble in Northern Thinking? Can we understand and explain the social phenomena of these realities with the logics historically produced and culturally marked by this thought without grasping the contextual alterities and endogenous causalities? If one postulates that "to understand" is "to grasp the whole" - to use the Kuhnian formulation - then these alterities and causalities become obsolete because of the universal epistemological validity of such a postulate. If "understanding means first to understand each other, get along" (Gadamer 1996: 198), this would amount to a task of elucidation, even explanation, of social phenomena, for oneself and for others: a kind of work of thinking about itself and language about itself (Vergnioux 2003). Understanding and explaining would therefore participate in an act of reproduction of thought, while being anchored in realities that are themselves at the origin of this thought.

If this epistemological postulate subordinates the thought - understanding and explanation - of social phenomena to the local conditions of their production and reproduction, it must be admitted that this is just as true of societies in the South and of the grasping of social realities - and others - who are theirs. In the last instance, it is this same epistemological postulate, so consensual in northern societies, that leads to ontologically recognizing the epistemological validity of the thought of the realities of the South produced by societies of the South. Understanding and explaining are combined in this thinking to account for the mechanisms of reproduction and devices of social innovations produced and reinstituted by these societies. Can we continue to consider as universal references the explanatory theoretical models conceived by Northern societies and adapted to their own realities?

The Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2011, 2016) was one of the first to formalize a reasoned call to end postmodern utopias and build a real research perspective that is not limited to prolonging, criticizing or to challenging the notions and paradigms of which the conception and the circulation are assured by the researchers of the North. This trend feeds the Western social sciences rather than challenging them. "There was a time when the Eurocentric critical theory" possessed "a vast set of terms that marked its difference with conventional or bourgeois theories:" socialism "," communism "," dependence "," class struggle "," alienation " , "Commodity fetishism", "mass front", etc. As described by Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2011), "During the last thirty years, the Eurocentric critical tradition seems to have lost" its "own terms and is distinguished from conventional or bourgeois theories only by the adjectives it uses to subvert the very meaning of the terms it borrows from these theories."

Applied to different phenomena, certain notions have difficulties in covering particular realities, especially those of the South, but also those of the South that survive in Western countries such as suburbs, migrants, unemployed, etc. The researchers, challenged by these spaces, these categories, are often led to use current paradigms, because they are dominant, paradigms whose main virtue is to facilitate communication with the international scientific community. In critical perspectives, we associate qualifiers without being able to build alternative epistemologies able to bring new names to new realities, but also, and especially to develop innovative approaches and scientific approaches, because they are different. In urban studies the territories are qualified between the rural and the urban of the periurban; in economics, the sector which escapes from taxation is qualified of informal, the elements of salaried relations that cannot be qualified are considered as gray zones, and finally, in political science the newly democratic countries are qualified as a post-authoritarian...

The questions raised here are not only intended to consider, with Boaventura de Sousa Santos, that "global justice is not possible without global cognitive justice" (2016: 340). Even if it relies strongly on this thesis, by making it its own, this thematic issue is not only intended to challenge the long-standing relations of cognitive domination by the North on the South, visions which are regularly denounced by postcolonial studies (Bhabha, Appadurai, Chakrabarty, Mbembe and others) echoing the non-aligned intellectuals who preceded them in the 1970s (Amin, Abdel-Malek, Said in particular). This issue aims to lay the groundwork for a modest, but genuine leap in quality by opening up certain horizons of the social sciences hitherto unwilling to recognize the need to question the rigidity of the epistemological foundations not so much because of their occidento-centric character, but rather because of the very limits of their explanatory capacity in the face of the immense complexity of the realities of Southern societies.

We need to admit that the epistemologies of the South are not a recrimination in favor of any region of the world. It is essential to rule out any misunderstanding: the South is not a geographical entity. Certainly, the populations that have been mostly affected by the inequalities and discrimination of capitalism and colonialism live in the southern hemisphere. But the South also exists in the North, just as there are oligarchies in Southern countries that benefit from the prevailing order. The intellectual tools needed to rethink global justice and emancipation therefore address the entire planet and cannot be approached as the advocacy of a single path, which would be a counter-symmetrical project to today’s neoliberalism. Rather, the incompleteness of Eurocentrism is confirmed by the "invisible relationship" that has developed between theory and practice, with most emancipatory movements not being anticipated, nor revolutions in the former communist countries or in the Arab countries, nor the citizen rallies of the Indignés or the Occupy movement, nor the indigenous movements (Laville, 2011).

