Reality is an illusion – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 1

“Reality is an illusion, caused by a lack of drugs”. I found this rather philosophical text somewhere written on the wall in one of Rennes’ universities. It made me smile; not only because of it’s statement (very original), but also because I had to give a workshop the day after. The title of this event was: “How to tackle reality and complexity?”. I was wandering what to do? Should I present my 70 slides (as planned) with comments during the four hours of the workshop? Or should I ask the students to use some drugs? Maybe it was even a better way to ‘tackle reality’, according to the quotation on the wall. It was for sure a thrilling idea! I decide not to do so. So I worked with my class through all the slides, and I think I did the right thing. Drugs are forbidden anyway in France! (‘See the PDF-file Rennes handout 2010 for a brief summery of the content of this workshop).

I am in France for some weeks, being a ‘visiting teacher’ from Wageningen University, now working at the Agrocamups Ouest. One week I was supervising 40 students during a “Stage de Terrain” at  the Cote d’Armor (North Brittany), and next week I will do the same during a practical in Villarceaux, west of Paris (just very nearby Giverny). This ‘stage du terrain’ will focus on ‘Identifying sustainable indicators for Rural Development’. In between I am living and working in Rennes for three weeks. Rennes is the capital of Brittany. It is a beautiful city! With almost 200.000 inhabitants, including over 60.000 (!) students, it indeed is a cultural and intellectual city. Besides that, the city is rather wealthy and ‘good-looking’: it represents a rich history, with many important and impressive institutes, and almost no ‘heavy industry’ (except the automobile industry). Rennes is a leading centre in telecommunications and other knowledge based industries. But in spite of that, Rennes also has a different atmosphere, what sometimes makes me remember to my hometown. Rennes is ‘maxi-Wageningen’ (whereas Agrocampus Ouest really looks like a ‘mini-Wageningen’). Rennes isn’t just a very intellectual city; it also is very multi-cultural, very international and also very ‘alternative’. So a good place to be. (Have a look –for example- at and where you can find information on the 9th edition of the three days lasting manifestation on ‘ La Terre est Mon Metier’. I will come back later on the special relationship between Rennes and these organic initiatives in the rural area).

Rennes isn’t just the capital of the Department Bretagne, but it is also located in a huge and very productive rural area. Brittany’s agriculture is worldwide well-known and famous –not only for it’s cider and Calvados, but also for its dairy sector. Rennes is the capital of ‘rural Brittany’: a centre of expertise, power and influence. Agrocampus is a traditional “Ecole National Superieur Agronomique’, originating from Napoleon Bonaparte idea to train well selected peoples for the higher echelons’ of the French society and it’s governments. The future (agrarian) elite is now studying at this Ecole Superieur. Traditions in France are very constant… The Agrocampus is called ‘Ouest’, not because it is located in the western part of Rennes, but because it is related to Brittany, which is called the ‘Ouest’ (Le Grande Ouest is not America, but is Bretagne, including Normandy and the Loire).

This small confusion (I indeed thought that Grande Ouest meant America) happens to me every day. Although my classes and lectures are in English, I try to speak French as much as possible. With the risk of making mistakes and causing many misunderstandings. When Jean-Eudes Beuret for example asked me to ‘assister’ him with a presentation within 5 minutes, I thought: how the hell can I help him with his topic? Not knowing that ‘assiter’ just means: to be there. The same happened when Jean-Eude asked me to give him the titles of my ‘interventions de demain’. Oh, my goodness, I thought; do I also have to be an opponent tomorrow; I do already have lectures. Not knowing that ‘intervention’ means… indeed: lectures. One more: I was invited to “d‘assister l’intervention d’une memoire d’etudiante Sociologie Rurale’. I was surprised; a student, that young, but already wise enough to publish her confessions and life history? No, a mistake: ‘memoire’ just means thesis (in France, thesis is meant for the final doctorate –PhD- report); ‘memoires’ are for older peoples. Another, more tricky confusion caused by my misunderstanding of many French words. It took me for example some time to get used to name my office ‘bureau’, and not ‘chambre’; it is rather indecent to invite a student into your ‘chambre’, just when you want to have a talk with her after a mecture about substantial things like ‘ reality and complexity’…

More about this (the substantial part of my stay in Rennes : complexity and transversality) soon. Prof. Yann (that what they call me here in Rennes).

  • Jan Schakel, Visiting lecturer Departement Economie Rurale et Gestion,
  • Enseignant de la Spécialisation Génie de l’environnement, 
  • du Master professionnel Sciences Agronomiques et Agroalimentaires, spécialité Ingénierie Environnementale et du master IMRD, labellisé Erasmus Mundus 
  • Agrocampus-Ouest. Centre de formation de Rennes
    65 rue de St Brieuc – CS 84215 – 35042 RENNES CEDEX – France 
  • Batiment 25, bureau 1.2 
  • 00.33.(0)

2 thoughts on “Reality is an illusion – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 1

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