CfP: Une autre histoire des modernisations agricoles au XXe siècle / Environmental history of 20th century agricultural modernizations

Call for papers, deadline 30 April 2017


Since La fin des paysans (Mendras, 1967), the history of French agriculture in the XXth Century has been told through the Janus faces of nostalgia (the end of a peasant society) and modernism (a ‘necessary’ modernization, a path from ‘immobility’ to innovation, etc.). The common frame shared by both stories has been revised by recent advances in history and social studies of agricultural modernizations, in a societal context where many initiatives challenge today the former modernizing model. This conference aims to take stock of these renewals and discuss research work in progress about the transformations of agriculture in the 20th century.

First of all it matters to situate the French experience within a broader, international and comparative understanding of 20th century agricultural modernizations that took place from the American Progressive Era to the European Common Market, as well as in the ‘Green Revolutions’ in the South or in the agricultural transformations in fascist, national-socialist or communist Europe (Cabo and al., 2014). At least one plenary meeting and two sessions will be dedicated, in English, to those topics. Looking at different scales, it will be sought to combine the most empiric and local inquiries to the many analytical frames that have been proposed: victory of an urban and industrial society, not without resistance (Salmona, 1994 ; Lynch, 2011); growing hegemonic position of the “business farmer” (“exploitant agricole”) at the expense of the peasant over a sector, that has entered a globalised industrial economy (Muller, 1984 ; Alphandéry et al., 1989); assertion and transformations of the consulting and agricultural research technostructure ; genesis of a new global Food Regime and rise of the agro-industry (Friedmann, 2005, Allaire & Daviron, 2017) ; assertion of a new biopower when the genetic quality of plants and animals becomes a state issue (Flitner, 2003) ; disruption of matter and energy flows that are associated with agricultural systems (Smil, 2000 ; Telo et al., 2017), etc.

Secondly, the conference will welcome a diversity of studies that shed light on the various aspects of French agriculture’s transformations from the 1940s to the 1980s. Several sessions and plenary meetings will be dedicated to those. Modernization will be taken here as a set of neither inexorable nor necessary choices, pushed forward by situated actors, by specific sociotechnical imaginaries (of the future, of fairness, of productivity and « progress »), by knowledge/power instruments and indicators (‘productivity, UTH, SMI) that were historically constructed (Pessis and al. 2013). Our understanding of the « modernizing » collective action systems (Brunier, 2016), their political dynamic and their economic results can also be enlarged by looking at heteronomies, social suffering and environmental changes.

The agricultural and nutritional mutation after 1945 was de facto one of the main factors of alteration of ecosystems over the whole French territory. Those brutal transformations of the countryside were large-scale and unprecedented. They immediately generated reactions, which formed, as soon as the 1950s, one facet of a growing concern for the protection of nature and the environment. Conflicts and institutionalization hence arose (Charvolin, 2003). Though the ministry of Agriculture co-carried the 1960 law on national parks, the environmental regulation and the agricultural sector are progressively isolated, with the nature protection law taken out of its original matrix: the Code Rural.

Contributions using new sources, or mobilizing biological and physical methods and indicators to the service of historical understanding (and social studies of the production of those data), will be welcome here to write this renewed history of rural, agricultural, nutritional, social and environmental changes and their associated conflicts and policies, that took place in France between the 40s and the 80s. It matters also to give a voice to the numerous resistances, which have for many years been erased in the “modernization” victors’ great narrative and to look at the forms of government of “progress” and its challenges in a new way (for instance the organization of agronomic, environmental, toxicological or nutritional expertise). It would be interesting to better understand how some topics of conflict that are nowadays intensely debated were discussed already at the dawn of modernization: topics such as lande use change impacts, biodiversity, nutritional quality and soil, or the replacement of peasant agriculture by ‘chemical’ agricultural practices in the integrated systems of agro-business. Here, contributions from history of alternative agricultures and food (Bivar, 2017), from the history of conflicts between the agriculture sector and other uses of the territory, and more generally from environmental history will be most welcome.

In a third part post-WW2’s agricultural modernism’s traces, weight and sociotechnical lock-ins, which still persist in today’s France, will be examined. A plenary slot and parallel sessions, open to all disciplins of the social and agro-ecological sciences, will be dedicated to this matter. Inquiries about the way the after-war “modernization” is put into memory and into narratives in contemporary discourses (of actors, of social sciences, of the humanities) will be encouraged. Analyses of collaborative initiatives and dynamics, which have been questioning the heritage and potential socio-technical locks of the modernizing decades since the 1980-1990s, are also welcome. The development of environmental history, as well as a broadening and diversification of approaches in rural history and studies, enable an overtaking of the double sided frame of interpretation of the agricultural modernization mentioned at the beginning of the CfP, that is presented at the beginning of this call. We expect that this conference can be a place for dialogue, confrontation and synthesis between all those rich approaches.

To submit a communication proposal (that should address one of the three themes mentioned above), please send a 1-2 pages text including an abstract (300-800 words), bibliographical references (5 to 15) and a short bio mentioning your key publications (to et The deadline for submission is April 30th 2017. The scientific committee will publicise its selection and the final program by the end of May. Young researchers are particularly welcome.

Note that the available funding doesn’t allow us, unfortunately, to cover participants’ transportation and accommodation expenses. Registration is free.

The speakers selected by the scientific committee will be asked to send a full text before September 2 (5 to 100000 words), for the purpose of circulation to other speakers in the same session and towards possible publications.

Léna Humbert (EHESS)

Christophe Bonneuil (CAK, EHESS)