HomeForms of Autonomy: Assembly Practices and Collective Decision-Making on The Margins of The State

HomeForms of Autonomy: Assembly Practices and Collective Decision-Making on The Margins of The State

Forms of Autonomy: Assembly Practices and Collective Decision-Making on The Margins of The State

Les formes de l’autonomie : pratiques d’assemblées et décisions collectives en marge de l’État

Revue Suisse d′Anthropologie Sociale et Culturelle (Tsantsa)

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Published on Monday, September 05, 2022


La Revue Suisse d′Anthropologie Sociale et Culturelle (Tsantsa) invite les personnes intéressées à soumettre des propositions d’articles pour le numéro spécial numéro 30. Ce numéro spécial souhaite rassembler des ethnographies qui mettent en lumière la diversité des aspirations et des modalités de mise en œuvre d'une autonomie aussi bien des individus que des groupes qu’ils constitutent vis à vis de l’État. Pour fonder ce travail comparatif, les contributions se pencheront sur la diversité des pratiques d’assemblées comme outil de décisions collectives, aussi bien en contexte autochtone que dans les mouvements sociaux qui sont à la recherche d’une autonomie vis-à-vis des États nations.



  • Paul Codjia (Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale – Collège de France)
  • Raphaël Colliaux (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú – Fyssen Foundation)


The works of Pierre Clastres (1974), James Scott ([2009] 2019), David Graeber (2004), or Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2019) are not only pieces of political anthropology that continue to fuel intense debates within the academic world concerning societies deemed “against the State” or “anarchic” (Allard 2020 ; Jabin 2021). These works are also abundantly read and discussed within activist collectives in Europe and North America, which seek in these writings material that might fuel their own political experiments: inventing new modalities of social organization, democratic participation, collective decision-making, and, especially, developing autonomy from States. Anthropological theories defending the idea of an “anarchic-egalitarian” ethos among the first human groups (Macdonald 2016), which would still apply to many Indigenous peoples (Scott 1990), have thereby contributed to setting up these societies—particularly Amazonian societies since Clastres—as models of resistance against the standardizing, centralizing, and dominating forces of States.

However, a number of studies have shown the importance of refraining from applying concepts such as equality or egalitarianism to these societies, which can mask situations that are in fact much more nuanced —starting with gendered power relations (Buitron and Steinmüller 2020).,Furthermore, it has been highlighted that the Amazonian groups have today taken up, in a postcolonial context, tools with statist origins such as a central government, a bureaucracy, or legal norms to demand their rights to political autonomy and gain legitimacy on the national and international stage (Rubenstein 2001; Killick 2008; Allard and Walker 2016; Codjia and Colliaux 2018; Codjia 2019; Buitron 2020). Conversely, the last twenty years have seen the emergence, in liberal democracies of the Northern hemisphere, of unprecedented organizational forms that seek to emancipate themselves from the “State form” (Aretxaga 2003) through the use of tools and practices of decentralized decision-making, sometimes inspired by some of the anarchist anthropological works mentioned above. Examples include the Occupy movements (Raza and Kurnik 2012), the Indignados in Spain (Flesher Fominaya 2014), Nuit debout (Maniglier 2016), the Zone à défendre (ZAD) at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Verdier 2021), the gilets jaunes movement (Hayat 2021) in France, and feminist movements in which questions tied to a specific conception of autonomy are central and fuel the reflections and practices of some of the aforementioned groups (Blackwell 2012; Portos 2019). These collectives seem to adopt opposing paths oscillating between the rejection and the reappropriation of tools with statist origins, thus forming groups “on the margins” of States, forced at times to reproduce statist forms in order to better emancipate themselves from them (Poole and Das 2004).

Despite these differences linked to historical and cultural context, our hypothesis is that these groups seem to be animated by similar concerns regarding the autonomy of both the collective and the individuals who make it up. Indeed, these groups first question the legitimacy of the States’ inherent centralism, in which decisions are imposed on all and in all places without regard for local wills and specificities. They then endeavor to proscribe the emergence of just such a centralized authority within their own group, through the invention of practices of assembly that cultivate the right of participation for all, respect individual positions, and constrain or prevent the stabilization of leadership in the hands of only a few of their members.

This special issue aims to gather together ethnographies that highlight the diversity of efforts and modalities of implementing this aspiration to this double autonomy. The ambition of this comparative undertaking is to elucidate practices that attempt to resolve the tension between individual autonomy and the desire to organize collectively in order to confront States. The aim is to develop an anthropological reflection on the more or less durable conditions of existence of these collective modes of being that declare themselves to be autonomous. As a basis for this comparison, this issue seeks to attend to the diversity of practices of assembly as a tool of collective decision-making specific to these groups and social movements. We propose the methodological hypothesis that it is precisely in these spaces that it is possible to observe the diversity of practices that these actors implement to adjust to, reject, or cope with collectively produced normativity, as much in terms of values as in communal decisions that give form to a group with fluid edges. In renewing the comparative approach introduced by Marcel Detienne (2003) on these questions, this special issue proposes to ethnographically examine, based on cases from various geographical areas, these groups’ decision-making mechanisms, both in Indigenous contexts and in social movements that seek autonomy from States. To do this, we invite contributors to this issue to consider two complementary axes of research.

