CONFERENCE 'Michel Serres: Thinking beyond boundaries'

Thursday 16 and Friday 17 June 2022 at the Maison Française d'Oxford

michel serres

Portrait : Manuel Cohen

Michel Serres was a polymath and interdisciplinarian avant la lettre, a poet-philosopher and académicien. Language for him was not simply a means of communication for his ideas; they originated in it, and figures of speech were his figure of thought. Hermes, the angels and the translators that pervade his works are all messengers that build bridges not only between disciplines but also between cultural time periods. This conference brings into dialogue a variety of perspectives from French, British and international scholars who will showcase the relevance of Michel Serres’s thought across a wide range of academic disciplines. It will explore how Michel Serres’s own brand of interdisciplinarity has renewed fields of enquiry as diverse as French studies and English Literature, Philosophy and the History of Science, Geography and Ecocriticism, Translation and Migration Studies.





Thursday June 16, 2022


1.15 pm Welcome by Pascal Marty (MFO), Henriette Korthals Altes (MFO)

1.30-2.00: The missions and projects of the Fondation Michel Serres/Institut de France
Sophie Bancquart (Fondation Michel Serres) & Hélène Weis-Serres (Fondation Michel Serres):

2:00-4:00: Session 1. Serres’s style of thought
Moderator: Marcos Camolezi (Ecole Normale Supérieure - PSL Paris)

How Serres thinks
Christopher Watkins, (Monash University, Melbourne)

Michel Serres through his ‘Cahiers de formation’ (1960-72)
Roland Schaer (Fondation Michel Serres)

Between Structure and History
Frédéric Worms (Ecole Normale Supérieure - PSL Paris)

Comments and discussion

4:00:00 Coffee Break

4:30-6:30 Session 2. Time and history
Moderator: Mogens Laerke (CNRS/MFO)

A natural philosophy of history, at the fringe of ‘hominescence’
Gaspare Polizzi (University of Pisa)

A compound of clocks and meteora: Time in Serres’s anthropology
Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Figuring things out: A general treatise on sculpture. Data, science, the arts, and their meteora alloys
Vera Bühlmann, (TU, Vienna)

Comments and discussion



Friday June 17, 2022


9:00-10.00: Session 3. Communication & translations
Moderator Henriette Korthals Altes (MFO)

The ‘History of truth’: Serres’s Clermont-Ferrand Years
Lucie Mercier (UC Berkeley)

Michel Serres on politics and the natural world - Contracts and translations
David Webb (University of Staffordshire)

Comments and discussion

Coffee break 10h-10.30

10.30-12.30: Session 4. The Parasite
Moderator: Christopher Watkins, (Monash University, Melbourne)

The Paradoxes of the Parasite. The Qui perd gagne of the human (revisited)
Christina Howells (Wadham college/University of Oxford)

His Master’s Voice: Towards an Ethics of Noise
Massimiliano Simons (Ghent University)

Life is hard work: Le Parasite: biology, thermodynamics, information
Bernie Howells (King’s College, London)

Comments and discussion

12:30-13:30 Lunch break

13:30-15:30. Session 5. Inheriting and transmitting Serres’s thought
Moderator: Pascal Marty (MFO)

On never being finished with Serres: a reflection on thinking through a teeming multiplicity of spaces between Philosophy, Geography, and Science & Technology Studies
Nick Bingham (Open University)

The grand tour of Michel Serres’s oeuvre
Audrey Calefas-Strebelle (Stanford Programme, Paris)

Comments and discussion



Sophie Bancquart and Hélène Weis-Serres
‘After my death’: Serres’s legacy and the Fondation Michel Serres-Institut de France


Hélène Weis-Serres

Following a few brief personal remarks, I will outline the beginnings of the memorial project my father handed down to his family.  Since 2019, much has already been achieved. The Oxford conference is undoubtedly an important moment in securing the place of his oeuvre in international memory. I will discuss the process of installing the archives in the Bibliothèque Nationale and collaborations which are being developed with other archives such as that of the municipal library of Agen.
The family’s aim is to further this endeavour. The priority, clearly, is to enable key ideas of Michel Serres’ thought to be disseminated and examined, especially in the present ‘time of crisis’ to use his term. Some reflections on this notion will form the conclusion to my presentation.

