PAP 64: Living on the Land: Bruno Latour and the Landscape Approach on the Bibracte Site

Roger Goudiard, February 2023

Le Collectif Paysages de l’Après-Pétrole (PAP)

Anxious to ensure the energy transition and, more generally, the transition of our societies towards sustainable development, 60 planning professionals have joined together in an association to promote the central role that landscape approaches can play in regional planning policies. In this article, Roger Goudiard, administrator of the Bibracte Great Site and member of PAP, pays tribute to the great scholar and intellectual Bruno Latour, and to the inspiration he brought to the management of projects on the Bibracte Great Site.

To download : article-64-collectif-pap_rg.pdf (1.4 MiB)

In the heart of the Regional Nature Park created in 1970 on the old granite massif of the Morvan, twelve communes located on the territory of the ancient town of Bibracte were awarded the Grand Site de France label in 2007 in recognition of the quality of its management by the cultural establishment responsible for the thousand hectares of the archaeological and forestry site, the museum and the European archaeological research centre 1. The local economy is based on grass-fed livestock and forestry, in equal parts in terms of surface area. These two activities have shaped a landscape made up of wooded heights and bocage valleys linked by a network of paths that the rural exodus and massive agricultural decline fossilised in the 20th century. The quality of this natural environment, rich in many intimate corners, and the frequentation of the Bibracte archaeological site as well as its museum now support a residential economy characterised by the injection of resources from elsewhere. A small mid-mountain territory that has long been committed to experimentation on a human scale, the Bibracte region has given rise over the years to an original development based initially on archaeology. Around the Gallic town buried under the forest of Mount Beuvray, an approach to knowledge and animation has taken shape over time, based on the landscape in its threefold dimension of natural ecosystem, territory inhabited by history, the economy and human society, and object of attachment2. This approach makes it possible to think about the interdependence and coviability of living beings, human and non-human, the very ones Latour calls terrestrial.

Bruno Latour’s Landscape and its Links to the Terrestrial

In a break with the way in which the notion of landscape has long been identified in France with an aesthetic apprehension of the natural landscape, the Bibracte project, the last of President François Mitterrand’s major works, gave rise to an innovative project in which the installation of humans in the environment and its constitutive duration were exposed. The development of the site called for archaeological research that was carried out step by step. The restitution of a disappeared landscape, buried under the earth, broke into a local experience that had to be explored and taken into account. Could the exploration of the Gallo-Roman city’s ghostly landscape revive the inhabitants’ sense of belonging to a territory that was inhabited, lived in and worked on, and nourish their attachment to their living environment? What relationship can be found between a scientific project and the local customs of a rural society shaken by the ups and downs of the century? By exploring the feeling of heritage that comes from the inhabitants’ attachment to places inhabited, lived in and worked on by the generations that preceded them, we also encouraged people to visit the Gallic site and the museum. A local sustainable development project based on the landscape approach has thus gradually taken hold at Bibracte, a laboratory for territorial experimentation and innovation. This territory, which has been intensively worked on by managers and researchers, had a high point at the time of the 2020 confinements, a few months after Bruno Latour’s participation in the Entretiens de Bibracte-Morvan in autumn 2019 3. The Entretiens are an annual territorial conference which, since the 2000s, has brought together inhabitants, elected officials, associative and socio-economic actors, academics and intellectuals. In previous years, these anticipation exercises benefited from the conceptual insights of Régis Ambroise and Claude Chazelle on the landscape, then Etienne Le Roy on the common. Following them, the thinker of the ‘terrestrial’ developed the idea, set out in his essay The New Ecological Class in 2022, that the impacts of the Anthropocene require a radical change of perspective. In order to address the scientific warnings about the threat to climate and the erosion of biodiversity, ‘the decisive shift is to prioritise the maintenance of the planet’s habitability, not production’ 4. To give form to this intuition and with the great simplicity that characterised him, Bruno Latour embarked on a methodology inspired by the cahiers de doléances of 1789 5. These had been drawn up village by village after genuine participatory territorial diagnoses. In their image, Latour proposed to the participants to reflect on their living areas, to analyse what threatens them and what alliances should be forged between occupants, human and non-human, to ward off these risks. He taught them to identify the ties that form the basis of our relationships of belonging and appropriation with the earth’s environment, making us responsible for the future of our territories. This approach of « landing » - to echo the title of the essay he had just published6 - and of burying ourselves « in the thousand folds of the landscape » seduced Bruno Latour’s listeners. Forgetting dogmatic rigidity, it focuses on questions that arise as close to the ground as possible, through a pragmatic approach that is always situated, based on a detailed description of plural realities, systematically starting from people’s experiences, and proceeding through surveys.

