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Home“Low-noise” mobilizations: New promises of change?

“Low-noise” mobilizations: New promises of change?

Mobilisations « à bas bruits » : de nouvelles promesses de changement ?

Engaging with a concept in the African context

Discuter et mettre à l’épreuve un concept dans le contexte africain

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Published on Friday, April 26, 2019


À travers le colloque international organisé à Dakar du 18 au 20 décembre 2019, nous faisons le pari du dialogue interne aux sciences sociales et celui de la comparaison entre différents pays, notamment d’Afrique pour éclairer le concept de « mobilisation ». Le pari épistémologique est en effet qu’un renouvellement des problématiques sur la mobilisation peut provenir du pluralisme disciplinaire et du décentrement du regard, ou de la confrontation des contextes. Les divers éclairages (sociologiques, anthropologiques, économiques, politistes, historiques) sur les différentes mobilisations sont les bienvenus, portant sur des objets sociaux pluriels (ONG, État, développement local, réseaux, groupes locaux…), dans les domaines variés de la santé, du travail, de l’urbanisme, de la politique, des arts, des cultures ou de la religion, selon trois axes de réflexion.


Symposium in Senegal (Dakar, UCAD, 18-20 December 2019) 


The concept of mobilization has long been over-determined by its relationship to politics. However, there has been a certain de-legitimization of politics as a vehicle for social change (fall of the Berlin Wall, rise of authoritarian populism, etc.). At the same time, the somewhat "routinized" field of the sociology of mobilizations has also begun to build ready-to-think, standardized phenomena. Diversified economic and cultural practices carry egalitarian and emancipatory (or on the contrary conservative) dimensions whose political significance is neither a prerequisite nor an unavoidable consequence: they relate to the habits and lifestyles that we assume are partially autonomous from the political field, in any case without having to be positioned hic et nunc with regard to politics. On the other hand, contestation is not always a synonymous with mobilization: demonstrative violence and media campaigns can challenge institutions or public authorities, without always threatening traditional social relations, these hierarchies and social dominations at the heart of lifestyles and well summarized by the Anglo-Saxon triptych: race, class and gender. The question of lifestyles therefore goes beyond the targeting of the institutional framework, since contesting and subverting are not always synonymous: if it is not a question of pitting them against each other, would there also be discreet ways to make things change?

It is just as much in forms of counter-power, breaches, counter-culture and flaws, that one can grasp a deviant form, sometimes alternative, original or minority without being duly "contentious”. The political and historical analysis of social movements, the socio-economic or socio-anthropological approach can be based on an understanding of emotions, the role of memory, forms of sociability and mutual aid networks. In economics, mobilizations of actors can be examined as ways of circumventing the perverse effects of public development decisions (structural adjustment plans, projects with devastating effects on local populations, etc.), based on the community to which they belong, but without engaging in structured political mobilization.

Between resistance, lifestyle as politics, daily activism, social (non) movements, those type of mobilizations, even if not very contested, are defined first of all by the greater or lesser collective participation of a given population, whose intentional project, cunning strategies or erratic behavior question the hierarchy of social relations, from the fourfold point of view of economic and social, racial and post-colonial (or decolonial), gender or environmental (and their negation) inequalities.

To shed light on these mobilizations, we believe it is crucial to engage in a dialogue within the social sciences and to compare different countries, particularly in Africa. The epistemological challenge is to renew the scholarly analysis of mobilization through disciplinary pluralism and a comparative approach. The various perspectives (sociological, anthropological, economic, legal, political, historical) on mobilizations are welcome, focusing on plural social actors (NGOs, State, local development, networks, local groups...), in the various fields of health, work, urban planning, politics, arts, culture or religion, along three main issues.

An alchemy with the state? Display versus participation and negotiated orientation.

The history of resistance in Africa is multiple and complex. Beyond the anti-colonial nationalist doxa, the main question concerns the alchemy between violent and hidden forms, between popular mobilizations and elite games, in more or less stable political regimes. Forms of hybridization between musical and political forms of resistance have emerged, citizen movements initiated by rappers or other civil society actors, such as "Y en a marre" in Senegal and "Balai citoyen" in Burkina Faso; without forgetting the forms of disillusionment, disengagement or demobilization, observed for example in Cameroon.

To study mobilizations means first of all to criticize the term used to designate them. The risk is indeed to reduce the term of mobilization to a nominative and declarative approach, in order to display so-called "community", "popular", "participatory", "cooperative", "innovative" programs, etc. The focus will therefore be on conducting the investigation and using the analytical scalpel, without predicting whether State and Society will oppose or combine. It should be recalled here that the structuring of local groups and vertical integration can go hand in hand (in the sense that the use of elites is a factor of collective mobilization, as in the case of black pastoralists in the American civic movement).