Bio: A former secondary school teacher of French, Hélène Weis was a lecturer in education at the University of Cergy-Pontoise until her recent retirement. She is a specialist in children’s literature, having written a doctoral thesis on the history of children’s libraries in France and children’s literature from 1945 to 1975. She contributed to the master’s programme at her university and continues to contribute to several journals in her field, including the online university journal Strenae (

Sophie Bancquart

In the months before his death, Michel Serres gave a lot of thought to the conservation and care of the archives he was leaving, and to the management of his oeuvre for posterity. It was his wish to set up a foundation. The aim of the Fondation Michel Serres-Institut de France is to disseminate research and publications by Michel Serres and to encourage scholarship dedicated to his work. It aims especially to support work on the archives and the publication of his entire oeuvre. A steering committee of 17 persons from various fields – literature, philosophy, science, business – has agreed to participate in this undertaking. My presentation will discuss the early initiatives of the Foundation.

Bio: Formerly an architect and now a publisher, Sophie Banquart’s main interest is academic publications intended for the general public. After working in distinguished publishing houses (Bordas, Flammarion), she decided to set up Les Éditions Le Pommier. She was President of the Science For Everyone section of the French National Association of Publishers from 2004 to 2019. Since 2019 she has focused her attention on publishing Michel Serres’ oeuvre and managing the Fondation Michel Serres-Institut de France, which set up.


Chris Watkin
How Serres thinks

In this paper I explore not what Michel Serres thinks about this or that subject, but how he thinks about everything. I show that his thought has a distinct character and power that stands alongside contemporaries such as Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault in its importance, but distinguishes itself from them in its approach and potential. I seek to identify and analyse Serres’s “figures of thought”, a term he uses to describe a unique way of thinking that crosses the boundaries between the natural and the cultural, the conceptual and the personal, the mute and the linguistic. Some of his figures Serres has already named, others I venture to label with terms taken from his writing. These figures cohere into what Serres calls his “global intuition”, a term describing a corporeal, affective and intellectual orientation within and towards the world that is more comprehensive than a Deleuzian “image of thought” or a Foucauldian “episteme”, and less anthropocentric than a “worldview”. I briefly sketch how Serres’s own global intuition offers crucial and unique insights into some of the most important issues we face today, such as the climate crisis and the need to reimagine our evolving social contract. At the close of the paper I offer some reflections on the very idea of attempting to characterise how a given philosopher thinks.

Bio: Dr Christopher Watkin is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, where he teaches across French and Literary Studies. He is the author of a number of books in modern and contemporary thought, including Phenomenology or Deconstruction? (2009), Difficult Atheism (2011), and French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human (2016). His latest monograph, Michel Serres: Figures of Thought was published with Edinburgh University Press in March 2020. Chris is currently working on a project interrogating the concepts of freedom and liberation in contemporary thought and society in the light of what has been called the Western “emancipation narrative”. He blogs about philosophy and academic research at, and you can find him on Twitter @DrChrisWatkin.  


Roland Schaer
Michel Serres through his “Cahiers de formation” (1960-72)

My presentation will introduce the 18 “cahiers de formation” that Michel Serres wrote between 1960 and 1972. These unpublished notebooks will provide the first volume of the edition of Michel Serres’ complete works we are preparing.
These notebooks – approximately 1200 handwritten pages – give a fascinating comprehensive overview of the process through which Serres became a “writer” through daily writing exercises, and also of the process through which his philosophical thought took its shape. During that period, much of his energy was devoted to his doctoral theses. But, at the same time, these “cahiers” constitute a personal diary, sometimes a “secret book”, in which we discover a personality much more tormented than it could be expected.
Some months before publication, I shall give a brief analysis of their content.

Bio: Born in 1947, Roland Schaer is a former student of Michel Serres (1968-1972) who studied at the École Normale Supérieure and passed his agrégation in 1971. He first taught philosophy in secondary schools (1973-1982) and then successively became director of the Institut Français at The Hague (Netherlands), head of the cultural services of the Musée d’Orsay (1985-1992), director of cultural development at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and director for science and society at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris (2001-2011). He teaches ethics at the Université Paris-Sud/Espace éthique APHP since 2005. He is also the co-editor of the complete works of Michel Serres (2021-)


Giuseppe Bianco
Philosophy and transdisciplinarity in France (1968-1988). Serres and his generation.

