Otherness and resistance through the prism of gender in the Mediterranean

Conference, Aix-en-Provence 7, 8 and 9 November 2019

Euro-Mediterranean societies have constructed their socio-political organisation on the basis of bi-categorisation and hierarchisation of the sexes on both the northern and southern shores, while family structures have determined the social roles assigned to women and men, the axiological systems and the legitimate norms of behaviour (social, sexual, familial, professional, etc.). In times of crisis — whether societal, political, economic, or religious — this social order is under challenge. Political disorder, war, revolution, civil war, popular revolt, migration also modify socio-political norms; they question the position of the individual within their collective community and reconfigure gendered categories. This entails resistance, adaptation, and even innovation which can become vectors for collective transformation.

Taking a multi-disciplinary, diachronic and comparative approach, this conference will seek to identify and analyse structures that enable changes to, and variations of, gender norms and their impact in terms of adaptation, resistance and avoidance within the entire range of social contexts in the Mediterranean. It will seek to discuss models of otherness and social relationships with difference, as well as the resistance and social movements that they produce or generate today. By privileging approaches relating to otherness, the conference will explore forms of confrontation, repression, adaptation, violence, reconciliation, innovation, which can be expressed in terms of resistance, and they may liberate or reveal the most rigid forms of conservatism.

Margins, minorities, migrations

While analysis of human and social sciences has demonstrated how social upheavals can facilitate the evolution, and indeed the redefinition, of social contacts, the study of otherness opens up opportunities for observing the margins and the weaknesses of normative systems. It questions their construction by existing normative systems and the ways in which rules can be circumnavigated, the categories that are created and the interactions they generate. Alternative forms of sexuality, family, power, economy, lifestyles, offer – differently for each sex – opportunities for analysing, over and beyond the stranglehold of established rules, feminine and masculine models that maintain constant over the long term (for example, and for both sexes: adultery, prostitutes, homosexuals, brigands, and also artists, performers, feminist militants). These dissonant models or profiles personified as transgressive constitute observation posts for normative socio-political processes that reduce, exclude and hierarchise while, at the same time, they expose potential ruptures in a sometime tenuous expression of individual and collective resistance.

Given this situation, norms need to be re-examined, not by seeing them simply as oppressive, but by taking into account non-conforming usage and reconciliation that can generate trajectories and projects for both individuals and communities. When faced with situations of exclusion, oppression, domination, stigmatisation and marginalisation, how do men and women experience transgression? How can we distinguish between various forms of gender relationships and their modes of configuration? How are sexual norms, gendered relationships, contradictions and tensions, categorisations negotiated, appropriated and transformed by men and women in society today and yesterday on the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean?

In addition, the way in which interactions between populations are established in the Mediterranean, as a space for debate and circulation, is scripted into mobility, which is a key factor in the lives of women and men in the region. As these movements will probably increase substantially in the years ahead, because of the growing interdependence of economies and the changing profiles of potential migrants, more and more of whom will be well qualified, they will come up against new frontiers which will filter, block and create new categories of persons considered as dangerous or returnable. By revealing the demographic, political, socio-economic stakes involved, mobility and migration, whether accomplished or anticipated, will certainly have an impact on gender relationships and social hierarchies for individuals and for society. Furthermore, over the last decade, political and military tensions in the region have led to vast migratory movements that have surpassed economic structures and reshaped migratory models. Through the violence of these social realities, we have seen an explosion of norms and the development of transgressions in all spheres. Exploring these (dis)orders through the prism of gender will generate analyses of migratory situations with regard to their interaction with countries of origin and of destination and will focus on close observation of return migration. The current situation, however, must not ignore older forms of violence which gave rise to similar situations, such as colonisation.

Thus, in a context of major dynamic changes in the Euro-Mediterranean context, we can observe how these forms of mobility produce otherness and vice versa. How is otherness redefined, reinvented during the migration experience, given the cultural, political, economic and religious lines crossed in the process. How are experiences of otherness handled in countries of immigration, and what policies for handling otherness have been introduced in countries of destination?

