French collapsology

If you didn’t know this, in recent years France has seen a big societal movement around the idea that we are approaching a collapse. The biggest Facebook group around this theme has 16 500 members (as of April 2019).

If you are familiar with thinking about societal collapses, the intellectual content of this movement is not really anything new. It is based on ideas around peak oil, the Limits to Growth report, Joseph Tainters ”The Collapse of complex societies” and similar writing. Several French writers have succeeded in summarising these lines of thought in a very effective and striking way. Pablo Servigne is the big star here, and also the person who coined the term collapsology (collapsologie). With this he designated the study of the possible collapse of our industrial civilisation. The term was first used more jokingly, but then it stuck, since there is a need for a term for this field, and it is indeed an emerging academic field with influences from many disciplines. Like anthropoloy, economics, agronomy, geology, physics etc. (for readers not familiar with collapse-theory, there are some links below)

I feel that the awareness of a possible or probable collapse can be very important when that day comes, so I have been trying to understand why this has grown in such an extraordinary way in France. I put the question on Transition 2030 facebook group a while ago.

These were some answers:

  • France has experienced war relatively recently, in Algeria and the World War Two. This means that every Frenchman has heard his or her parents and grandparents talk about wartime. There is an awareness that this society might not last forever.
  • The very hierarchic societal structure of French society makes for lots of distrust and disillusionment at the bottom of society. Both the yellow vests and the collapsology-movement might have in common that they gain momentum from the sense of distance that ordinary people feel towards the political sphere.
  • At the same time the hierarchic structure give some people with the right credentials lots of access to media, and a number of influential people of the establishment has endorsed idea of a societal collapse underway. Notable names are for instance the engineer and environmentalist Jean-Marc Jancovici and the former environmental minister Yves Cochet.
  • A though I might add is also that France for a long time has been a cradle of new, groundbreaking intellectual currents, and this might be one of those.

Since it is not that easy to find information in English about the collapsology-movement, I would like to give some advice about where to start.

Arret sur Images is a debate-program that made a series of programs about collapse last summer (2018). This one has also been translated. Note that you need to scroll down to the middle of the page to find the version with English subtitles.

Next is a brilliant web-series published on Youtube that covers collapse from different angles. Several of the first parts have been translated into English. You will then need to go into the Youtube-player and press ”settings” and ”subtitles”, and if it have an English translation this will be marked.

There are two other clips on Youtube in French with English subtitles: Understanding the collapse of societal collapse and Will videogames disapear?   (this title might seem far from the theme of this blog, but it is largely focued on collapse)

  • Note: if you are new to collapse thinking, the Crash Course of PeakProsperity might be good place to start. Nicole Foss is also good at summarizing these ideas, for instance in this interview.
  • I who write this am a Swedish psychologist and MBA. The title of this blog could be translated as Societal Collapse for Dummies.
  • Please comment if you know of other English sources for information about collapsology.
  • For readers with a research interest I might recommend Cyprien Tasset, who is a social scientist researching the French collapsology-movement.

En kommentar till “French collapsology”

  1. Nate Hagens in the USA is teaching a course at the University of Minnesota,
    the freshman introduction course is available on youtube,

    Ronald Wright did a lecture tour to support his book ’A Short History of Progress’ and it’s available on youtube as the 2014 Massey Lecture Tour, Canada,

    from the UK there’s Dr Tim Morgan who was head of research at Tullet Prebon and produced a final report named ’Perfect Storm’ back in 2012 that got him dubbed ’Terrifying Tim’ by the orthodox economic press,

    subsequently he’s been running a blog that continues to analyse the decline of economies using his surplus energy economics data model,

    I’ve recently taken an interest in the French Collapsology movement seeking further inspiration and was rather impressed by the course Jean Marc Jancovici was teaching last year at L’Ecole des Mines Paris,
    it’s on youtube, 8 lectures, 20hrs in total, in french but subtitled in english,

    these are all his videos in English or subtitled in English and the lecture series is amongst them,
    it really is superb stuff!

    probably the most influential book for me was The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
    it scared the pants off me and set me upon a quest to find out as much as I can!

    I don’t know if you’re aware of the behavioural research of John B Calhoun,

    Mike Freedman directed a documentary drawing heavily on this work, Critical Mass, that was released in 2012
    if you can find it online, as I did, it’s worth a watch.

    in the UK there is a Guy called Jem Bendell who has shifted to focusing on what he calls Deep Adaption and trying to support people who become traumatised by the realisation of how badly we’ve screwed up as a society,

    as a reminder that collapse isn’t a modern concern I managed to find a science fiction dramatisation series based on a book by Terry Nation, the Doctor Who guy, and produced by the BBC,
    the first series aired in 1975 and ran for 3 seasons completing the story arc,
    it fascinated me as a child and I found it online and rewatched it during the covid-19 lockdown earlier this year,

    Charles Hugh Smith has a long running blog in the US that has been charting the decline of the economic system, it’s quite influential and has a strong following,

    Emily has been running her blog for ages where she’s reviewed and presented an amazing number of relevent books and reports,

    I’m a big fan of Kris de Kecker’s online magazine about low tech,

    probably the greatest documentary maker in Britain is Adam Curtis,
    he’s worked exclusively for the BBC and produced some really fascinating explorations into power and how it works in society,
    I’ve watched everything he’s ever made,

    will this be enough to get you through till the spring?!

    have fun : )


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