During the last thirty years, especially in the humanities, words such as “multidisciplinarity,” “interdisciplinarity,” and “transdisciplinarity” have been used with an unusual frequency, almost becoming buzzwords. This phenomenon corresponded to the progressive decrease of historical inquiries concerning the emergence, structuration and transformation of disciplines. Serres, Deleuze and, after them, Latour contributed largely to this situation.
In my talk I will take into account Serres’ trajectory during the 60s and the 70s, taking into account his approach to the problem of the demarcation, namely the relation between philosophy and the other disciplines. I will proceed treating the problem following seven steps: 1) a sketch of French academic structures and of their transformation from 1808 until 1948; 2) a genealogy of the emergence of discourses on “multi-disciplinarity” in France, between 1948 and 1970; 3) the marking moments in the structuration of philosophy as a discipline; 4) the different strategies of defence adopted by the disciplines and their transformation; 5) the strategy of defence of philosophy adopted by Serres and his peers; 6) the post-68 critiques of philosophy and their effect on ideas about transdisciplinarity; 7) the return to the defence of philosophy starting from the 1980s.

Bio: Giuseppe Bianco is a post-Doctoral researcher at Brussels Free University (ULB). He specialised in history and sociology of philosophy in relation with the social and human sciences (19th and 20th centuries). He published a book on the afterlives of Henri Bergson’s philosophy in France (Après Bergson, 2015), and edited books on Georges Politzer, Jean Hyppolite, Alain Badiou as well as on questions of bioethics. He is about to finish a book on Gilles Deleuze (Deleuze and Philosophy. Genesis of a Creator of Concepts).


Gaspare Polizzi
A natural philosophy of history, at the fringe of ‘hominescence’

« L’histoire globale entre dans la nature; la nature entre dans l’histoire: voilà de l’inédit en philosophie». In my essay I intend to touch on the problem of the relationship between nature and culture from the point of view of the natural philosophy of history of Michel Serres.
Serres asked himself the question “Qu'est-ce que l'humain?”, providing answers that are part of a new philosophy of history that takes into account three major removals: the oblivion of ethnology and prehistory, the forgetting of the environment and its centrality in human affairs, blindness in the face of evolutionary biology.
Serres coined the term “hominescence”, which uses an inchoate suffix indicating growth towards a different and superior state, to treasure the Grand Récit, which tells human and natural history and looks to the near future, beyond the limits of Homo sapiens and to think about the new global relationship between man and the world. The new relationship requires a "natural contract" which must be entered into between men and Biogea.
The intense effort of Serres, in over eighty volumes, to proceed to a complex and plural synthesis of human and natural sciences, to an encyclopedic and dynamic mapping of the mobile places of a new era of communication, which since 1968 has been placed under the sign of Hermes, messenger and intermediary, is configured as a global philosophy of history and nature that requires to tighten new bonds of a "natural contract" with Biogea, testifying an acute sensitivity expressed in a powerful and human religion of love for everything that exists.

Bio: Gaspare Polizzi is professor of General and Social Pedagogy at the University of Pisa. He is Vice President of the Italian Philosophical Society. He is a scholar of the history of modern and contemporary philosophical and scientific thought, with reference to French philosophy and epistemology, the work of Giacomo Leopardi and environmental and ecological philosophy. He is the author of several books in modern and contemporary thought, including La filosofia di Gaston Bachelard. Tempi, spazi, elementi (2015). He established the Italian edition of É. Boutroux, De la contingence des lois de la nature and De l’idée de loi naturelle dans la science et la philosophie contemporaines (2016) and of Henri Poincaré, La valeur de la science (1994). He wrote about Serres's work: Michel Serres. Per una filosofia dei corpi miscelati (1990), Hermetism, Messages, and Angels, in “Configurations. A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology” (2000), Les derniers écrits de Michel Serres, in Michel Serres, Éditions de L’Herne (2010), Tra Bachelard e Serres. Aspetti dell’epistemologia francese del Novecento (2003). He has translated the following works by Serres into Italian: Genèse (1988); Le temps des crises (2010) Petite poucette (2013). He edited with Mario Porro the anthology Michel Serres (2015) as well as the Italian edition Rome. Le livre des fondations (2021).


Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
A compound of clock and meteora: Time in Serres’s Anthropology

Michel Serres is well known as a philosopher of communication. However the question of time runs through his entire works, from the first Hermès to his last book. Without surveying all of Serres' reflections on time, this article shows that time is a pillar of his anthropology because he makes it the key to the relationship between humans and the world. How can we articulate our history with the evolution of life, of the universe? In addressing this question Serres developed an original view of time based on a number of scientific concepts that he turns into operators for philosophical thought. 