Confinement and its benefits

After an initial period of stupefaction when faced with the emergence of an unknown virus, with no medicine or vaccine, forcing entire sections of humanity to shut themselves away and bringing the world economy to a standstill, the meeting with Bruno Latour had prepared Bibracte for the unknown of the pandemic. During the dirty days of the years 2020 and 2021, when unprecedented constraints suddenly made such commonplace freedoms as leaving one’s home or meeting others unheard of, a small working group of about twenty people was formed 7. At the same time as Bruno Latour was writing an essay entitled Où suis-je? 8 in which he evokes Kafka’s Metamorphosis, this group felt itself entering into such a process. Less than six months after the meeting with Bruno Latour, we were still imbued with his voluntarism and optimism. The health crisis seemed to us to be a general rehearsal for other crises to come, of a climatic and biological nature, for which it was important to prepare ourselves. Bringing together the actors of the territory in this same questioning, the meeting with Bruno Latour renewed our vision of the territory as well as our involvement in the Grand Site project 9. Associating the different components of the population in the perspective of a common destiny linked to the environmental realities closest to each person’s environment, the meeting with Bruno Latour had been prepared by other actions. For several years, a landscape diagnosis led by the landscape architect Claude Chazelle 10 and an action-research project led by two anthropologists from the University of Grenoble-Chambéry 11 had been conducted. The way in which the inhabitants are attached to their living places had thus begun to be discovered, as well as their perception of landscapes and their relationship to living things, with a very strong sensitivity to the direct or indirect impacts of human action, such as the multiplication of brutal forest cutting or the threats of drought on vegetation and water resources. Whenever possible, the innovative and adaptive capacities of all parties were highlighted.

After a year of questioning the ways to concretely translate this feeling of territorial belonging that united us into a kind of incarnation of this new ecological class that Bruno Latour talks about, several initiatives were launched in mid-2021. Sectoral research-action projects supported by European funds have been launched with our local partners who are already aware of the need to adapt to climate change: the chambers of agriculture and the SAFER, to promote the agrarian transition; the ONF, by inaugurating a forestry laboratory; and hospitality professionals to move towards local heritage tourism 12. The challenge of water, the territory’s « mother of battles », has been the subject of particular attention in a participatory research project by the University of Burgundy. In addition to all these actions concerning the landscape as a natural ecosystem and inhabited territory, the influence of Bruno Latour led us to be particularly interested in the landscape as an object of attachment, too often a blind spot in territorial action 13. In this world of endless crises in which we have entered, Bruno Latour has convinced us of the importance of mobilising the imaginary. « Deep down, people have understood that they have changed their world and that they live on another Earth » 14. It was important from then on that we knew how to « focus on practices that promote the generation necessary to maintain living conditions » by complementing the approaches of the natural and social sciences with those of the living and plastic arts. By adapting this approach to the specific challenges of our territory, we were able to regenerate the collective representation of our living environment as well as the place of each individual in the group.

