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Material civilization

The european space studied through the flow of energy and raw materials, communication networks, and the mobility of merchants, marchandise, consumers, and citizens.

Editorial managers: Alain Beltran, Cécile Welker et Léonard Laborie.

Europe at night. Extract of "Earth at night", Black Marble project, 2012.  Source : NASA

For more than two centuries, Europe has been confronted with natural catastrophes and industrial risks, with its reactions to these events evolving over time: fatalism of humans in the fact of their destiny, Enlightenment humanism, the scientistic certainties of the nineteenth century, and lastly doubt arising from the emergence of the principle of precaution, the goal of zero risk, and the great number of second assessments.

If the Europe of flows was built quite quickly, the Europe of common reflection and comparable legislation regarding risk and security still remains incomplete in the face of broad cultural diversity. A tendency toward convergence, however, has seemingly been taking shape over the last few decades.

Colour engraving of the Lisbon earthquake

The plurality of material modernity(ies) requires determining the contours of European power as it was constructed during the early modern and modern eras. The global domination of the most advanced European countries followed the establishment of a capitalism in full expansion, whose goal was the integration of markets. From their manufacture to their circulation and consumption, it made of objects and goods one of the most obvious characteristic traits of European civilization.

Firmly associated with the notion of progress, the positivity of these innovative modernities—an exhaustive list of which is illusory so real was its democratization—was on the one hand replaced by an astounding knowledge economy, and on the other associated with the formulation of new social and moral values perceived as being liberating.

At present, a problematic form of historical irony is leading to a depreciation of these material modernity(ies) broadly diffused and invented by Europe, in order to question their contributions and even their very legitimacy.

Antwerp, view of the freight station and warehouses