Fez Noz and Black Cross… – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 5

Last week, I was asked to take part of a jury to assess  a thesis (‘memoire’), and it was a great experience. The classroom was filled up with many students (rather unusual), but that was due to the topic:  the performing arts in rural Brittany). The title of Alice Varagnat’s (the student) thesis was: “Le spectacle vivant dans le milieu rural en Ill-et-Vilaine” . Before I go into the ‘rural-urban’ aspect of her topic, it is good to mention that again I was too biased (or unaware) about this event. It was a real ‘defense’, even more then we are used to in Wageningen. There was a solid presentation, and after that, there was a real argument between the candidate and the committee (of 4 staff members, including me). Both took at least one hour. After that, the committee (likewise a real  PhD-thesis defense) went into ‘retraite’, and evaluated the thesis, presentation and defense. I was really pleased with the quantity and quality of the data, of her resources, findings, presentations, etc., but I had some serious comments on the structure of her report: there was no hypothesis, no methodology, no theoretical framework, no reflection, etc. But my comments didn’t make sense, because I was not participating a Master-thesis defense, but the ‘Memoires de fin d’études’, which  has more the character of an internship then from a scientific research project.  Again I had to find out that the degree of d’Ingénieur  is very different from a Masters degree. Alice’s thesis was not a scientific prove of competences, but a practical one: the report covers the ‘stage’, and shows that you’re able to organize your activities in a professional way. When I realized, that this was the context of her research (and findings), I was even more enthusiastic about it. So I proposed a high mark… just like the rest of the committee did. Finally her mark was a 17,5 (so almost belong to the best 5%), so really good!

The topic attracted many students. Rennes is a city with a lot of concerts and other cultural events. But also the rural area is famous because of an old British or even Celtic tradition: folk music, in bars and village halls, sometimes whole weekends or late in the evening. Festivals during the night, ‘feast at night’, so in Breton language called: ‘Fez Noz’ are very popular!  Alice’s study was on much more then jus this phenomenon of Fez Noz (she looked at cabaret, theater, dancing etc; see her report if you are interested), and the results of her empirical study were rather impressing: there is a vivid world of ‘spectacle vivant’ in the’ very’ rural Brittany (in areas far from the city). When I tried to compare these findings with my experiences in Holland, I couldn’t think about more or other things like the “Zwarte cross”(a multi performance and cultural motorcycle event), the “boeren bruiloften” (Farmers weddings) or “zuipketen” (no translation…). When I talked about this with the other members of the jury, they said they had the same idea before this project started. Part of the rural identity was the tradition of the ‘spectacle vivant’, and everybody thought it had disappeared, so the main goal of this project was to find out ‘why so’ and ‘what to do’ to restore this tradition (by means of infrastructural or economical or institutional arrangements), etc. But –to everybody’s surprise-, it turned out that there still is a rural identity in Brittany in terms of these cultural traditions. Maybe a topic for a thesis at the RSO-group in Wageningen?

Since two days I am in Villarceaux, with over 30 students and some staff members. Villarceaux is just close to Giverny, where Claude Monet lived for years and painted his famous ‘water lily’s’. The students are last year MSc. or Engineer or IMRD. The course is called “Methodes d’Evalation de la Durabilité en Agriculture “, and it’s a thrilling event.  We all stay on a farm (see : www.bergerie-villarceaux.org)  and we work day and night, either within the classroom, or outside  in the fields. The farm is an experimental farm of over 600 acres, and is part of the Domain de Villarceaux (of almost 800 hectares). The farm it is one big laboratory (also in the sense of Bruno Latour’s idea of laboratory)  of organic arable farming. But it is much, much more than that: it is a centre of sophisticated agronomy, of  ethics, of humanism, or of a third way to find a solutions in a sustainable way, a new practice etc. It is hard to describe – I have just arrived- the real identity and  meanings of this new small ánd big ‘paradigm’ (according to Kuhn’s two ideas on paradigms), but it is more than a research station or laboratory. I will come back  to this later, but just have a look at the website of the Charles Léopold Mayer foundation, who made this experiment possible (in a financial way): www.fph.ch.