Axis 1. Ethnographies of speaking and meeting proceedings

First, we wish to group together ethnographies of collective decision-making mechanisms, a phenomenon of remarkable complexity that fully justifies a comparative perspective. Far from being the result of chimerical individual rationalities of an economic kind (Coleman 1966), these decisions are based on the confrontation of ideas and the adjusting of moral values, but also on relations of power instituted by differences in oratorical and rhetorical skills (Hall 2015), or on phenomena of enmity or affinity between members of the assembly. Though these collectives recognize everyone’s right to speak, not all speech has the same force or contributes in the same way to the final decision. Additionally, in these assemblies that claim to be autonomous, how are the exchange of ideas and the coordination of viewpoints organized? How do members of the assembly come to a final decision?

Further, if collective decision-making requires members of the assembly to implement that which has been “decided together” (Urfalino 2021), what relations do they have to this obligation? Is it acceptable to ultimately contravene it? How do individuals, themselves claiming an autonomy valorized by the other members of the group, make do with such a normative frame that may be more or less temporary or constraining? This normative framework is often expressed through the desire for consensus, the preferred and valued decision-making method within these groups. However, this consensus is often only “apparent” (Urfalino 2006 ; 2007), as the absence of verbal opposition when making a decision does not necessarily mean the absence of disagreements. How are these unspoken disagreements expressed and what impact does this have on group dynamics? What room is there for dissent within these assemblies, which is nevertheless considered as constitutive of the vitality of statist democracies (Przeworski 2011)?

Attention can also be paid to the linguistic devices used by speakers in assemblies in order to construct discourses that produce support and authority (Morton 2014). The dynamics of speech acts and the ways in which assembly members speak produce shared attitudes and discursive codes (Brenneis and Myers 1984) that it will be interesting to highlight. It is this common ground, in perpetual construction and reconstruction, that can contribute to legitimize collective decisions.

Axis 2. Genealogy of assembly practices

As part of the second research axis, contributions to this issue will attempt to inscribe these practices of assembly and collective decision-making in their historical and cultural context, in a way that brings out their genealogies and particular characteristics (Boholm, Henning and

Krzyworzeka 2013). An examination of the history of these assemblies will enable an understanding of the origins of demands for autonomy, what being autonomous means for each of these collectives, and the distinctive relations these groups deploy with statist institutions. This cultural and historical contextualization may also be a way to deepen the analysis of the discourses. In meeting, the authority of the speakers may be based on ideologies of language specific to the group under study (Silverstein 1979; Morton 2014) or on a phenomenon of interdiscursivity, as speeches made in the past may be mobilized again to legitimize an opinion (Bauman 2005; Hill and Irvine 1993).

A sociological description of the contexts in which the meetings take place may be useful for understanding the dynamics of the assembly members’ speech, and of their expressions of support or rejection in the debates. Members positions may, for example, arise from political rivalries, institutionalized structures (electoral stakes) or even kinship relations.

Fundamentally, the ethnographies of these autonomous assembly practices brought together in this issue will seek to interrogate forms of sociality—both existing and demanded— that emerge from such groupings, and to question the relevance, for the analysis of these collectives, of the foundational idea of sociology and Durkheimian anthropology, which postulates the necessary existence of a totalizing entity—the society, the State, the nation—distinct from the sum of the individuals who form it, in order to theorize the political. The formation of “assemblies” presupposes, at the very least, the existence of human collectives capable of forming a collective will, capable of subjugating individual opinions and aspirations. Indeed, it is a question of a collective mode of being that, precisely, from Notre-Dame-des-Landes to Amazonian villages, is in no way easy and is a source of discomfort for the actors themselves. This issue of The Swiss Journal of Sociocultural Anthropology aims to highlight a diversity of political praxis, more or less objectified by actors themselves, that show contrasting forms of quests for autonomy.


Articles can be submitted in English or in French. Abstracts of 200 words (in the language of the text), accompanied by 4-6 keywords, are expected

before 09/30/2022.

Authors will receive a notification of acceptance or rejection by 10/15/2022.

Manuscripts must be submitted by 01/31/2023. They should not exceed 7000 words, including notes and references.

Guidelines for authors

The issue will be published by the end of 2023.

Contacts: Paul CODJIA : paul.codjia@hotmail.fr ; Raphaël COLLIAUX : raphael.colliaux@ehess.fr


  • Friday, September 30, 2022


  • autonomie, assemblée, état


  • Matthieu Bolay
    courriel : editors [at] tsantsa [dot] ch
  • Paul Codija
    courriel : paul [dot] codjia [at] hotmail [dot] fr
  • Raphaël Colliaux
    courriel : raphael [dot] colliaux [at] ehess [dot] fr

Information source

  • Matthieu Bolay
    courriel : editors [at] tsantsa [dot] ch


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Forms of Autonomy: Assembly Practices and Collective Decision-Making on The Margins of The State », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, September 05, 2022, https://calenda.org/1014094

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