effondrement / collapsologie collapse / collapsology


© Raphaëlle Macaron/Noël Mamère/Editions du Faubourg

The neologism collapsologie first entered the public discourse in France in 2015 with the publication of Comment tout peut s’effondrer? Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes. Co-authors Pablo Servigne, an agronomist and biologist by training, and Raphaël Stevens, an independent researcher and eco-adviser, aimed at ‘giv[ing] meaning to events’, intensifying social ‘crises’, and environmental disasters that, while studied and reported upon by scientists, leave too many people utterly perplex as to whether their course can be changed or not. In that context, Servigne and Stevens see the mission of collapsologie as bridging the gap between the ‘great scientific statements, so rigorous and all encompassing’ that have been made for fifty years and ‘the everyday life that gets lost in the details, in the clutter of the unexpected and the heat of our emotions’ (2020: 49). Later in the book, they write: ‘collapsology, which we define as the transdisciplinary study of the collapse of our industrial civilization, and what might succeed it, [is] based on the two cognitive modes of reason and intuition and on recognized scientific studies’ (2020: 180). They nonetheless warn on several occasions against succumbing to either pessimism or catastrophism, stating that, while ‘[…] a collapse shuts down certain futures […]’, ‘it opens up countless other futures, some surprisingly cheerful’; ‘the challenge, then, is to tame these new futures and make them viable’ (2020: 9). According to this theory, collapse is undeniably happening and may have already started.

The sensational and polarizing value of the word collapse, or effondrement, is precisely what, in collapsologists’ view, compels people to face the gravity of the situation and start acting. It thus participates in their efforts to change narratives and activate people’s ability to imagine and reimagine the world they live in, an effort that extends beyond collapsology and has been the focus of other associations and initiatives, such as the Mouvement Colibris (founded by the late Pierre Rhabi), filmmaker and author Cyril Dion’s works such as Demain / Tomorrow (2015) or the three-part documentary series, Un Monde Nouveau / A Whole New World (2022), for instance. In more recent publications and media appearances, Servigne, now regarded as a champion of collapsology in France, has continued to strike a balance between urgency and pedagogy, which is reflected in the title of his most recent book, L’effondrement (et après) expliqué à nos enfants…et à nos parents [Collapse (and after) explained to our children… and our parents], which he co-wrote with long-time collaborator Gauthier Chapelle.i

While contentious, even among ecologists, collapsology has undeniably contributed to reigniting public consciousness and activism toward declining biodiversity and deteriorating human habitats. In just a few years, the words effondrement and collapsologie have become quite ubiquitous in France and generated intense academic and public debates. By 2019, countless programming and interviews in broadcast media and on the Internet featured Servigne and discussed the merits or shortcomings of la collapso. Furthermore, a growing number of books, TV series, and films, such as the suffocatingly compact 8-part TV series L’Effondrement / The Collapse (Les Parasites, 2019) and the graphic novel The End (Zep, 2018), have also helped disseminate its theories and visions for the future to come.ii Simultaneously, various YouTube channels, websites, magazines, and social media groups have become virtual communities of like-minded emerging collapsonautes (Citton and Rasmi 2020).

Regardless of its broad appeal, collapsology has been scrutinized and caused polemics. Agronomist Raphaël Larrère and philosophers Catherine Larrère (2020) and Pierre Charbonnier (2019), for instance, have recently argued that, in ushering in a grand, totalizing narrative, collapsology obscures local realities and ignores the different capacities people may have to embrace the radical change in lifestyles that such view foresees and calls for.iii Admittedly, even when Servigne and Stevens tend to the ‘psychology of the collapse’ and the ‘politics of the collapse’, they raise general questions that seem paradoxically only directed at Western societies more than they provide answers or concrete pathways that can accommodate the variable expressions of collapse and their effects on communities worldwide and within countries.iv They infer that ‘[i]t now seems essential to devise a way of thinking up policies that will respond calmly and sensibly to the issues that we have described and thus find a compromise between the democratic reflex and the urgent need to cope with catastrophes’ (Servigne and Stevens 2020: 176).

In 2020, the Fondation Jean Jaurès ran a comparative study about the cultural and social influence of collapsologie and effondrisme in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States and concluded that the populations of the first two countries in this list were more inclined to believe that our societies were on the brink of collapse, in the shorter or longer term (Cassely and Fourquet 2020). In their first-of-a-kind study of effondrisme as a diffuse set of beliefs and theories that reaches beyond the borders of France, Yves Citton and Jacopo Rasmi conclude that, notwithstanding its many blind spots, collapsology should, and cannot, be reduced to mere pessimism. Instead, while revealing the general anxiety that has become a dominant affect of our times, it has brought forth tools to move past paralyzing catastrophism and reconnected fragmented dispositions, fears, and preoccupations. In their own words, ‘effondristes’ are anything but ‘effondré.e.s’ (crushed). Quite the opposite: Citton and Rasmi argue that collapsology makes us want profound anthropological mutations.v Despite being critical of collapsology’s narrow focus on a foreclosed future, they underscore its affective energy as long as it remains committed to an ethic of the faire avec, which Citton defines as ‘the terraformation’ of our planet as an ecosystem where we can learn to cohabit.vi


Works cited

Cassely, Jean-Laurent and Jérôme Fourquet, ‘La France: patrie de la collapsologie?’ (10/02/2020), https://www.jean-jaures.org/publication/la-france-patrie-de-la-collapsologie/

Charbonnier, Pierre, ‘Splendeurs et misères de la collapsologie: Les impensés du survivalisme de gauche’, Revue du Crieur 13:2 (2019), 88-95.