Now back to the ‘read line’ about reality and complexity’. My workshop (the one I mentioned in my first contribution) was dealing with different strategies to go beyond specialization. From an analytical point of view, I distinguished at least 6 different ‘modes of knowledge’ (like Gibbons does, but too rough, in my opinion..). Besides the well known (and very successful) mono –disciplinary approaches, I describe different strategies, like pre-, multi-, inter-, trans- and even post disciplinary kinds of knowledge.  And off course:  the idea of ‘un-’or ‘non’-disciplinary’ or ‘un-scientifically’ modes of ‘knowledge’. Not in the sense of  Feyerabend ‘s idea on anarchistic knowledge –like in his books “Against method” and “Anything goes”-, but more like his idea about knowledge in his book  “Welfare to reason”.  Here, in the ‘Bergerie de Villarceaux’, these theoretical notions on ‘epistomology’ all happen and take place. Name it, it’s there. I could write (or should?) a PhD-thesis about it: there is so much empirical evidence available to investigate in terms of new modes of knowledge. For example, the experiences I had in Lavallon/Plouha (the place of my first week of my stay in Rennes) were typical examples of ‘multi-disciplinarity; ‘just like the courses at the Agrocampus (with this ‘transversal groups’). Now in Villarceaux you can see typical expressions of trans-disciplinary knowledge (theoretical integration), or post-disciplinary knowledge: a new, more sophisticated mode of agronomy. And very visible is the idée of inter disciplinary knowledge: an integration of disciplines by new methodologies or tools, like Geographical Information System, Decision Support Systems, Assesment Tools, Designing Systems and other modeling approaches to integrate knowledge. The methodology of IDEA that is practiced by the students in Villarceaux (“Indicateurs de Durabilité des Exploitations Agricoles”) is also an example of the new kind of scientific knowledge. So my stay in France is one big laboratory …

Actually, this indeed was the purpose of my stay as a visiting lecturer here in France (within the framework of the Erasmus program on ‘teaching mobility’). Guy Durand (professor at the Departement of Economie Rurale et Gestion at the Agrocampus) invited me in Rennes, and we know each other for many years. It is well known that researches all over the world meet and see and know each other very intensively, but teaching is a more ‘local profession’. It would be nice to go more into detail about the distinguishes between doing research and education, but I will keep that for later…

So anyway: since over ten years, Wageningen cooperates with (among other) Rennes within(among others..) educational programs. Like the IP on ‘Agricultural Multi Functionality’. The MFA started in Wageningen-  early 2000-, and since then taking place in partner cities like Faro, Cordoba, Pisa, Kaunas, Maribor, Lublin and others). But a ‘spin-of’ of this IP was the start of the IMRD in 2004, an Erasmus Mundus funded International Master on Rural Development, coordinated by the University of Gent (Belgium). Seven European universities together compose this two years MSc. program, and each partner of the consortium offers at least a specialized course or module, to fulfill the four semesters of the IMRD. Every university has its strength (and weakness..), the consortium knows (and also the students know very well…). But that is part of the deal. Cordoba for example was good in a ‘territorial and regional-economical  approach’, Pisa in qualitative methodologies and the focus on food, Humboldt in ‘institutional economics’ (and in Konrad Hagendoorn), Wageningen because of its ‘rural sociology’, etc. And Rennes? Beside some minor objections (language, schedules and so),  they are  very well know by their transversal approach, as well in research as in education. So for me this was the main reason to go to Rennes and to find out their multi- or cross disciplinary modes of research, education and design. That will also be the topic of my next contribution: part 6 on ‘dealing with complexity’. Because my stay will be over within a few days, there will rest just one last chapter (part 7, more a confession or reflection ), called “Partir, c’est mourir un peu”. But that will be put on the weblog after the weekend.