2 credits

  • Component

    Faculty of Science

  • Hourly volume



1 "The way in which the modern West represents nature is the least shared thing in the world" (Descola, 2005, p. 56). According to anthropologist Philippe Descola, the category of "Nature," as a reality separate from the human world, is an invention of Europeans that is only one of the possibilities available to societies to account for the living and non-living beings that surround them.

If Philippe Descola contributes to renewing questions about the relationship between society and the environment, he nevertheless draws on a long tradition in the human and social sciences. Numerous works have already explored the various forms of knowledge and social organization to which these relationships give rise: ethnoscience, anthropology of technology, economic anthropology, ethnoecology, sociology of science and technology, etc.

This issue is far from being confined to the academic sphere. It also arouses the interest of actors in conservation (biodiversity, natural resources, etc.) and industry (pharmacology). It also mobilizes so-called "indigenous" populations who claim, both locally and internationally, access to resources and the preservation of an intangible heritage.

2. Situated at the meeting point of the social sciences and the life sciences, these disciplines analyze how human societies use plants, animals, and other components of the environment, but also how their conceptions and representations of their environment(s) guide these uses. This research also explores how human societies organize themselves, perpetuate themselves, change to adapt to new contexts (globalization, global changes) and transmit knowledge about their relationships with nature.

For a long time, these disciplines focused more specifically on the interrelations between so-called "traditional" societies and their immediate environment. Subsequently, since the 1970s, researchers have reconsidered the distinction between so-called "traditional" and "modern" societies in order to better address new contemporary environmental and social transformations.

Indeed, on the one hand, local societies, even the most isolated, are affected by events that are decided and take place on different scales (international conventions, economic crises). Their immediate environment is also affected by global phenomena (climate change, erosion of biodiversity, etc.). In return, their actions can also have international ecological, social and economic repercussions, when, for example, these societies organize themselves to bring their claims to international arenas.

On the other hand, the relationship that modern societies have with their environment is being reconfigured in the face of the observation that the planet is increasingly "artificialized" and threatened by ruptures and serious crises. The place of fauna and flora is being reconsidered and is the subject of controversy as to their rights. Moreover, the entry into a new geological era, the Anthropocene, is invoked to challenge both the natural sciences and the human and social sciences on the need to consider differently a common history of the environment and societies.

3. The very work of scientists and engineers is apprehended in a new light. In this respect, a new scientific project in the humanities and social sciences aims at reconsidering the role of "non-humans" and calls for finding other analytical categories than those of Nature and Culture. New scales and methods of investigation are also envisaged to analyze global processes.

These recent changes in scale invite the researcher in the humanities and social sciences to (re)consider his or her approach through a reflexive approach: he or she is no longer a simple observer, but can also be a real actor in the processes, when not directly involved in a social movement.

4. The objective of this module is to introduce these different scientific and operational fields. It is to provide students with reference points and elements for reflection, in order to be able to construct scientific questions on the relationships between societies and the environment, in order to reflect on the ways in which current environmental and social issues can be dealt with. The varied geographical and disciplinary experiences of the speakers will make it possible to illustrate the approach through a wide range of ecosystem types, socio-cultural contexts and themes. In the time available, we will not pretend to cover all the themes, approaches and methods in an exhaustive manner. Any student wishing to delve deeper into this area will need to engage in a more in-depth training process.

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Knowledge control

Continuous assessment : 100%.

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