From artistic agitation to territorial innovation

We postulated with Bruno Latour that people are willing to take care of their living spaces as long as they are attached to them. The recent IPCC and IPBES reports call for « transformative governance » based on this attachment to heritage. In order to arouse and capture this attachment, we have developed « attentive walks » accompanied by scientists, experts and artists who help participants to observe pre-identified clues, creating here and there the conditions for a distracted opening, welcoming the invisible; so that they can then show themselves capable of being attentive in the sense of taking care 15. These walks revive a deep and shared feeling of attachment to places, of concern for the different components of a living environment, this common sense shared by the members of the same society, whether they are old or new actors 16. On the territory of the Bibracte Great Site, it is important to rely on the small « communities of common sense » that live there. In fact, in the background of everyday life, accumulated experience, local knowledge, values and beliefs are integrating new sets of players under the effects of societal changes. The numerous conflicts of use between forest professionals, inhabitants and environmental associations require a detailed analysis of their disagreements in order to move away from frontal oppositions, as we have begun to do with the help of the Nancy engineering school. The same work needs to be done on the subject of water use. Through the use of fictions capable of sparking the invention of new narratives, imaginaries give or restore people’s confidence and activate their desire to take care of their living environment together. Imaginaries lead people to discover their potential for engagement, which makes them more open to change and able to rebuild broken links with landscapes, and to prefigure new possibilities through unprecedented social links, which remain to be built between the different components of a local society. In order to change ways of thinking, to succeed in thinking together and to implement new projects, the Bibracte establishment is supported by the Maison du patrimoine oral de Bourgogne (Burgundy Oral Heritage Centre) and by the Chemins association, which grew out of the group formed during the confinement. The approach is to work « in the open air » in everyday spaces: rural roads, forests, pastures, farmyards, stables, by provoking exchanges informed by science and facilitated by the arts. On the basis of a collection of questions and ideas from village to village on the most sensitive subjects and by allowing themselves to be programmed by the people, artists will combine ideas, situations and actors by imagining scenarios on the subject of water, the forest, housing or health. The aim is to uncover what hinders, as close as possible to each person’s life, by inventing as many opportunities to make common cause 17. Visual arts, performing arts, music, stories, theatre, literature, especially science fiction, the various forms of art and cultural expression play a key role in revealing and nourishing collective invention. Adapted from Bruno Latour’s theatre of negotiations and political arts laboratory 18, the aim is to import a model into the Bibracte area that is capable of giving territorial enthusiasm where social depression and political idleness are dominant today. Our long-term goal is to create a Parliament of the Morvan des Sommets inspired by the Parliament of the Loire 19. Based on the tools developed within the framework of the Où Atterrir Consortium created by Bruno Latour 20, we are betting that elements of the method can be adapted to Bibracte in order to simulate, on a micro-local scale, what could be a landscape diplomacy centred on long-term issues.

From local to global and vice versa

Bruno Latour’s categories and initiatives resonate closely with the notion of transformative governance conceptualised in English-speaking academic and scientific circles 21. As Camille Mazé writes, ‘rather than adapting… it is about transforming to create a fundamentally new system, when conditions make the existing system untenable’ 22. Inspired by Bruno Latour and in line with the modelling of expert circles which are committed to defining ways of meeting current challenges, the Grand Site thus aims to lead a territorial maieutic at Bibracte, intended to help the inhabitants to become actors in their history by anticipating a future that they sense, which is not yet here and which must be helped to happen by dealing with constraints and determinants that are still largely unknown. As Immanuel Kant formulated it in 1803: « intelligence is measured by the amount of uncertainty an individual is capable of facing » 23. The landscape approach is particularly well suited to this field of practice and the Bibracte establishment has adopted it in an original and effective manner. Its scientific culture is capable of designing, negotiating and bringing together interdisciplinary approaches that make the Grand Site an attractive place for researchers and innovators from many disciplines. Analysing the intellectual currents at the origin of the notion of transformative governance, Camille Mazé points out that it gives an important place to the territorial experience of « small social groups that are flourishing all over the world, like so many ‘seeds of a good anthropocene’". Supported by the living thought of Bruno Latour, the territorial laboratory of the Bibracte Grand Site de France has the ambition that the landscape approach it implements will earn it recognition as one of these seeds. This project, which owes him so much, is dedicated to his memory.

Thank you, Mr Latour.

  • 1 Having taken the name of the ancient city, the EPCC Bibracte manages this complex complex on a territory classified as a historic monument since 1984 (law of 1913), a natural monument since 1990 (law of 1930), and labelled as a Grand Site de France since 2007, a label renewed in 2013 and 2022.

  • 2 According to the definition of the Council of Europe: « part of a territory, as perceived by the population and whose character results from the action of natural and human factors and their interactions ». See also Jean-Marc Besse, La Nécessité du paysage, Editions Parenthèses, 2018.

  • 3 Jean-Pierre Renault, Faire Monde Commun, 14e Entretiens de Bibracte, Vents du Morvan n°73, 2019.