Bio: Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, former student of Michel Serres, is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of science and technology at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a member of the French Academy of Technology. Her research explores technosciences and their anthropological impacts. Her most recent publications are Temps-paysage. Pour une écologie des crises (2021); Living in a Nuclear World. From Fukushima to Hiroshima (2022); Between Nature and Culture. Biographies of Materials (2022).


Vera Bühlmann
Figuring Things Out: a General Treatise on Sculpture. Data, Science, the Arts, and their Meteora Alloys.

There are "materials of hardness and consistency that result from various epochs of civilisation, materials which move in space, have been developed, put into use, and have followed the course of ideas, colliding one against the other, influencing and annihilating one another, mutually fecundating" – thus the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, in his PHD defence (1976) where Michel Serres was among the examinators. Xenakis' document lends itself well for indexing Serres' ideas in an exteriority to his own oeuvre because, Serres maintains in said document, Xenakis is the first "to show what a symbol detached from its background actually is". This same enigmatic fascination is arguably also at the very heart of Serres own oeuvre – it underlies his neo-materialist philosophy of natural communication, according to which all things in the universe send, receive, store, and deal/ process information. Xenakis asked in his work as a musician about the essence of these materials and he proposes: "this essence is man’s intelligence, in some way solidified. Intelligence which searches, questions, infers, reveals, foresees – on all levels." He calls these solidifications of intellect "alloys"; mixtures forged by arts and sciences. Serres too maintains a version of a contemporary material intellect, but his version is non-anthropocentric: The intellect is probably co-extensive to the universe, he maintains. With Serres, we can generalise from Xenakis approach by considering data as a massive concentration of what is not symbolical, and hence as an inverse to Xenakis alloys. This generalisation brings with it a novel mechanics and entails interesting consequences for how we can think of time and history. I will elaborate on this by relating two key notions in Serres, that of the Chronopedia and the Grand Récit, to this background. By doing so, I will explore some of the difficult-to-grasp implications of computational methods of chronometric dating (age determination) in astrophysics, which were of such great concern to Serres’ approach to time: Namely that data is not only a 'given', an objective 'observable'; rather, data always entails implicitly the attribution of a massive and universal agedness that is common to all things. Serres foregrounded the importance of this understanding of data in many of his books, and held it out against subjectivist philosophies of history. I will demonstrate how Serres’ approach to thinking time objectively revolves around re-thinking computation in the terms of a circular kind of language that speaks trough constellations of circumstances, like we attribute it to the weather: we should say Michel Serres: Thinking Beyond Boundaries Oxford University, November 2020 Vera Bühlmann 'it thinks, like we say 'it rains’, Serres maintains in The Incandescent (2003). I will develop how the implications of these far-ranging ideas that frame Serres’ oeuvre can be better grasped through his insistence, that epistemology today ought to take the form of a general treatise on sculpture. Computational methods involve an 'active' (or 'abductive', for analytic and synthetic) figuring-out of what the data indicates – and this figuring out is what reveals an impersonal kind of logos at work in computation, upon which the edifice of its mathematical form extends; to Serres, this logos is one of philosophy, for it takes the dialog – as a practice of alterity that always pursues a diagonal path – as its canonic format.

Bio: Vera Bühlmann, b. 1974 in Switzerland, studied English Literature and Language, Philosophy and Media Studies at Zurich University and Basel University. She is professor for architecture theory at TU Vienna, where she directs the research group Architecture Theory and Philosophy of Technics (ATTP). Her overall interest is in a non-anthropocentric humanism, of which she thinks in the terms of a periodic form of polar thinking, that develops from aiming to keep its center void. Among her publications are three monographs: Information and Mathematics in the Philosophy of Michel Serres (Bloomsbury, London 2020), Genius Planet – Energy: From Scarcity to Abundance, A Radical Pathway (with Ludger Hovestadt and Sebastian Michael, Birkhäuser 2018), Die Nachricht, ein Medium: Städtische Architektonik, Generische Medialität (Birkhäuser, Basel 2014); a Report on the Algorithmic Condition (with Felicity Colman, Iris van der Tuin, Aislinn O’Donnel, EU HORIZON 2020, nr. 732407); two anthologies, one on the city: A Quantum City, Mastering the Generic (Birkhäuser, Basel 2015, ed. with Ludger Hovestadt, Miro Roman, Diana Alvarez-Marin, Sebastian Michael), and one on world objects: Sheaves. When Things are Whatever Can be the Case (Birkhäuser, Basel 2013); she is also co-editor of four interdisciplinary collections of essays on the "Metalithikum", a projective term proposed for addressing the self-referential human condition in the Anthropocene: Printed Physics (ambra, 2012), Domesticating Symbols (Birkhäuser, 2014), Coding as Literacy (Birkhäuser, Basel 2015) and Symbolizing Existence (Birkhäuser, 2016).


