Understanding the contemporary societies in the tropical and Mediterranean regions by fomenting analysis of their underlying dynamics: This is the main goal for researchers working on the topic of Populations.

The Department's research is based on a cross-disciplinary approach to societal challenges that aims to pinpoint exactly how these challenges impact both the so-called "southern" countries and the "northern" ones.

This research approach is founded on a concern for understanding the dynamics of societies in all their diversity, an in-depth knowledge of the terrain and a multi-scale approach.

Three main catalyst issues

  • Mutations, adaptations and resistance from human societies

    Today's societies in tropical and Mediterranean regions are deeply affected both by the process of globalisation, and the ways in which human activities are changing the relations between societies and their environments. These societies are undergoing profound transformations, manifested through various phenomena such as identity reconstruction and territorial and social restructuring; increased mobility and circulation of people, goods and ideas; rising inequalities; new forms of exclusion and social success, of violence and conflict; new challenges in environmental relations; etc. These restructuring phenomena in turn affect the stability of societies, the sustainability of ecosystems, and the security and well-being of populations. They also reveal disparities in vulnerability levels and resilience capacities. All these processes are being studied by researchers in the SOC department, working in collaboration with their Global South partners.


  • The concept of development

    As well as understanding the dynamics at work in contemporary societies, it is also important to reflect upon the role development research has to play in today's world. The concept of development has evolved and can no longer be understood simply as a process of "catching up" for the sake of establishing so-called virtuous north-south cooperation. On the one hand, networks are starting to emerge between Global South countries that reflect new lines of force in international research and cooperation. On the other hand, the distinction between "northern" and "southern" countries is proliferating and redefining itself, through various processes currently at work everywhere. Moreover, the weight attributed to concepts of sustainability and durability tends to obscure the idea of development. The notion is further blurred by the advances of developing countries, the furthering of multi-polar international relations, and the role of human activities.

  • Interdisciplinary coordination and partnership

    IRD scientists are conducting research (not so much applied as involved) on and for societies in the tropical and Mediterranean zone, home to most of the poorest countries in the world. Working in long-term partnerships with scientists from the Global South, SOC researchers contribute to attaining sustainable development goals and strengthening the education and research systems of the countries concerned. The department has a complex role to play, requiring a variety of disciplines and coordinating them all to complement life and earth sciences. There are two important sides to this role:
    Firstly, it calls for an effort of translation. Working in non-Western societies entails exploring the linguistic and cultural filters through which research objects (such as a volcanic eruption, pollution, an epidemic, unemployment, a middle class) are approached; and conversely, the means by which these filters allow research to be carried out. All the department's disciplines, each with their own methodologies, are brought into play and must adopt this decentralised point of view.
    Secondly, long-range vision must be instilled, whereby situations are placed in a broader context: over the course of history, there have been various episodes and modes of globalisation, whose epicentres have not always been in the West. Understanding the angle from which the countries of the Global South view development issues therefore entails recognising other episodes and other forms of narrative from the past, in order to grasp their consequences in today's world: (re)discoveries of archaeological sites, uses of natural resources, post-colonial claims, affinities and enmities in relations between the countries of the Global South, etc.


Social sciences in action

These are the topics that bring together the vast majority of IRD social science researchers. The most common disciplines are anthropology, economics, geography, demographics and sociology. The department also has archaeologists, historians, jurists, town planners, political scientists, statisticians and linguists, along with researchers in various environmental sciences and life sciences (agronomy, ecology, pedology, hydrology, health, remote sensing, modelling, geomatics).