For example, the population may resort to a specific device, even if it is not well adapted. The link between a collective mobilization with an institution raises the problem of the boundary between the social and the political spheres, as it can elicit the manipulation of one by the other, or,  on the contrary, the possibility of socialization of institutions: thus, forms of participation, whether electoral, co-managerial (participatory budget) or organizational, can have a hybrid character, or even become a horizontal experience subverting local socio-hierarchical relationships. 

These transformations of mobilizations and collective action are undoubtedly to be linked to contemporary developments in public action, which is also less and less part of major political projects but in principle refers to pragmatic choices and negotiated orientations. When public action is decided and negotiated in discrete spaces, around complex instruments and away from public debates, social movements and collective action have more difficulty in having control over it and embrace its challenges.

A chemistry without a state? Autonomy of civil society.

Opening up the field of investigation in this way then implies taking into account actors’ categories of thinking, even if they do not immediately appear to be political or militant, and not presupposing from the outset that the context determines their choices or possibilities for action in a structured way. Like the works on emancipation processes in Africa, one must pay attention to mobilizations that sometimes openly claim their distance from the State apparatus and institutions and create their own conditions of possibility and organization.

In particular, phenomena of low-noise mobilizations are present in the sphere of religion. In Africa in particular, religious, political and economic actors can interact or even merge within "grey zones" where mediations accumulate and interpenetrate, as in the forms of peaceful resistance initiated by the marabouts in Senegal, or religious violence in Niger. Too often, the socio-religious interweaving leads to the highlighting of "community leaders" whose charismatic role sometimes makes them spokespersons embodying the collective (and therefore forced by it), sometimes it is mere manipulation. In addition, a focus on community leaders prevents the examination of particularly heterogeneous individual situations with regard to the rights and obligations of each individual.

The range of responsibilities of individuals towards each other contributes to their identity and their own mobilizations. An individual’s action for a cause is then less dictated by the influence of local leaders than by his subjective perception of his responsibilities (family, professional, collective, religious, etc.) and his acceptance or not of his rights and duties towards the others. This involves the individual dimensions of low-noise mobilizations, embedded in a social network and norms, often implicit, such as the responsibility of microenterprise managers.

In African contexts, local solidarity can be established to meet vital needs, precisely because of the withdrawal of the State: housing, electricity, access to water, food, travel assistance, management of émigrés' money, etc. The relational reconfiguration between development associations and public authorities, for example, where local elites can be rehabilitated in a movement of civil society participation. These relationships rarely allow the co-construction of public policies and oscillate between mistrust towards public authorities and subcontracting for international organizations. The list is long of popular mobilizations to face the need, very far from power and institutions and very close to cultural, religious or artistic ideological forms. On the other hand, the latter can exist in a more immaterial autonomous form, i.e. without any connection with the above-mentioned needs, but also bringing, with their extra soul, a transgressive dimension of social habits.

A mobilization without ideology? The sense of justice at the heart of mobilizations.

This leads us to the question of the ordinary relationship to politics. Many daily mobilizations and practices have been described as infra-political, proto-political or ordinary politics. They have the advantage of opening up the field of analysis to approaches focusing on elements such as social belief or behaviour that entail representions of the social world without first assuming a great knowledge of the political field, reserved for an elite. Thus, ambivalent conduct by young people or women, without any prior intention of contestation, is likely to undermine the dominant order by aggregation. However, the connections between social movements and the solidarity economy are often groping and mark a difficulty in articulating economic practices and socio-political change.

Can we suspend any judgment and confine ourselves solely to the "crystallization of collective activities, autonomous from the State"? It is also possible to disentangle "progressive" and "conservative" tendencies... mixed. Thus, the militias of inhabitants mobilized against terrorism do not necessarily accept women, drug trafficking can contribute to building schools, corruption or clientelism can feed local communities or traditional churches can spread leftist ideologies within popular milieus.

A multifaceted and multi-site mobilization of conservative and progressive actors can also be seen in the struggles for sexual rights. Although some of these phenomena are very visible and noisy (street demonstrations against same-sex marriage in France or against the restriction of abortion laws in Poland, calls to introduce the death penalty in Uganda), other "invisible" forms of mobilization are also widespread, such as conscientious objection by health providers against abortion, refusal by officials to perform gay marriage, or LGBT activism "in the closet". In some cases, these are individual and localized responses, in other cases, they are well orchestrated international campaigns.