Lucie Mercier
The « History of truth »: Serres’s Clermont-Ferrand Years

Though Serres rarely used this expression himself, the problematic of the « history of truth » may be considered as one of the key organizing problems of his early works; an interrogation from which Serres’s philosophy of communication, transport and translation developed. Focusing on Serres’s Clermont-Ferrand years (1961-1968), this paper examines the ways in which Serres’s engagement with the topic of the « the history of truth », a 'secret mover' of the French 1960s philosophical scene evolved, accompanying various aspects of Serres's reading of Leibniz and beyond Leibniz. I propose to argue that Serres’s positioning in this contested field crucially relied on the concept of translation, and to show that this issue was at the heart of the contention between Serres and Foucault.

Bio: Lucie Kim-Chi Mercier is a Postdoctoral Researcher visiting the Department of Philosophy of Université Paris 8 and the Program for Critical Theory (UC Berkeley) (2020-2022). She holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), Kingston University, London, where she was also appointed as a Research Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy (2016-2019). Her recent publications on Michel Serres include ‘Michel Serres’s Leibnizian Structuralism’ (2019) Angelaki 24 (6) and ‘Mathematical Anamneses’ (2019), in Rick Dolphijn (ed.) Michel Serres and the Crises of the Contemporary( London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic 2018). She is a member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective. 


David Webb
Michel Serres on Politics and the Natural World - Contracts and Translations

In The Natural Contract, Michel Serres argued that the exclusion of the natural world from the social contract had promoted an attitude of violence and domination towards the world that was destroying the conditions on which our existence depends. Thirty years on from its publication, the crises in the climate, pollution and the depletion of natural resources have only deepened.
Serres’s response was to propose a natural contract to establish a three-way relation between individuals, political communities, and the natural world. His proposal calls for changes in the relation of science to political governance, and this is important, but he warns that we should not treat this uniquely as a problem regarding the relation of science and politics, since to do so would perpetuate the exclusion of the natural world. The introduction of a natural contract requires a revision not just to the relation between the sciences and politics, but also to our understanding of the sciences and of politics themselves. 
In order to see what a natural contract involves we must: first, re-think the idea of ‘contract’ entirely by going back to his account of the formation of order, which is to say to the relation between order and disorder; second, and more specifically, renew our understanding of empiricism, which is to say how sense is made from our exposure to the natural world. As I will show, these considerations allow us to identify principles regarding invention, de-escalation, and reserve that can be seen ‘in translation’ across the natural world, knowledge, and the organisation of political communities. This opens the possibility of communication between the three domains, without establishing a single foundation for them all or making one subordinate to another.
Before closing, I will briefly outline some possible ‘tactical’ steps consistent with these considerations that could be taken in the light of our current situation.

Bio : David Webb is Professor of Philosophy at Staffordshire University. His book Foucault’s Archaeology: Science and Transformation (Edinburgh University Press, 2013) set Foucault’s archaeology against the background of French philosophy of science. He has published papers and book chapters on the work of Serres, is co-editor of the series Michel Serres and Material Futures at Bloomsbury Press and is the co-translator of Serres’ book The Birth of Physics (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). 


Christina Howells
The Paradoxes of the Parasite. The Qui perd gagne of the human (revisited)

In this paper I shall explore the development of Michel Serres’s understanding of the human parasite, starting from The Parasite (1980) and The Natural Contract (1990), through to Hominescence (2001). I shall consider whether the development that I trace marks a progression in the sophistication and complexity of his thought or if, on the contrary, it could be seen as marked in some ways by regressive features. I shall compare Serres’s parasite with Lacanian jouissance: it brings the gift of death and thereby creates life in so far as it is worth living. Ultimately it exemplifies again the paradoxes of the qui perd gagne mechanism: relations construct the ego but in ecstasy the ego is again lost; loss becomes gain; relation precedes being. The recurrent question: Who am I? is answered by Serres in poetic form: I am a multiple mosaic, I am a multiplicity.

