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Nuit des idées 2019
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The Night of Ideas 2019, anchored in the present

The fourth edition of the Night of Ideas was held on 31st January. Hundreds of experts around the world meet for discussions around the theme "Facing the Present".

Updated on 04/03/2019

5 min

A moment of unifying collective reflection

Over four editions, the event has grown considerably. From the initial experience which brought together 4,000 people at the Quai d’Orsay trade shows in 2016, to the 200,000 participants recorded worldwide in 2018, in addition to the 41 million people who contributed to the hashtag #lanuitdesidees, these meetings are now well-established on the international cultural landscape.

After having confronted "A Shared World" in 2017, through issues such as the future of the oceans, the challenges of hacking, and Europe, last year The Night of Ideas interrogated "Imagination in Power", echoing the legacy of May 68 at the moment when the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the movement. This presented an opportunity to discuss the emergence of the new forms of struggle carried out by whistle-blowers and the quest for utopia, with guests as prestigious as the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the mathematician Cédric Villani or the filmmaker Robert Guédiguian.


“Facing the Present"

This year's theme is very broad. For Sandrine Treiner, Director of France Culture Public Radio, which will cover the event, the phrase "Facing the Present" must firstly be understood as "a kind of moral imperative. She also sees in it, to borrow the words of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, a way of “thinking the present” in order to “try to understand what is happening”. This is the first way of understanding the theme: thinking about the current situation of an era prone to technological, environmental, social and geopolitical upheavals.

The various actors involved in the Night of Ideas around the world - philosophers, writers, researchers, intellectuals, students, whistle-blowers, artists, political figures and the general public - are thus invited to question our perception of time in the era of the “tyranny of the present”. They are also interested in the different forms of civic engagement, in order to provide answers to a question that has become urgent: how can we tackle the challenges of our time?

This question echoes the commitments of the Fondation de France, which is a partner of the event. The foundation, which is the leading French philanthropy network, celebrates half a century of existence this year and, for its director Axelle Davezac, the philosophy of the Night of Ideas is very much in line with their approach: “focusing on participation, trusting civil society to imagine and develop initiatives”.

Claudie Haigneré
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Claudie Haigneré
Claudie Haigneré, for the Nuit des idées 2019 (French)

Social commitment at the heart of the plan

The programme for the Night of Ideas 2019 already lays out a roadmap of most pressing contemporary issues. The question of Europe, first and foremost, with students from the École Normale Supérieure (Paris) staging their own European Parliament, while Ground Control hosts the European Lab Winter Forum, a series of talks on cultural issues organised by the collective Arty Farty. The environment is at the heart of the “Night of Water” held in Townhouse Rawabet Cairo, Egypt. Finally, the issue of gender equality remains a major concern with many round tables on this topic in the Ivory Coast (“Women of Power in the face of Social Prejudices”), and the Czech Republic (“To Be or Not to Be a Feminist Today”).

New forms of sharing and solidarity are also being highlighted, for example in Poitiers, where the Night of Ideas offers the opportunity to examine a socially responsible process of co-construction begun in 2018. Other cities are putting the concept of social commitment into practice by actively involving the public, whether as part of a podcast factory at La Recyclerie, a space for eco-responsible experimentation in Paris, or while recording a live radio show with the artist Frank Smith at the Ateliers Médicis, a centre for cultural research, creation and sharing located in Clichy-sous-Bois in Greater Paris.

Questions of power and territory are also the subject of numerous talks, focusing on the city and its future (“Dreaming your City, Dreaming Your Home” in India, “The Inclusive city” in Sweden, “Art and architecture” in Hong Kong), on the desire to maintain exchanges (“What is the future of multilateralism? in Japan with political leader Pascal Lamy), and even on the temptation of borders and walls (“Migrations, Exiles and Populism” in Turkey with sociologist Éric Fassin and “Migrations and Borders” in Canada).

The anthropologist Philippe Descola and the American artist Theaster Gates, who were invited to launch this night of international dialogue and are the guests of honour for this 4th edition, will participate in a conversation at the Quai d’Orsay facilitated by journalist and writer Marie Richeux. One, a professor at the Collège de France, describes the barriers that divide our understanding of nature; the other, an internationally renowned visual artist, probes the rifts that criss-cross our experience of the city. Through their meeting, a question arises: how can we draw on the resources of the humanities and artistic creation to face the present together? 

Bruno Latour
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Bruno Latour
Bruno Latour, for the Nuit des idées 2019 (French)

An event to share ideas between generations and countries

This year, the Night of Ideas finally seeks to address young audiences with the Little Night of Ideas in London, a series of workshops and discussions aimed at (re)thinking the link between urban and rural environments, led by illustrator Camille Aubry, and accessible to children from all over the world via live video streaming. A system that reflects and sums up the purpose of the event: to share ideas freely, between generations and between countries.

The Institut français and the project


An annual meeting devoted to the free movement of ideas and knowledge, the Night of Ideas is coordinated by the Institut français.

L'institut français, LAB