Citton, Yves and Jacopo Rasmi, Générations collapsonautes: Naviguer par temps d’effondrements (Paris: Seuil, 2020).

Larrère, Catherine and Raphaël, Le Pire n’est pas certain: Essai sur l’aveuglement catastrophiste (Premier Parallèle, 2020).

Servigne, Pablo and Raphaël Stevens, Comment tout peut s’effondrer ? Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2015).

Servigne, Pablo and Raphaël Stevens, How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times, trans. Andrew Brown (John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2020).

i The following list is far from exhaustive: Mutual Aid: The Other Law of the Jungle (Gauthier Chapelle, Pablo Servigne, 2017, trans. Andrew Brown, Polity, 2022); Another End of the World is Possible: Living the Collapse (and Not Merely Surviving it) (Gauthier Chapelle, Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, 2018, trans. Geoffrey Samuel, Polity Press, 2021); L’effondrement (et après) expliqué à nos enfants…et à nos parents (Pablo Servigne, Gauthier Chapelle, Paris: Seuil, 2022) ; ‘Effondrement de la civilisation ? Pablo Servigne ’, Thinkerview (23/03/2018) ; ‘Une leçon de collapsologie avec Pablo Servigne’, France Culture (29 mars 2019) ; ‘Pablo Servigne : penser l’effondrement de notre monde’, Mediapart (13 juillet 2015) ; Vincent Mignerot, ‘L’Effondrement : inéluctable ? ’ Conférence à l’Université de Bretagne Sud (17 octobre 2019) ; ‘Pablo Servigne : Effondrement vs Éco-anxiété’, Soif de sens (8 novembre 2020) ; ‘Vers un effondrement de la civilisation ? Festival International de Géographie (4 octobre 2020) ; Bruno Villalba, Les collapsologues et leurs ennemis (Editions Le Pommier, 2021) ; Philippe Pelletier, Effondrement et capitalisme vert : La collapsologie en question (Nada, 2020) ; Julien Wosnitza, Pourquoi tout va s’effondrer (Les liens qui libèrent, 2018) ; Yves Cochet, Devant l’effondrement : Essai de collaspsologie (Les liens qui libèrent, 2019) ; Renaud Duterme, De quoi l’effondrement est-il le nom ? (Les éditions Utopia, 2016) ; Paul Cary, Nadia Garnoussi, and Yann Le Lann (dir.), Questionner l’effondrement : Reconfigurations théoriques et nouvelles pratiques (Presses universitaires Septentrion, 2022) ; Pierre-Éric Sutter, and Loïc Steffan, N’ayez pas peur du collapse (Desclée de Brouwer, 2020) ; Jean-Marc Gancille, Ne plus se mentir: Petit exercice de lucidité par temps d’effondrement écologique (Paris: Rue de l’échiquier, 2019) ; Yves Cochet, Devant l’effondrement: Essai de collapsologie (Paris: Les liens qui libèrent, 2019).

ii ‘En 2019, les fictions entreront-elles dans l’ère de la collapsologie ?’, France Culture (18 janvier 2019), https://www.radiofrance.fr/franceculture/podcasts/le-billet-culturel/en-2019-les-fictions-entreront-elles-dans-l-ere-de-la-collapsologie-8244944; Jean-Paul Engélibert, ‘La fiction et l’effondrement qui vient’, AOC (2 septembre 2019), https://aoc.media/analyse/2019/09/02/la-fiction-et-leffondrement-qui-vient/.

iii See also : Fabrice Flipo, ‘Simplismes de l’écologie catastrophiste, vraiment ?’ AOC (27 novembre 2019), https://aoc.media/opinion/2019/11/26/simplismes-de-lecologie-catastrophiste-vraiment/; ‘Critique de la collapsologie avec Jean-Pierre Dupuy’, La Terre au Carré, France Inter (27 janvier 2020), https://www.radiofrance.fr/franceinter/podcasts/la-terre-au-carre/critique-de-la-collapsologie-avec-jean-pierre-dupuy-1217706.

iv In the chapter ‘And Where Do Human Beings Fit into All This?’, Servigne and Stevens (2020) address what they define as the ‘branches of a still nascent collapsology’: ‘the demography of the collapse’ (p. 143), ‘the sociology of collapse’ (p. 148), ‘the psychology of the collapse’ (p. 155), and ‘the politics of the collapse’ (p. 167).

v ‘[U]n enjeu central de l’imaginaire apocalyptique (et donc toujours un peu eschatologique) de la collapsologie, au-delà de faire croire aux dangers qui nous menacent, est de faire désirer les mutations anthropologiques en cours et à venir’ (Citton and Rasmi 2020: 245).

vi ‘Faute de pouvoir remonter le temps, activistes et artistes peuvent au moins remonter affectivement les resorts qui nous pousseront à sortir autant de notre passivité insouciante que de notre sidération effrayée’ (Citton and Rasmi 2020: 255).

Audrey Evrard

Audrey Evrard is Associate Professor of French at Fordham University. She specializes in French screen studies, focusing primarily on the intersection between aesthetics, politics, and ethics in French and Francophone cinema. She is the author of Precarious Sociality, Ethics and Politics: French Documentary Cinema in the Early 21st Century (University of Wales Press, 2022), and her articles on French documentary cinema and TV dramas have appeared in various journals, including French Screen Studies, Jump Cut, Modern and Contemporary France, and Nottingham French Studies.