Bio : Christina Howells is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Wadham College. Her research is interdisciplinary and explores Continental philosophy, literary theory, and twentieth-century French literature. Her publications include Sartre: The Necessity of Freedom (CUP, 1988); The Cambridge Companion to Sartre (CUP, 1992); Derrida: Deconstruction from Phenomenology to Ethics (Polity Press, 1998); French Women Philosophers (Routledge, 2004); Mortal Subjects: Passions of the Soul in Late Twentieth-Century French Thought (Polity Press, 2011); and Stiegler and Technics, co-edited with Gerald Moore (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).


Massimiliano Simons
His Master’s Voice: Towards an Ethics of Noise

In the work of Michel Serres we find a recurrent disapproval of ‘social noise’. In many of his books he describes instances where the individual is engulfed or numbed by the noise of society and the collective. This is often accompanied with a call to turn one’s gaze back to nature, the world, or the object. In this paper I want to flesh out this theme in Serres’s work and argue for two things. First of all that these remarks are not the incidental complaints of an old (white) man, denouncing the youth of his day. Rather there is an ethos behind it that permeated Serres’s whole oeuvre: a celebration of the sensitive body, that has to be protected against the noise of power and society that numbs. Secondly, I want to argue that this ethos is not external system that Serres imported, but rather that it follows from a number of insights from Serres’s interpretation of information theory, that he puts at the center of his own work.

Bio: Massimiliano Simons is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University and a member of the Working Group on Philosophy of Technology (WGPT) at the KU Leuven. He is the author of Michel Serres and French Philosophy of Science: Materiality, Ecology and Quasi-Objects (Bloomsbury, 2022). He has published widely on contemporary technoscience and French philosophy of science, ranging from Gaston Bachelard to Bruno Latour.


Bernard Howells
Life is hard work (Le Parasite: biology, thermodynamics, information.)

Serres describes Le Parasite as ‘rigorously fuzzy’, that is as refusing, on intellectual principle, the facilities of binary thinking, linear notions of causality, systematic exposition, strict identity of concept and terminology, but at the same time drawing on a specialist’s grasp of issues raised by developments in modern science. He is an epistemologist in the French sense of the word - a philosopher concerned with the history, methods and principles of the different sciences. Le Parasite is concerned with period between the end of the 18c and the early 20c, with special focus on biology (evolution) and thermodynamics and the emergence of the connection between them. An initial section relates the notorious difficulties of Serres’ ‘style’ to his governing theory that purity of communication, of transfer on whatever level, is impossible because there is no medium that doesn’t transfer without transformation and therefore loss. A second section evokes the change in scientific outlook occasioned by evolutionary theory and discusses Bergson at some length because of his importance in the French context. A third section discusses briefly thermodynamics and entropy in connection with some of the figures mentioned by Serres and with particular attention to Maxwell’s demon.  ‘Information’ enters the story at this point because it establishes the connection between the organic and the inorganic. The formula which best sums up Serres’ thinking, for me, is ‘Cela ne marche que parce que cela marche mal’: imperfection i.e incompletness is a condition of things and of things happening, as it is of understanding and its advances. Serres’ scientific epistemology implies an ontology, a restatement of what theology used to call the metaphysical problem of evil (quidam absentia boni). Is this the worst of all possible world or the best, because the only possible world? Serres’ épistémodicée is his response to Leibnitz’s théodicée.

Bio: Bernard Howells was formerly a lecturer in French at King’s College, University of London (retired).


Nick Bingham
On never being finished with Serres: a reflection on thinking through a teeming multiplicity of spaces between Philosophy, Geography, and Science & Technology Studies