This call for papers thus calls for contributions that go in the direction of these methodological orientations. They must be part of a hermeneutics suggesting to study the emancipatory potential of a great diversity of alternative practices that are born in a capitalist-dominated system, according to Mauss (1987). Even if they are constantly at risk of marginalization or recuperation, they nonetheless indicate that, to quote the famous formula of the Social Forum, ‘another world is possible and it is already present in a multitude of experiences, which are certainly fragile but also utopian and realistic’. These papers can therefore propose works that are both empirical, based on field research, and theoretical work supported by targeted research results or synthesis papers. Particular attention will be paid to contributions favoring epistemological dialogue as much on the basis of the questions raised here as on the bases favored by the authors.

Contributions may cover topics of their choice, provided that they fit within the framework of the open epistemological debate presented here. As an illustration, some themes correspond very well to the questions posed here. This is the case, for example, with issues concerned with the world of work, such as trade union action, the informal economy in some societies in the South; or themes tackling the issues of social movements, civil society, democracy and other issues related to politics as they may manifest themselves in the complex contexts of societies in the South. These are only a few themes with that would be proposed in response to this call.


Appadurai A., 2001 [1996]. Après le colonialisme. Les conséquences culturelles de la globalisation. Paris, Payot.

Berthelot, J.-M., (dir.), Épistémologie des sciences sociales, Paris : PUF, 2001.

Bhabha H. K., 2007 [1994]. Les lieux de la culture. Une théorie postcoloniale. Paris, Payot.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, « Épistémologies du Sud », Études rurales [En ligne], 187 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2011, consulté le 4 mai 2017. URL :

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Épistémologies du Sud. Mouvements citoyens et polémique sur la science, Paris, Deslée de Brouwer, 2016.

Chakrabarty D., 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Foucault, M. Les Mots et les choses, Paris : Gallimard, 1966.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1996, Vérité et méthode, Paris, Seuil.

Gusdorf, G., Introduction aux sciences humaines. Essai critique sur leurs origines et leur développement, nouvelle édition, Paris : Ophrys, 1974.

Le Blanc, G., L’Esprit des sciences humaines, Paris : Vrin, 2005.

M’Bembe, A., De La Postcolonie, essai sur l'imagination politique dans l'Afrique contemporaine. Paris, Karthala, 2000.

Passeron J.-C., « L’espace mental de l’enquête I » « Les terrains de l’enquête » Enquête, n° 1, 1995.

Passeron J.-C., “L’espace mental de l’enquête II” in “Interpréter, surinterpréter” Enquête, n° 3, 1996.

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Richard, J.-F, 1990, Les activités mentales, Paris, Colin

Strauss, C. Lévi., “Critères scientifiques dans les sciences humaines et sociales ”, in. C. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale [1973], Paris : Plon, 1996.

Vergnioux, Alain, 2003, L’explication dans les sciences, De Boeck Supérieur.

Winch, P., L’Idée d’une science sociale et sa relation à la philosophie, traduit, annoté et présenté par M. Le Du, Paris : Gallimard, 2009.

2. Paper proposals should be sent to:

3. Paper proposals should include:

  • Names of authors

  • Titles and institutional information

  • Address, phone, email,

  • Title of the proposed paper

  • 5 keywords

  • The abstract of the proposed paper should be between 800 and 1000 words (including objective of the paper, problematic, methodology, main results and theoretical and-or practical implications.

4. Deadlines

Call for papers

February 2018

Reception of proposals

March 16, 2018

Response to authors on their proposals

April 6, 2018

Reception of papers

July 15, 2018

Review of papers

For September 15, 2018

Review results transmitted to authors

October 1, 2018

Date for final version of papers

November 25, 2018


December 2018

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