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The Challenges of Overstudy in the Social Sciences

Les enjeux de la sur-étude en sciences sociales

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Published on Tuesday, December 03, 2019 by Céline Guilleux


Studying the implications of “Over-study,” “over-investigation,” “over-investment,” or “over-research” has recently become a matter of importance on some fields of investigation. This debate has been more vivid in the English-speaking world than in the French-speaking one (an issue of Egypte Monde Arabe that has been the basis for this call and focuses on the zabbâlîn is to be published soon, cf. Desvaux and Du Roy, 2019). This issue aims at formalising the emerging problems that surround these matters.



Over-study can be defined as situations of considerable concentration and mediatisation of researchers, journalists, development programs, etc., around specific communities, spaces, or topics. It causes complex effects that can be seen as positive, when it allows an increased number of perspectives to be developed around a single topic of study, but also as negative when they produce repetitive and ready-made discourses imposed by a great number of actors, effectively circumventing the complexities of the local realities. The topic has been recently debated in several publications (among others, Chabrol, 2010; Clark, 2008, 2010; Sukarieh andTannock, 2013; Neal and al., 2016; Pascucci, 2017; Button and Aiken, 2018), in a double session in the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Conference in August 2018 (Button andAiken 2018), or in an Early Career seminar organised by the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Enjeux Contemporains (LADEC) in June 2018. These debates are not restricted to a single scientific discipline (although much interest takes place in Anthropology and Sociology), and seem focused on particular topics (Clark, 2008 ; Bull, 2010 ; Clark, 2010) or locations such as AIDS care centres (Chabrol, 2008 ; Koen et al., 2017), or refugee camps (Sukarieh and Tannock, 2013; Pascucci, 2017).

As an investigation device, the field is not specific to Geography, but still does occupy a central place in the legitimation process of that discipline. The nature and quality of the field is one of the common criteria of evaluation in Geography, and having a “good field” can testify of “the researcher’s wits to dare ‘clearing the way’ on such innovative perimeter or other”(Lefort, 2012, p. 470). From the colonial context that marked the discipline in the 19th century, leading Geographers to “self-affirm nationalism in the defence of their fields against competitors who would approach it, as if the studied places belonged to them” (Vieillard-Baron,2006, p. 137) to the more general desire to “appropriate a part of the world and be recognised for it” (Lefort, 2012, p. 472) it appears that the relationship between Geographers and their fields is not only thought of on an exclusive mode, but sometimes becomes a part of their very individuality. If this colonial heritage has been critiqued, leading to more conceptual reflexivity,in the realisation of fieldwork, the unthought approach to the field as a “resource” to be “extracted”, sometimes to the detriment of the investigated people, remains important, and can be objectivised through situations of over-study. Yet what does this entice, in a context of multiplication of research being led, of competition to access funding, of an emergence of minorized voices and the accumulation of research through time, when one does have to “share” one’s field with others or come after them? If the field is an experience of copresence, what of copresence with scientific peers, or other kinds of investigators? This issue wants to take position in a line of debates about fieldwork recently opened in French-speaking Geography. Following reflexions about the field as practice and experience, a way to deal with space or positions regarding the researcher-subject (Volvey, Calbérac, Houssay-Holzschuch, 2012) we aim to question the field when it becomes a collective matter, either by design or not, insimultaneous copresence or via a process of palimpsest, in contexts of over-study.

Four, non-exhaustive, leads for reflexion have drawn our reflexion (further details in the attached document):

  • the conditions and structures permitting the emergence of such situations
  • the consequences of over-study on the very people it touches, and the redefinitions it can cause on the concerned spaces or groups
  • the place of the researcher and the stakes of fieldwork methodologies
  • the relationship among researchers on a same field, or between researchers and journalists: are they complementary or competing?

Submission guidelines and deadlines

Authors should send a proposition of no more than 3000 signs with a temporary title and a resume mentioning contact details and institutional affiliation

for January 15th.

They are expected to be sent before deadline to: annales-de-geo@armand-colin.fr ; p.desvaux@yahoo.fr ; mahoudeau.alex@gmail.com ; florent.chossiere@u-pem.fr

Authors of abstracts selected by the editorial comittee will have until the 1st of May, 2020 to send a final version of their article. The planned publication date is 2021.

Guest Editors

  • Florent Chossière, doctorant en Géographie au laboratoire ACP, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée
  • Pierre Desvaux, chercheur associé au laboratoire PACTE, docteur en Géographie, Université de Grenoble Alpes
  • Alex Mahoudeau, post-doctorant JEDI-Lab'urba, docteur en Science Politique, King's College London


  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020


  • surétude, terrain, réflexivité, enquête qualitative, ethnographie


  • Alex Mahoudeau
    courriel : mahoudeau [dot] alex [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Florent Chossière
    courriel : florent [dot] chossiere [at] u-pem [dot] fr
  • Pierre Desvaux
    courriel : p [dot] desvaux [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Florent Chossière
    courriel : florent [dot] chossiere [at] u-pem [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Challenges of Overstudy in the Social Sciences », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, December 03, 2019, https://calenda.org/713693

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