In Catastrophic Times ("Au temps des catastrophes »), by Isabelle Stengers



1 min

In Catastrophic Times ("Au temps des catastrophes »), by Isabelle Stengers

Through In Catastrophic Times, Isabelle Stengers creates a record of global warming and provides us food for thought on how to combat the economic and natural dangers it causes.


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A scientific philosopher

A Belgian philosopher born in 1949 and a professor at the Université Libre in Brussels, Isabelle Stengers is a specialist in philosophy. In 1992 she published her first personal work, The Will to Do Science, Regarding Psychoanalysis (“La Volonté de faire science, À propos de la psychoanalyse”) which notably deals with Freud’s hypnosis.


In 1997, the philosopher published Sciences and Powers (“Sciences et pouvoirs”), her first political essay, in which she criticises the ways governing institutions and their representatives use science for their own ends, thereby hijacking a science that is intended to remain neutral and objective.


In In Catastrophic Times (2008), Isabelle Stengers continues her analysis of political philosophy and urges the public to regain its autonomy, which is today entrusted to "guardians" (political or economic institutions). This theme is also at the heart of Civilising Modernity (“Civiliser la modernité”), published in 2017.


A critique of capitalism

Where the institutions that govern us speak of “crisis” or “debt” – concepts that imply a temporary nature –, Isabelle Stengers chooses the term “disasters”, to invite us to think of them in a new way.


Whether ecological, social or economic, the disasters that our civilisation is experiencing are inexorably leading us to an unbalanced world that will be impossible to rectify if we do not take action now. "Don't ask me which “other world” may be possible [...]. The answer does not belong to us, it belongs to a process of creation.”


Isabelle Stengers then invites the public to re-appropriate its future and find new ways to act.


Economy and environment

The philosopher recalls a 1995 poll according to which the majority of French people believed that their children would have worse living conditions than they themselves. For her, this resignation is dangerous. She wrote In Catastrophic Times “to resist despair, and for those who are trying to write another story, despite the struggles”.


An ardent critic of neoliberalism, Isabelle Stengers had already begun thinking about the capitalist economic system with Capitalist Sorcery (“La Sorcellerie capitaliste”), written with Philippe Pignarre in 2005. For her, at a time when “it is easier [...] to imagine the end of the world and of civilisation than that of capitalism”, it is urgent to shake off the fate to which we are subject.


Ideas with international influence

The book’s subtitle, Resisting the coming Barbarism (“Résister à la barbarie qui vient”), refers directly to Socialism or Barbarism (“Socialisme ou barbarie”), the journal created by Rosa Luxembourg in 1915. For the co-founder of the German Communist Party, there was no alternative.


While recognising the limitations of the Marxist model, Isabelle Stengers hopes to encourage, through her work, the fight against the "barbarism" of social inequalities, which will continue to grow if nothing is done.


Isabelle Stengers' book was published in english translation by 2015 by Open Humanities Press. In 2017, In Catastrophic Times was also translated into spanish.

The Institut français and the project

In Catastrophic Times (“Au temps des catastrophes”) has been translated into Portuguese and Spanish with the support of the Institut français.


Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the dissemination of French language humanities worldwide.


Learn more about the publication assistance programmes