Book Club

The Chair read for you Petit traité d’écologie sauvage by Alessandro Pignocchi

Published on 21 February 2021

What if we reverse the roles? What if the dominant thinking is no longer that of the western countries, but that of the societies that populate the Amazon rainforest? What elements of our culture should be preserved at all costs, and for which reasons? Alessandro Pignocchi, a former researcher in cognitive sciences at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), invites us to this difficult, almost impossible thought experiment through the three volumes of his Petit traité d’écologie sauvage [1].

Hybrid works, almost ULO (for Unidentified Literary Objects), the Petits traités are at the same time comics in the most classical sense of the term (drawings, bubbles of text, punchline, then switch to another situation), anthropology essays discussing the concept of Nature/Culture duality, and humorous satyrs of our western way of thinking. We will thus follow the adventures of a Jivaro anthropologist who goes to France to study the habits and customs of the inhabitants of Bois-le-Roi (Seine-et-Marne), the arguments of political leaders who are more fascinated by the wonders of life than busy solving economic and social problems of their respective countries, and the (most often hilarious) dialogues of political activist chickadees, to name a few.

Because this is exactly what A. Pignocchi invites us to do: to imagine the abolition of this duality between Nature and Culture, which is a fundamental concept amongst the western way of thinking, but completely absent from that of the Amerindian peoples. This intellectual effort is significant, but if it is pushed deep enough, it allows us to finally glimpse mankind not as a species intrinsically different from what surrounds it, but rather as part of a whole, and thus just as vulnerable and essential as the rest of the living world. Consequently, all living beings are social actors in their own right, and it is therefore no longer surprising to see chickadees organizing militant actions against the Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear power plant, or simply V. Putin marrying a papaya. 

While the work humorously illustrates the profound misunderstandings emerging in the dialogue of almost diametrically opposed societies, it is nonetheless the result of a profound reflection on what makes us humans think we are so special compared to the rest of the living world. Although the message of biodiversity conservation is obviously underlying, the motivations for this conservation are no longer the same. Here, it is not about seeing Nature as a set of resources (material or intellectual) that we have to safeguard in order to ensure our own subsistence, but simply as a network of actors interacting with each other, and in fact where each and everyone has the right to exist. Cited in Volume 2, the sociology theory of the network actor, introduced by Bruno Latour and his colleagues in the 1980s, seems to be one of the promising avenues for achieving such a paradigm shift, where our ‘world history’ (our cosmogony) would then become radically different.

Dealing more with society issues than with the environment, the comic “Faut pas prendre les cons pour des gens ” by E. Reuzé and N. Rouhaud recently published by Fluide Glacial editions, proposes a similar exercise, always with loads of humor. We would therefore strongly recommend it to you if you liked the Petits traités d’écologie sauvage.

Théotime Coudray, Ph.D. Candidate “Renawable and intermittent energies and power system flexibility : the case of French region Occitanie”.

[1]. Alessandro Pignocchi, Petit traité d’écologie sauvage – Tomes 1 à 3, Steinkis Editions, 2017-2020