Call for papers : Out of the Shadows. Clandestine action and conspiracy imaginaries, 20th-21st Centuries


Doctoral seminar, Paris, May 18-19 2017 – Panthéon-Sorbonne Amphithéâtre 1

This seminar aims at creating an interdisciplinary dialog around the practices and representations of clandestine organisations since the beginning of 20th century. What are the comparable and divergent elements that distinguish the various forms of clandestine struggles. What are the consequences of secret practices on the form of the struggles take? Which imaginaries (pejorative = plot or terrorism ; heroics = resistance)? What are the sources and the methods that help define clandestine actions, above and beyond their historical and geographical diversity.

This seminar is supported by the Campus Condorcet, the Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique (CESSP, Paris 1) and the Graduate school « Pratiques et théories du sens » (Paris 8). It will take place at the University Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Amphitéâtre 1), on May 18th and 19th, 2017. We welcome contributions in English and French, pertaining to France or any other countries, concerning the 20th and 21st centuries.

We invite PhD students and young scholars to submit an abstract of up to 4000 characters, together with a short résumé, before February 26th 2017.


The practices and representations of secret organisations and conspiracies have been the subject of monographs and have been studied in terms of political violence or collective action (Della Porta, 2013) but hardly ever have they been the subject of a transversal study, taking into account the clandestine phenomenon and what it implies in the public and politic arena.

The first challenge is to define our object. It can be characterized as the actions carried out by illegal groups over an extended period. Therefore, we exclude isolated actions, the role of the organization is central, as it is the only structure by which political goals can be achieved over the long term.

The concept of clandestinity should however be raised, as it is never absolute, and because the political nature of a clandestine action may be unclear, or a matter of standpoint: an illegal immigrant, for instance, may or may not be politically motivated yet is de facto in a clandestine state.

Methodological questions must also be carefully addressed: illegality, secret and clandestine activities are a strong constraint that leads almost always to source effects (Monier, 2008). Available documentation is often produced by the police system, or, when produced by the clandestine actors, regularly dates from later and may have a political meaning that reduces its usability, by overestimating the organised nature of the underground groups. In such cases, research practices like network analysis can help grasp the shifting reality of clandestine organisations. When primary sources are available, we should take into account their custodial history (who kept them and why), and their production context, as clandestine writing is inherently a risk (Riondet, 2016).

We encourage papers to question these ambivalences and methodological challenges, in particular around the 4 following (complementary) axes :

Historical anthropology of protagonists and practices of secrecy

Concrete aspects of clandestine action must be studied, first the concealment practices and avoidance of repression, which may well be the major part of this action. On the other hand, visible actions and developing a media strategy can also be important leverages. Another challenge is an analysis of the organisations’ structures, their vertical and horizontal operation, compartmentalization, social control over their members, and the relationship between the world-view they produce and the militant practices. These practices may favour a vertical and authoritarian functioning and may hide a big part of the organisation reality to the militants, which  may affect their behaviour.

We should point out that decentralized organizational forms also exist, where the hierarchical feeling is above all a feeling of belonging, sometimes involving an oath of allegiance.

A last aspect is the study of individual profiles and paths : entry or recruitment conditions, the step by step process towards clandestine actions, but also social determinants such as age, gender, social background, education (Crettiez 2016).

States and societies in the face of clandestinity

First, we must study how a state response and its own secret practices : specific repressive systems, secret or parallel organizations (Dewerpe, 1994), and of course the wide political use of the threat of clandestine actions, whether they are real, made up or exaggerated.

Another thing is the penetration of clandestinity in society, beyond the strict framework of the illegal group: links with other clandestine or public political groups (for instance legal façades) and external support, networks and exchanges with non political illegal organizations (the grey economy, smuggling, mafia, etc). Studying the margins of clandestine action, we intend to redefine it more in terms of degree rather than border

Portraying and imagining the secrecy

Historical variations of the imagery conveyed by collective secret action must be questioned. Seen as a threat by the power, these actions provoke fear and fantasy in the media, literature, and also with the recent rise of conspiracy theories on the Internet. Interestingly, the fear of the plotter is being replaced by fear of (and fight against) conspiracy theorists (France, 2016).

As a mirror image, the challenge is also to tackle the representations taken by clandestine organisations and their members themselves. Far from only producing negative representations, the positive appreciation of secret actions, its use as a cement for the group and for a feeling of identity, should be tackled.


Whether it ends with a failure or a defeat (death, prison, exile), a victory or a compromise (amnesty, peace agreement), the post clandestine situation raises several issues : What are the concrete possibilities of ending a clandestine action, how can the individual members reintegrate into society, and more broadly, the steps to return to a pacified society. Shared or conflicting memories of clandestine actions can also show how strong the political divisions of a given society are.


Virgile Cirefice, PhD student (History), Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis and Bologna University – virgile[dot]cirefice[at]gmail[dot]com
Pierre France, PhD student (Political science), Paris 1 Panthéon – Sorbonne -pierre[dot]france[at]zoho[dot]com
Grégoire Le Quang, PhD student (History), Université Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis, Macerata University – glequang[at]gmail[dot]com)
Charles Riondet, PhD (History), Inria (ALMAnaCH) – charles[dot]riondet[at]gmail[dot]com)

scientific advisory board

Jean-Louis Briquet, Research director at CNRS, Political Science
Laurent Douzou, professor at IEP Lyon, History
Olivier Grojean, senior lecturer at Paris 1, Political Science
Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci, Professeur at Paris 8, History
Frédéric Monier, professor at Université d’Avignon, History
Anastassia Tsoukala, senior lecturer HDR at Paris 11, Law and criminology


  • Donatella della Porta, Clandestine political violence, Cambridge University Press, 2013
  • Frédéric Monier, « Le secret en politique, une histoire à écrire », Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps, 2000, vol. 58, no 1, p. 3‑8
  • Charles Riondet, « Journaux intimes de clandestinité », Vingtième Siècle, revue d’Histoire, 2016, n° 132
  • Bruce Hoffman et Fernando Reinares (dir.), The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death, Columbia University Press, 2014
  • Xavier Crettiez, « Penser la radicalisation. Une sociologie processuelle des variables de l’engagement violent », Revue française de science politique 2016, vol. 66, n° 5, p. 709-727
  • Alain Dewerpe, Espion :  une anthropologie historique du secret d’État contemporain, Paris, Gallimard, 1994.
  • Fanny Bugnon, Les amazones de la terreur :  sur la violence politique des femmes, de la Fraction armée rouge à Action directe, Payot, 2015
  • Pierre France, « Pour une sociologie politique du complot(isme) », Working Paper CESSP, n°4, 2016

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