Fondation Fyssen - Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale - Pépinière interdisciplinaire - CNRS-PSL « Domestication et fabrication du vivant »

Journées d’étude

10-11 juin 2014, 9h15-18h30

Collège de France, Amphithéâtre Lévi-Strauss

52 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, Paris 5e


Anne Dalsuet, Bérengère Hurand & Perig Pitrou

At a time when we are becoming aware of the potentially catastrophic consequences of our activities on ecosystems, there is a growing discourse that values biomimicry as a way out of the ecological crisis, changing the productivist paradigm associated with the representation of progress for several centuries. The idea that humans should strive to imitate nature is becoming commonplace, whether to make artifacts with specific qualities (resistance, ergonomics, etc.) or to act at the level of systems of relations between beings: beyond the inspiration sought in natural processes, biomimicry is also conceived as a way to develop more environmentally friendly techniques, opening new perspectives for science or industrial innovation. One can therefore understand the power of attraction that such a project exerts on the various practitioners seeking to shape new forms and create ecosystems.

In such a context of innovation and effervescence, it is surprising to note that the humanities and philosophy have not yet shown much interest in this field of practice and knowledge whose potential for modifying living conditions is nevertheless immense. Most often, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997) is used as a reference text, even though for Janine Benyus this work was aimed more at making new experiences known to the greatest number of people than at proposing a systematic and in-depth epistemological reflection. After recalling some key inventions, such as the velcro or the train taking the shape of the kingfisher, and the three levels - forms, materials/structures, systems - where biomimicry manifests itself, a whole series of problems still need to be addressed. Indeed, biomimicry, so sensitive to the idea of innovation, is perhaps not as opposed to synthetic biology as it claims. What is imitation? Is it inscribing itself in continuity or discontinuity with what serves as a model? Is the project thaumaturgic, does it refer to a gesture of domestication, appropriation, or even fabrication of the living, or does it require a posture of humility on the part of the imitator seeking to insert his or her action into larger processes at work in nature? A critical reflection would therefore be welcome to better determine the status of biomimicry, its field of application, the concepts and methods it mobilizes.

The objective of these study days is to offer a space to initiate this reflection. It is proposed to researchers and specialists from various horizons, to start from case studies and to question the conceptions of life underlying the imitation of certain natural processes. Rather than limiting the approach to the sole study of contemporary inventions made in the laboratories of Western countries, contributions based on anthropological and historical disciplines will show how the question of imitating nature varies in time and space.

We will be particularly interested in conceptions of life that manifest themselves by modeling reality, by building new existing ones or other systems of relationships. We will describe as "biomimetic" a fabrication aiming at copying a being or a "natural" functioning, thus creating a kind of second nature, but also the inscription of this fabrication within the processes observed in nature. Among the multiplicity of vital processes (reproduction, growth, interaction with the environment, etc.), which ones does biomimicry privilege at the level of the individual or the system? In La pensée sauvage, Lévi-Strauss explains how, beyond the aesthetic pleasure they provide, scale models offer humans the satisfaction of understanding the logic behind their manufacture. Similarly, thinking about how the modeling of life - in reduced form, but also through enlargement procedures - allows humans to better understand the springs of vital processes, by representing or reconstructing them, is of real interest. In short, the challenge is to ask what biomimicry means in order to determine the conceptions of life associated with its use as a method of observation and transformation of reality. By establishing an interdisciplinary and comparative dialogue, it will be a question of studying in a systematic way the complementarity - or the possible incompatibilities - of these conceptions - by paying attention, for example, to the problems raised by changes of scale or the relationships between individuals and systems.



10 juin 2014

9h15 Accueil

9h35 Perig Pitrou, CNRS, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, L’imitation de la vie dans une perspective anthropologique.

10h15 Anne Dalsuet, Académie de Créteil, Le biomimétisme : une refondation éthique de l'épistémologie ? Réflexions critiques à partir de Biomimicry, Innovation inspired by Nature de J. Benyus.


10h55-11h10 Pause


11h10 Gilles Bœuf, Collège de France, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Tirer parti de la biodiversité pour de la bio-inspiration.

11h50 Gauthier Chapelle, Biomimicry Europa, Le biomimétisme comme une approche pour nous réinsérer dans la biosphère : un point de vue de la société civile.

12h30 Discussion


13h10-14h30 Buffet


14h30 Philippe Descola,Collège de France, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, Le jardin comme imitation d’un écosystème.

15h10 Nathalie Blanc, CNRS, LADYSS, De la séparation nature/culture au biomimétisme : un rapport à la nature revu et corrigé ?

15h50-16h10 Pause


16h10 Julien Delord, ERRAPHIS, De Lascaux 2 à Biosphère 2 : analyse des échecs de l’éco-mimétisme.

16h50 Doyle McKey,Université Montpellier 2, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier, et Institut Universitaire de France, Do farmers use, and imitate, self-organizing resource-concentration mechanisms driven by non-human engineers in constraining environments? Biocultural landscapes and biomimicry at the ecosystem level.

17h30-18h30 Discussion


11 juin 2014

9h30 Accueil


9h45 Dimitri Karadimas, CNRS, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, Biomimétisme ou biomorphisme? Imiter ou reconnaître le vivant dans la création des animaux imaginaires.

10h25 Jessica Riskin, Stanford University, L’Horloge inquiète.


11h05-11h20 Pause


11h20 Joffrey Becker,EHESS, Artmap, Engrenages : à propos de l’imitation robotique de la nature.

12h Carole Collet, University of the Arts London, The Biological Advantage.

12h40 Discussion


13h10-14h40 Pause


14h40 Marc Fontecave,Collège de France, Chimie bioinspirée : le vivant au service des nouvelles technologies de l’énergie.

15h20 Philippe Rahm, architecte EPFL/FAS, directeur de l’agence Philippe Rahm architectes à Paris et Professeur invité à l’Université de Harvard, USA, L’architecture comme une forme augmentée de la thermogenèse.


16h-16h20 Pause


16h20 Bérengère Hurand, Académie de Paris, La nature peut-elle inspirer l’économie ?

17h-18h Discussion


18h Cocktail de clôture