This gender mix is a major theme of intersectional approaches, which seek to capture class, gender and racial oppression (now supplemented by the environmental issue) in a single movement, even if the purpose is sometimes doctrinaire and the empirical gain not always obvious. While aspirations for social justice are diverse and "groping", this does not prevent feelings of injustice from being exacerbated in an increasingly unequal world. Does the vagueness of the references ultimately prevent the strength of the mobilizations?

In summary, in Dakar we will examine what kind of "low noise" mobilizations can be highlighted, whether with, without or against the state, with or without ideology. Our hope is to innovate the analysis of mobilizations by creating a dialogue between various qualitative empirical contributions. Every paper proposal will be evaluated by the organizers and the members of the scientific committee of the conference.   

Calendar of events

  • Publication of the call for papers: 5 March 2019
  • Sending of communication projects (max. 5,000 characters, mentioning contact details, status and institutional affiliation): 15 May 2019

  • E-mail address: mobilisations_discretes@laposte.net
  • Selection of selected projects and information to authors: 30 June 2019
  • Sending of the pre-program of the conference: 15 September 2019
  • Sending of speakers' texts (20,000 characters max): October 15
  • Sending of the final program: November 2019
  • Colloquium: 18 (from 9am), 19 and 20 December (till 1pm)

Organizing Committee

  • Amin Allal,
  • Bruno Boidin,
  • Emmanuelle Bouilly,
  • Abdoulaye Moussa Diallo,
  • Siri Gloppen,
  • Judith Hayem,
  • Irène Maffi,
  • Ivan Sainsaulieu,
  • Ndoye Tidiane.

Scientific Council

Bruno Boidin, Judith Hayem, Ivan Sainsaulieu, Julien Talpin, Marion Carrel, Marie Saiget (Lille), Ndoye Tidiane, Sylvain Faye, Moustapha Tamba, Souleymane Gomis, Fatou Binetou Dial, Mohamed Moustapha Dieye, Fatou Diop Sall (Dakar, Senegal), Benoit Tine (Ziguinchor, Sénégal), Cheikh Sakho (Saint-Louis, Sénégal), Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (Paris and Niger), Abdoulaye Sounaye (Nigeria), Irène Maffi, Mounia Bennani Chraïbi, Alexander Keese, Antoine Kernen (Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland), Amin Allal, Imed Melliti (Tunis, Tunisia), Dominique Darbon, Vincent Bonnecase, Etienne Smith (Bordeaux), Laurent Gardin (Valencienne), Valéry Ridde, Marie Brossier (Montreal, Laval, Canada), Lilian Mathieu, Philippe Corcuff (Lyon), Jean-Emile Charlier, Mathieu Berger (Louvain, Belgium), Emmanuelle Bouilly, Frédéric Lebaron, Daniel Céfaï, Catherine Neveu (Paris), Philippe Lavigne-Delville (Montpellier), Aziz el Maoula El Iraki (Rabat, Morocco), Michael Neocosmos, Richard Pithouse, Jackie Dugard (Durban, Johannesburg, South Africa), Youssef El Chazli (Berlin, Germany), Nina Eliasoph (Los Angeles, USA), Eeva Luhtakallio (Tampere, Finland), Emmanuelle Barozet (Santiago, Chile), Siri Gloppen (Bergen, Norway), Emmanuel Sambieni, Abou-Bakry Imorou (Abomey-Calavy et Parakou, Bénin), Sylvia Tamale, Stella Nyanzi (Makere, Uganda).

Institutional partners 

  • Centre Lillois d'Etudes et de Recherches Economiques et Sociologiques (CLERSE)
  • Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar, Senegal (UCAD)
  • French Association of Anthropologists (AFA)
  • University of Lausanne, Switzerland (UNIL)
  • Research Institute on Contemporary Maghreb, Tunis (IRMC)
  • Africa in the World, Bordeaux (LAM)
  • University of Bergen, Norway


  • Amphi UCAD 2 - Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Faculté des lettres et Sciences Humaines
    Dakar, Republic of Senegal (BP 5005, Dakar-Fann, SN)


  • Wednesday, May 15, 2019


  • mobilisation, bas bruit, Afrique, promesse, changement


  • Abdoulaye Diallo
    courriel : baba [dot] yoro22 [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Ivan Saisaulieu
    courriel : ivan [dot] sainsaulieu [at] univ-lille [dot] fr
  • Tidiane Ndoye
    courriel : tndoye16 [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Abdoulaye Moussa Diallo
    courriel : baba [dot] yoro22 [at] gmail [dot] com


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

To cite this announcement

« “Low-noise” mobilizations: New promises of change? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, April 26, 2019, https://calenda.org/610529

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