(Source : France Illustration)

The End of Recycling ? Metabolic Rift and Biogeochemical Policies in the Parisian Region during the XXth Century

Etienne DUFOUR (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne / Géographie-cités) will present his thesis: Geographers and urban policy and planning in France (1960-1992) : willing to contribute ? under the supervision of Olivier ORAIN

May 21
Centre Broca, salle A701
21 rue Broca, Paris 5e.


Sabine BARLES, professeure, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, directrice
Emmanuel BELLANGER, directeur de recherches au CNRS, rapporteur
Olivier COUTARD, directeur de recherches au CNRS, examinateur
François JARRIGE, maître de conférence HDR, Université de Bourgogne, examinateur
Fanny LOPEZ, professeure, ENSA Paris Malaquais, examinatrice
Laurence ROCHER, maîtresse de conférence HDR, Université Lyon 2, rapporteure


Since the beginning of the industrial era, natural cycles of biogenic elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) are massively disrupted. This disruption manifests the ‘‘metabolic rift’’ between industrial society and its environment. This rift is produced through agricultural and urban techniques which no longer enable the recycling of these elements. It results in their dispersion which entails ecological and sanitary damages.

Using a historical approach and the framework of urban metabolism, this thesis examines how this socio-technical system was set up in the Paris region over the course of the XXth century. It examines the trajectories of circular ‘‘biogeochemical policies’’, namely the old techniques of agricultural use of residual organic matter (composting, sewage farming and spreading of faecal matter). By uncovering the mechanisms by which these techniques were phased out, this work seeks to reveal the contingency of this process and the choices behind it.

Among other results, it helps to denaturalise some of the locks that are preventing the emergence of ecological management techniques of nutrients in our time of growing environmental urgency. It reveals that, in the shadow of the dominant model, recycling techniques were maintained in use both at the heart of the agglomeration and in its margins. It highlights the important role played by the Second World War in this perpetuation. It shows that technical evolution is anything but linear. It highlights the decisive factors that subsequently led to the marginalisation of recycling. Finally, it points out how, paradoxically, these circular techniques were also used to strengthen the growth of the dominant system.