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Social Innovation in Southeast Asia: From Control of Change to Socio-Ecological Transformation


AfficheWorkshop co-organised by IRASEC,
French-Upper Mekong Sub-Region Academic Cooperation Center (MFU),
Asian Research Center for International Development (ARCID, MFU),
and School of Social Innovation (MFU)
as part of the 2023 “Year of Innovation (YOI)” programme, French Embassy in Thailand

1st-2nd November, 2023
Venue : School of social innovation, Mae Fah Luang University

Hybrid event on site and on Zoom : Logo Youtube Watch the debate

Download the program / Download the poster

Speakers :

  • Asst. Prof. Pathompong Manohan (School of Social Innovation, MFU)
  • Dr. Nichan Singhaputargun (School of Social Innovation, MFU)
  • Prof. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti (RCSD, Chiang Mai Univ.)
  • Prof. Xavier Guillot (PASSAGES, Univ. Bordeaux)
  • Dwi Pertiwi (Independent practitioner)
  • Yunke Zhai (School of Sinology, MFU)
  • Simon Michael Jones (School of Sinology, MFU)
  • Asst. Prof. Dr. Apisom Intralawan (School of Management, MFU)
  • Assist. Prof. Malee Sitthikriengkrai (CESD, Chiang Mai Univ.)
  • Dr. Gabriel Facal (IRASEC)

Moderation :

  • Prof. Catherine Baron (LEREPS, Sciences Po Toulouse)
  • Dr. Chalongrat Charoensri (School of Social Innovation, MFU)


Addressing social innovations for sustainable development in Southeast Asia both inform on regional specificities and connect to more universal blind spots of social science research. Critical political ecology in Southeast Asia has focused on the compatibility of local access and use of ecological resources with environmental conservation (Peluso 1992), and scholars have underlined the often-ambiguous relationship between environmental policies and pro-democracy mobilizations (Elinoff and Lamb 2023). Some cases reveal contradictions over time, between direct actions (for example, supporting local communities to adapt to climate change) and failure to address systemic issues that constrain those actions (for instance, policies and actors causing climate change, cf. Hill et al 2020). Social innovation, as a process designed to more sustainable social and environmental practices and relationships is a good entry point to observe this congruence or dissociation between those two dimensions.
Social innovation is there understood as a more or less unexpected trigger for change in social organization, altering both the status of the “innovative” object and that of its designers and users. Social innovation is not only a way to grasp processes of creation, hybridization, reinterpretation and reorganization (Long 1989) it can also be understood through its political dynamic, as “an unprecedented graft, between two blurred sets, in an arena, via smugglers” (Olivier de Sardan 1993).
The degree to which projects are politicised determines the extent to which they are scaled-up, through levelling processes based on dialogue with state planners, activists, auxiliaries, and officials. In these public spaces, often agonistic (Mouffe 2013), the different stakeholders have logics and interests that do not always converge, between transformation processes and control strategies. For instance, while transboundary social movements are arenas for action where projects are constantly being redefined to bring together local demands, national contexts and transnational agendas (Borras, Edelman and Kay 2008), other participatory mechanisms aim, on the contrary, to capture initiatives or channel them into more manageable forms (Elinoff 2021). In addition, initiatives are sometimes more directly and radically constrained (Ubaldo, Caouette and Reyes 2023), as in the case of entrenched interests of extractive nature, resistant to visions for sustainable change.
To investigate those social innovations, research-action methods have also been designed through innovative fashions, under a variety of participatory methods : some currents are interested in the co-production of knowledge (Meadows et al 2015 ; Heis and Chayan 2020), while others take a more technicist (Jasanoff and Wynne 1998) or technocratic and economic (Ostrom 1996) approach. These methods each have their own virtues, for example, when systemic interpretations of agency contribute to reframe perspectives, while knowledge-focused and solution-oriented approaches are better suited to influence policy (Chambers et al 2021). Some approaches may also be appropriate in different stages of a change process, and further research may explore the role of certain approaches in varying contexts (Clark et al. 2016) and plural ecologies (Duile et al 2023).
On the basis of these milestones and theoretical propositions, the contributors will shed light on synergies and trade-offs between conceptual and practical, socio-technical, relational, organisational and institutional innovations rooted in the South-East Asian context. They will discuss the vernacular logics that preside over processes of selection or detour, experimentation, proposals and their unpredictable effects, as well as discursive universes, evaluation norms and conflicts of interest or values that can weigh down proposed innovations, contributing to social burdens, modes of conservation and rejection of change.
Researchers and practitioners with different angles of approach will address an array of social innovations : partnership for haze crisis management ; inter-regional cooperation for the security of water resources management ; nature-based solutions for water governance ; participatory solutions of fishing communities threatened by dams ; new lifestyles and meta-narratives in alternative settlements ; and negotiations of vital yet disturbing external schemes of social aid for an indigenous society newly converted to Islam.

5 October 2023