All forms of otherness are welcome, so long as papers highlight the gender dimension in its impact on otherness and on modifications of normed behaviour.

Transgressive strategies and social resistance

The various models of otherness are nonetheless models of norms, if we take into account our interactions with our surroundings and the solidarities in play. They can take on two aspects: empowerment and subordination, emancipation and submission. Far being completely disempowered, male and female homosexuals in the Maghreb, for example, develop forms of resistance and succeed in constructing mobilisation strategies for recognition of their rights. Similarly, women have resisted and obtained new rights in Tunisia, Morocco, Spain and France…

In encouraging a diachronic perspective, the objective is to understand the combination of different levels of norms, the resources mobilised by women and men in order to impose their presence on the economic, political and social stage, despite the absence of recognised rights, the resistance they have met and how they have negotiated institutional and gender norms which confine them to restricted spheres. The interaction of law, culture and transgressive practices will be questioned, with particular interest in the constraints, conventions and ‘règles du jeu’ that structure the activities of men and women. Which laws, which norms are significant for male and female actors (whether they conform, or seek to escape, them)? On the other hand, for which laws and norms do they consider that any repression of transgression is illegitimate? The objective here is not merely to put forward a description of transgressive forms linked to gender, but rather to analyse what individuals and groups see as transgression of gender norms and, at the same time, explore how such transgressions are produced, negotiated and experienced individually and collectively in countries of origin and of settlement. From this perspective, it will be useful to review reconfigurations of gender norms and the way in which they contribute to the development, negotiation, and reformulation of new relationships with the norm for the entire range of social actors.

For this reason, it is important to be attentive to actors’ access to agency when circumventing norms, creating strategies and different forms of negotiation and resistance that will define the contours of “otherness in action” specific to various categories of otherness.

Faced with such strategies, conservative resistance emerges through the construction of fundamental power relationships. After the wars of liberation and ‘Arab revolutions’, conservative regimes have often sought to push newly visible actors, such as women and minorities, back into their past roles by using repression that is often brutal. Such movements of social resistance are not specific to the 21st century, nor to the Arab world. Quite the contrary, numerous examples can be found throughout the centuries and scattered through history of nations. This is particularly true of the campaigns by women and sexual minorities and of anti-colonial conflicts. Here, great interest will focus on the gender dimension and the development of these struggles throughout the Mediterranean Region.


Going beyond specific field studies, the aim is to challenge the issues involved in these realities, with a gender approach, in terms of social norms, power relationships, local differences, and historical evolutions in social practices. We will ask how otherness is constructed in the Mediterranean and explore the modalities and consequences in the wide range of local contexts. We will inquire into the possibilities for a North-South dialogue on alternative forms of gender norms and for an ideological reconciliation of emancipation or conservatism that can be observed.

We are also interested in more epistemological analyses of the contribution of human and social sciences to these studies.

Practical Information

  • The closing date for submitting proposals of papers in French or English (500 words maximum) is 15/04/2019 via this web site: https://altergemed.sciencesconf.org
  • Authors will be informed of their selection by 15/05/2019 at the latest.
  • The closing date for sending the full text of selected papers is 15/10/2019.
  • Poster sessions will be available for young researchers. More information on these sessions will be available on the conference web site. https://altergemed.sciencesconf.org/resource/page/id/7

Steering committee:

  • Constance De Gourcy, Maîtresse de Conférences en Sociologie, LAMES UMR 7305, Aix-en-Provence
  • Sylvette Denèfle, Professeure des Universités émérite en Sociologie, CITERES UMR 7324, Présidente du Conseil scientifique du colloque
  • Zoë Dubus, Doctorante en Histoire, TELEMME UMR 7303,  Aix-en-Provence
  • Karine Lambert, Maîtresse de Conférences en Histoire, Université de la Côte d’Azur, TELEMME UMR 7303, Aix-en-Provence


29. Januar 2019


15. April 2019