HomeObservation and its Angles

HomeObservation and its Angles

Observation and its Angles

L'observation et ses angles

La observación y sus ángulos

Call for papers from Espaces et Sociétés

Appel à articles d'Espaces et Sociétés

Convocatoria de artículos de Espaces et Sociétés

*  *  *

Published on Thursday, June 05, 2014


A fundamental tool in the approach to space and in the relationships that societies maintain with it, direct observation or in situ is only simple in appearance Espaces et Sociétés thus invites authors to think about the way they have mobilized observation in their research. More specifically, we wish to explore the hypothesis that the plurality of the theoretical and technical declensions of observation are particularly striking when this concerns spaces, their configurations and their uses. What status does observation grant to space? What are the original manners to grasp places and the social activities which produce them? What are the criteria of validity of this method? Which criticisms can we address to observation as a method ?



Observation and its Angles 

            A fundamental tool in approaches to space in its relationships with societies, direct or in situ observation is not always recognized as a valid, serious and rigorous method. We can postulate that it involves action (observation) of a subject (the observer) on an object (the situation observed) but these three terms are far from being explicit in research. That is why we invite considerations of viewing angles, both disciplinary and methodological as well as those of individuals, which create not only privileged perspectives but also blind spots.

            The emergence of modern science was based on the idea of distance between the observer and the observed, a distance ensuring the objectivity and neutrality of researchers on the assumption that their personal beliefs and interests did not affect their ability to account for a reality understood as exterior. However this assumption is challenged with the presence of observers at the heart of what they see and know intimately (humanity, society, the environment). This promiscuity affects the recognition of the humanities and social sciences by the so-called natural, exact or hard sciences that dominate the organization of research and the distribution of resources.

            Placing in question an objectivity guaranteed by exteriority has elicited different responses from across the humanities and social sciences, depending on the heterogeneous epistemological, ethical and methodological foundations of these disciplines including those particularly interested in the relationship between spaces and societies. One can mention, among others, the reflections of ethnology and sociology on the observer and their interactions with subjects and their environment, or those of geography on objects of observation, such as the landscape, lived space or territory. Architecture has developed methods and tools for the description and inventory of buildings and environments such as typology and morphological analysis. Psychology was inspired by animal ethology to design “in vitro” approaches to observe how individuals deal with things and / or in a group.

            In this context, qualifications emerge that clarify the position of the observer, the conditions of observation and specificity of materials collected: participant observation, floating, rooted or itinerant, punctual or recurring observation etc.  All these approaches rely on recording techniques that are also very different, following modes that range from the personal to the impersonal: diary, notebook or sketches, photo, audio or video, mapping, measuring flows, surveys or inventories, etc.

            Thus, if observation seems easy to access, it is simple only in appearance. It could be considered as the best expression of the inevitably situated nature of knowledge and researchers, and of the correlated necessity to make the conditions of the production of information apparent. Nevertheless, publications often do not clarify the positionality of the observer (what is the role of their age, gender, appearance and class, of their initial relation to the terrain, etc.?), the context of observation (under which conditions are they realized and with what tools?), or the definition of what is observed (people and/or places? facades, environments, practices, flows, trade...?).

            This call invites authors to reflect on how they have mobilized direct observation in the conduct of their research. In particular, we wish to explore the hypothesis that the plurality of theoretical variations and techniques of observation is particularly salient when it relates to spaces, their configurations and uses. What status does observation give to space?  Does the recording and mining of data relative to spaces pose specific challenges? What are the criteria for methodological rigour and validity? What do we choose to keep or abandon in the observations made, what techniques preserve these traces?

            We ask for reflections on the conceptual and technical choices made to observe and describe spaces at different scales: urban areas as a whole, places of residence, work and leisure, areas of daily travel or migration, even dreamt spaces, hated, fantasized... Are they creative ways to capture places and social activities? What is the scope of heuristic methods that articulate the observation to other modes of collecting and formatting data, such as statistics, photographs, maps, drawings, or literary descriptions? Is the observation of space necessarily visual or can it pass via other sensory faculties (hearing, smell, touch...)? Is observation able to report the passage of time at the different scales of social dynamics in the long term and if so, by what methods? Finally, is observation central or peripheral to other methods of acquiring information? What critiques could be made?  Are there situations in which observation cannot be used for practical or ethical reasons? Can we, should we watch everything?

Submission guidelines


Florence Bouillon et Jérôme Monnet


  • 15 November 2014: deadline for submission
  • 15 January 2015: authors’ information


Only digital files by e-mail at booth addresses

Potential authors with doubts on the relevance of their proposal may contact the co-ordinators


  • Only full articles are taken into account.
  • Papers should be under 42 000 signs (including spaces notes, references and appendixes (but not abstracts).
  • Advice to authors is included in each issue.
  • Advice to authors and presentation norms of manuscripts 

are available on the website: http://www.espacesetsocietes.msh-paris.fr/conseils.html 

Redaction committee

  • Jean-Yves Authier,
  • Christian Azaïs,
  • Bernard Barraqué,
  • Fatiha Belmessous,
  • Catherine Bidou-Zachariasen,
  • Maurice Blanc,
  • Florence Bouillon,
  • Alain Bourdin,
  • Olivier Chadoin,
  • Anne Clerval,
  • Jérôme Dubois,
  • Joëlle Jacquin,
  • Leïla Kebir
  • Albert Lévy,
  • Jérôme Monnet,
  • Stéphane Nahrath,
  • Jean Remy,
  • Thomas Sauvadet,
  • Stéphanie Vermeersch

International reading committee

Lauren Andres (Birmingham, Grande-Bretagne), Maria Encarnação Beltrão Sposito (São Paulo, Brésil), José Virgílio Borges Pereira (Porto, Portugal), Julie-Anne Boudreau (Montréal, Québec), Philippe Bourgois (Philadelphie, États-Unis), María A. Castrillo Romón (Valladolid, Espagne), Angela Giglia (Mexico, Mexique), Abdou Salam Fall (Dakar, Sénégal), Güzin Kaya (Istanbul, Turquie), Marc Levine (Milwaukee, États Unis), Beatriz Nates Cruz (Manizales, Colombie), Janice Elaine Perlman (New-York, États Unis), Caecilia Pieri (Beyrouth, Liban), Rainer Neef (Göttingen, Allemagne), Robert Shields (Alberta, Canada), Panayotis Tournikiotis (Athènes, Grêce).


  • Paris, France (75)


  • Saturday, November 15, 2014


  • observation, enquête, méthodes, espaces, observación, encuesta, método, espacios, observation, fieldwork, methods, spaces


  • Joëlle Jacquin
    courriel : Espacesetsocietes [at] msh-paris [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Joëlle Jacquin
    courriel : Espacesetsocietes [at] msh-paris [dot] fr


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

To cite this announcement

« Observation and its Angles », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, June 05, 2014, https://doi.org/10.58079/qaw

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search