  • 4 « The political conduct of the last two centuries around production alone and the sole distribution of its fruits has blinded itself to the limits of the planet’s material conditions. « Neither liberalism nor socialism had seriously taken into account their conditions of habitability. Today, this forces us to reflect on « the place and conception of limits… (which) contradict the modern passion for the continuous overcoming of barriers. » Bruno Latour, Nikolaj Schultz, Memo on the new ecological class, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2022.

  • 5 Les Nouveaux Cahiers de Doléance (NCD) - Spectacles - Debates - Shared creations -éance/

  • #(note) 6] Bruno Latour, Where to land? Comment s’orienter en politique, La Découverte, 2019.

  • 7 With in particular Stéphane Audrand, Nicolas Barral, Anthony Binet, Fazette Bordage, Flore Coppin, Caroline Darroux, Elodie Delhommeau, Benoit Desveaux, Flavien Fuchey, Matei Gheorghiu, Roger Goudiard, Vincent Guichard, Fred Ménard, Sophie Mobillion, Cécile Riffet, Nicolas Simarik, Olivier Thiebaut, Eloise Vial. Half of them live in the territory, the other half come from outside, thus allowing for a debate between the views of old and new inhabitants, farmers, tourism professionals, territorial experts and artists.

  • 8 Bruno Latour, Where am I? Leçons du confinement à l’usage des terrestres, La Découverte, 2021.

  • 9 Roger Goudiard, Towards the Morvan of solutions? by the Land, by the Landscape, by the Common, working paper (on request), 2019.

  • 10 Claude Chazelle, Bibracte Mont Beuvray - Management of the Grand Site and its territories - Definition and management of the landscape buffer zone, Atelier paysagiste Chazelle, 2017

  • 11 Karine Basset, Caroline Darroux, La Singularité territoriale en question. Le récit de territoire pour changer le mode de production de valeurs d’existence en contexte hyper-rural, paper at the ASRDLF International Colloquium in Lasi, Romania, 2019.

  • 12 Roger Goudiard, article Signé PAP n° 54, Collectif Paysages de l’aprèspétrole, 2022. dun-tourisme-culturel-et-de-proximite-un-atour-bas-carbone-enrelisant- hassan-zaoual/

  • 13 This dimension is sometimes understood in landscape approaches by the expression « spirit of place », testifying to the alchemy between the immaterial (spirit) and the material (place).

  • 14 This is the paradox: on the one hand the ecological cause seems marginal, on the other, everyone has already in fact shifted paradigm… Everyone has now understood that decisive action is needed to counter the catastrophe, but that the relays, the motivation, the direction that allow for action are lacking »; however « for the moment… affects are not aligned to the point of creating automatisms… There is a lack of imaginaries capable of feeding political passions », Bruno Latour, Nikolaj Schultz, Memo on the new ecological class, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2022.

  • 15 Jean-Marc Besse, La Nécessité du paysage, Editions Parenthèses, 2018.

  • 16 Panagiotis Christias, Le Sens commun - perspectives pour la compréhension d’une notion complexe, Sociétés, 2005.

  • 17 Nicolas Barral, Association Chemins - Bilan 2021 2022 deux ans d’arpentage et d’action culturelle, internal report (on request), 2022.

  • 18 Franck Leibovici, Valérie Pihet, Pour une école des arts politiques, Tracé Revue Sciences humaines, 2011.

  • 19

  • 20

  • 21 Foremost among which is the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a world reference on the subject: See also IPCC, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of IPCC Working Group 2 to the 6th Assessment Report on Climate Change, 2022. IPBES, Scoping Report to Assess the Root Causes of Biodiversity Loss and the Drivers of Transformative Change - Biodiversity Vision 2050, IPBES, 2021.

  • 22 « To achieve sustainability, it is necessary to initiate systemic changes in values and beliefs, social behaviour patterns and governance regimes », Camille Mazé, The Concept of Transformation towards Sustainability: from Science to Political (in)Action, University of La Rochelle, 2020 -

  • 23 Emanuel Kant, Reflections on Education, translation Alexis Philonenko, Les Etudes Philosophiques, Vrin 1990.


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