Vinciane Despret studied philosophy and, later, psychology, coming back to philosophy with her PhD in 1996. Her first field work was in the Negev desert, in Israel, where she explored the possibility of doing an ethology of the ethologists —similar to the anthropology of the laboratories Bruno Latour had proposed, with the difference that, in this case, the matter was to follow the ethologists while they were themselves following the birds they were observing. She then wrote her PhD about the scientific practices that study emotions in humans and in animals.
Currently Maître de conferences at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Liège, and at the Faculty of Anthropology and Social Sciences and Faculty of Psychology and Sciences of Education at the Free University of Brussels, she still works with animals, and with the humans who observe them, live with them or simply know them.
She has participated to the exhibition "Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy" Peter Weibel & Bruno Latour, held at the ZKM of Karlsruhe in 2005. She has been scientific curator of the exhibition "Bêtes et Hommes" held at the Grande halle de la Villette, in Paris, September 2007-January 2008. She has also been the co-organizer of the workshop "Ce que nous savons des animaux" (Co-director: Raphal Larrère), a workshop held in the Chateau de Cerisy (Normandy) in 2010.
Vinciane Despret is the author of 6 books. She lives in Liège.
- Ces émotions qui nous fabriquent: ethnopsychologie de l'authenticité, Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 1999
- Hans, le cheval qui savait compter, Le Seuil, 2004
- Les grands singes: L'humanité au fond des yeux, avec Chris Herzfeld, Dominique Lestel et Pascal Picq, Odile Jacob, 2005
- Etre bête, avec Jocelyne Porcher, Actes Sud, 2007
- Bêtes et Hommes, Gallimard, 2007
- Au bonheur des morts, La Découverte/ Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2015
About What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?
(University of Minnesota Press, 2016, Translated by Brett Buchanan)
Is it all right to urinate in front of animals? What does it mean when a monkey throws its feces at you? Do apes really know how to ape? Do animals form same-sex relations? Are they the new celebrities of the twenty-first century? This book poses twenty-six such questions that stretch our preconceived ideas about what animals do, what they think about, and what they want.
In a delightful abecedarium of twenty-six chapters, Vinciane Despret argues that behaviors we identify as separating humans from animals do not actually properly belong to humans. She does so by exploring incredible and often funny adventures about animals and their involvements with researchers, farmers, zookeepers, handlers, and other human beings. Do animals a have sense of humor? In reading these stories it is evident that they do seem to take perverse pleasure in creating scenarios that unsettle even the greatest of experts, who in turn devise newer and riskier hypotheses that invariably lead them to conclude that animals are not nearly as dumb as previously thought.
These deftly translated accounts oblige us, along the way, to engage in both ethology and philosophy. Combining serious scholarship with humor that will resonate with anyone, this book—with a foreword by noted French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist of science Bruno Latour—is a must not only for specialists but also for general readers, including dog owners, who will never look at their canine companions the same way again.
About Women Who Make a Fuss
(University of Minnesota Press, 2014, Translated by April Knutson)
Virginia Woolf, to whom university admittance had been forbidden, watched the universities open their doors. Though she was happy that her sisters could study in university libraries, she cautioned women against joining the procession of educated men and being co-opted into protecting a “civilization” with values alien to women. Now, as Woolf’s disloyal (unfaithful) daughters, who have professional positions in Belgian universities, Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret, along with a collective of women scholars in Belgium and France, question their academic careers and reexamine the place of women and their role in thinking, both inside and outside the university. They urge women to heed Woolf’s cry—Think We Must—and to always make a fuss about injustice, cruelty, and arrogance. More info
1-Do animals work? Comedians, dancers, painters and other animal’s artistic careers:
These last few years, under the influence of the diffusion of works found on the internet, a number of animals have revived an old debate: can we grant them the status of artist? The idea that animals can create or participate in works of art is not new. It is nevertheless the case that, for a very long time, quite a few animals have collaborated, for the better and often for the worse, in the most diverse of spectacles, which have led some trainers to recognize them as artists in their own right. If we remain with pictorial works of art alone, the candidates today are quite numerous, though bitterly controversial. We must recognize, and without judging the result, that the question can be asked whether there is real intention in the production of a work of art. But is this the right question?
2-Are animals “Secret agents”?
Some scientists who study animals have emphasized the need to focus upon the “point of view” of the animals they are studying. One may note that this methodological shift has led to animals being credited with much more agency. However, as critics suggest, on the one hand, the “perspective” of another being rests mostly upon “sympathic projection,” and may be difficult to apply to unfamiliar beings, such as bees or even flowers. On the other hand, the very notion of agency still conveys the classic understanding of agency as intentional, rational, and premeditated, and is still embedded in humanist and Christian conceptions of human exceptionalism. This paper seeks, in the first part, to investigate the practical link between these two notions and the problems they raise. In the second part, following the work of two historians of science who have revisited Darwin’s studies of orchids and their pollinators, we will observe a shift in the meaning of the concept of agency. Indeed, creatures may appear as “secret agents,” as long as we adopt a conventional definition of agency based upon subjective experience and autonomous intention. However, when reframed in the terms of “agencement” - an assemblage that produces agentivity - agency seems to be much more extensively shared in the living world. We will then explore some of the concrete situations in which these agencements are manifested, and through which creatures of different species become, one for another and one with another, companion-agents.
Program to be announced
New York, NY