In the selection of his Hermes essays published in English in 1982 as Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, Michel Serres writes that ‘We have not finished nor shall we ever again finish dealing with spaces’. In this paper I seek to affirm this proposition by reflecting on not being finished nor likely ever being finished dealing with the many threads of Serres thinking of, with, and through spaces which I first encountered 25 years ago reading his ‘Language and Space: From Oedipus to Zola’ (from the aforementioned collection) as a (equal parts inspired and intimidated) Geography postgraduate.
Conceptualising the tendency to understand the world solely in terms of proximity-distance (defined as a homogeneous space, a gridlike surface in which the path from the local to the global is always already given and unproblematic) as the global victory of a local phenomenon (namely the (over)extension of the relevance of the Euclidean space of measure and transport), Serres throughout his work seeks to (re)draw attention to the ‘barbarous topology’ of other spaces and spatialities thus repressed. Again and again and through typically diverse examples and registers, Serres suggests that bodies, objects, events and other sorts of things do not happen ‘in’ space, but are instead intersections of the tattered multiplicity of spacing and timings in which they are plunged.
In the paper I will use a series of empirical examples drawn from my work between Geography, Philosophy, and Science & Technology Studies to explicate how I have sought - in a tiny way - to inherit the challenge of Serres’ spatial thinking in a social sciences context. From thinking a restaurant kitchen as a ‘mingled place’ (The Five Senses), through urban governance as confronted with a ‘composite multiplicity’ (Rome: The Book of Foundations), to a bee hive as a hinge between human and apian wordings (Biogea, Eyes), my experience and argument has been that Serres offers us ways of thinking our ‘complex presents’ (Annemarie Mol) that both brings into view the very real consequences of the repressing the ’pluridimensional variety’ (The Five Senses) of such sites and situations, and hints towards how we might recompose our worlds better. Living through a pandemic and in the midst of ongoing socio-ecological crises, resources such as Serres has left us with feel more timely than ever.

Bio: Nick Bingham is a Senior Lecturer in Geography within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University.  He works with ideas and methods from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Continental Philosophy as well as Geography to explore the practices and spatialities of coexistence in the Anthropocene.  In recent research projects this has meant a focus on the care and attention involved in the management of food safety, the partially-connected ecologies of beekeeping, and matters of data collection, curation, coordination in smart cities.  Nick has published widely in Geography and related fields and is co-author (with Steve Hinchliffe, John Allen, & Simon Carter) of Pathological Lives: Disease, Space, and Biopolitics (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).


Audrey Calefas-Strébelle
The grand tour of Michel Serres’ oeuvre

Michel Serres was a remarkably generous and productive thinker: from his cornucopia pour out more than eighty books, a plethora of courses, lectures, radio shows and interviews. His insatiable urge to understand the world and his enthusiasm to explain all aspects of it bequeaths us a rich and polymorphic oeuvre. How do we pass on to younger readers this wonderfully diverse heritage? How to apprehend globally and teach this unified disparate? I propose to address this question by examining Serres’ vast production through the filters of the four ontologies defined by Philippe Descola, and endorsed by Serres himself in Ecrivains, savants et philosophes font le tour du monde. In this game, I invite you to approach and appreciate Serres’ winding and profuse oeuvre according to the following ontologies: Totemism, Animism, Naturalism and Analogism.

Bio: Audrey Calefas-Strébelle is the Director of the Stanford Program in Paris. She is a graduate from Stanford University (Ph.D) and the Sorbonne (BA, MA), and holds degrees in History and in Literature. She was the research assistant of Michel Serres at Stanford. Audrey Calefas-Strebelle most recently served as an Associate Professor of French and history at Mills College. Her teaching and research have focused on the relationship between France and the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern period. 


Please note that the event will take place at the Maison Française d'Oxford and be livestreamed on Zoom.
Follow the links below to register for the in-person or the online event.


To attend the conference in person, please register here:


To join the conference online, please register here:


Prof. Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Université Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Dr. Henriette Korthals Altes (MFO)

Dr. Mogens Laerke (CNRS/MFO)

Dr. Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS)


This event has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Fondation Michel Serres and the Maison Française d'Oxford.



Maison Française d'Oxford
2-10 Norham Road


To get there:

By bus:

From the train station:

(bus stop R4): line 14 and get off at Park Town and walk for 3 minutes.

(bus stop R5): line S3 gold to Chipping Norton. Get off at Plantation Road and walk for 5 minutes.

(bus stop R1): line 500. Get off at St Margarets Road East Oxford (101 Banbury Road) and walk for 6 minutes.


From the town centre (11 minutes’ walk from the train station): from Magdalen Street

Stop C1: take line 2, 2A or 2B, and get off at Park Town.

Stop C3: take line 7 gold (and get off at Old Woodstock), line 7, S4 gold or S5 gold and get off at Park Town.



The Maison Française d’Oxford is half an hour’s walk from the train station.

From the Bodleain Library, it will take you 15 minutes.



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