America, Africa and Asia Center for Social Sciences (CESSMA)


The CESSMA – Centre d’études en sciences sociales sur les mondes africains, américains et asiatiques (Centre for social sciences studies on the African, American and Asian worlds) – is a joint research unit. It was created in 2014 under the triple tutelage of : the University Paris Diderot, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) (National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilisations) and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) (the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development).

On 1 January 2018, the Centre comprised 56 academics and research fellows, and 80 doctoral students.

The Centre was created with the aim to analyse the historical and spatial configurations of the dynamics of development and globalisation in the so-called countries of the “South”. One of the key components of the project is a questioning of Worlds, the diversity, universality, or on the contrary, the specificity of development issues and the effects of globalisation. They are viewed as processes that are not only governed by economic logic but fully include its social, cultural and political aspects, and are hence historically constructed and situated processes.
The Centre capitalizes on its dual legacy of development studies (for researchers from the IRD and the former SEDET) and the tradition of area studies (INALCO).

The Centre’s founding principles are :
  • Interdisciplinarity. The following social science disciplines are represented : history, geography, anthropology, sociology, economics, urban studies and political science.
Frequentation of four regional areas : the Africas, the Americas, the Maghreb and the Middle East, and the Asian worlds. All the researchers assiduously conduct fieldwork in the countries they are working on, speak the languages spoken in those countries, and dialogue with their scientific communities (including in the form of joint publications).
Comparitism. Scientific life is organized around four transversal thematic axes : 1) Norms, circulations, actors ; 2) Urban production, policies and practices ; 3) Work, finance and globalization ; 4) Construction and usage of knowledge. The CESSMA conducts interdisciplinary research programmes, which are deployed in a comparative manner throughout the countries of the South.
The CESSMA is the only research Centre in France to simultaneously :
  • be clearly focused on development studies (the Global South) ;
  • adopt a generalist approach in terms of its research themes ;
  • associate international comparative research programmes with thorough area studies ;
  • adopt an interdisciplinary approach, in particular by associating history with research on the present.
Presentation of the four thematic research axes:

1. Norms, circulations, actors

The aim of this research axis is, on the one hand, to analyse the dynamics at play in the interaction between the various past and contemporary forms of circulation and the complex processes of creating formal or informal norms and conventions, on the other. A first theme, titled ‘Religion and Politics’ gathered specialists on Asia reflecting upon religious diversity and pluralism in Asia. The second theme ‘Circulations, Networks and Powers’, looks at the question of international migration and the forms of transnational circulation adopted by people, as well as the issue of establishing economic and social networks that resulted in the emergence of new economic regions.

2. Urban production, policies and practices

The researchers working on this axis are geographers, historians, urban planners, demographers and economists, who contribute to the field of urban studies by looking at cities from within ; by considering them primarily as social productions that are historically and socially rooted ; and whether they be old or more recent, tributaries of colonial matrices, modernist projects or neo-liberal power relationships, these urban agglomerations need to be analysed from a perspective that focuses on the articulation between policy and practice.
Three types of objects and scientific approaches are considered : the reorganisation of urban space underpinned by inequalities based on status or access to resources ; power relationships, conflicts, and the debates around the right to the city and public action ; cultural productions and circulations, envisaged as the outcome of the interplay with the media and actors.

3. Work, finance and globalisation

Within this research axis, investigations of work figures and their process-based dynamics, viewed against a backdrop of crisis(es), generating exacerbated or neutralizing representations and mobilizations or demobilizations, have led to a deeper consideration of the relationships between financiarisation and globalisation. Carried out in an integrated comparative framework on contrasting terrains (Algeria, Senegal, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Equator, Georgia, India and China), the research is also put to the test of a real interdisciplinarity between the poles we can, in short, characterise as anthropological and economic. The exercise focuses specifically on the following objects : currency/ies – extracted from the closed assumption of their being mere instruments of payment – ; the reservation wage, a central concept in labour economics, which opens on to the question of the meaning attributed to the actors’ involvement in the various connected social spheres ; a generalised financiarisation including its effects on domestic activities.

4. Construction and usage of knowledge

This research axis questions the constructions and usages of knowledge and skills, their circulation and reconfiguration, that lie at the heart of social, political, economic and cultural issues in Africa, America and Asia. The overall problematic questions the relationships between knowledge and power(s) in a non-exclusive manner, varying the scales, from the local to the global, as well as the durations, from ancient history to the present. The research is conducted from an interdisciplinary social sciences perspective. Rooted in field observations and social, political and cultural practices, the research assumes as a hypothesis the highly varied nature of knowledge and skills — whether they be ‘scientific’, ‘vernacular’, ‘popular’, ‘practical’, etc., and views them as processes of (co-) production (re-) appropriation or incorporation by different categories of actors. It also questions the effects of these on individual or collective actors, at different scales and over time.

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