By Anne Marie Drouin-Hans, in memory of Jean-Marc Drouin (1948-2020)
06 septembre, 2020
Jean-Marc's thesis (1984) dealt with the concept of "ecosystem", a word coined in 1935 by the botanist Tansley, who, in order to understand the relationships between living things, thought it was necessary to take into account not only plants and animals but also the physical factors in which they live. The function of the notion of system was to underline the fact that we are facing a whole series of elements organized in a structured way, which interacts and gives the whole a certain autonomy. Relative autonomy, however, because the systems also interact with each other, and are nested inside each other. Some ecosystems have more autonomy than others (a lake or an island, for example, which are easier to mark out) but nevertheless maintain relations with external elements, so that the concept of ecosystem appears more as a construction of the mind than as a tangible reality. While Tansley considered the ecosystem from a qualitative point of view, the concept of ecosystem only became really operative when, a few years later, from 1942, Lindeman also considered it from a quantitative point of view, with an accounting of the cycles of organic matter and energy transfers. For example, we can evaluate in an ecosystem, the energy from the sun, stored by plants, transferred to herbivores, then from these to carnivores (See JMD 1993, p. 103). The concept of ecosystem participated in the development of a science in full construction, Ecology, whose name had been created previously to that of ecosystem, in the form of "oecology" in 1866, by the botanist Ernst Haeckel. In the 1930s, the term "ecology" appeared in reviews. At the same time in France the term "ecology" was still known only by specialists (Geographers, Forest Rangers, Biologists). It began to spread more widely in the 1950s (see JMD 1993, p. 21-22). All these adjustments were the subject of the book published first by Desclée de Brouwer and then by Flammarion in the pocket collection "Champs Flammarion". The title of the first edition (Réinventer la nature, 1991) became the subtitle of the second one (1993) whose title is L'écologie et son histoire. We see in this book the abundance of knowledge and practices that allow to coincide towards explanatory theories that constitute a science. The importance of naturalist knowledge and practices is emphasized, along with that of modeling and statistics. According to Claire Salomon-Bayet (unfortunately deceased a few years ago), this work had become a "classic".
Another work followed fifteen years later, based on all Jean-Marc's thoughts on botany, L'herbier des philosophes, 2008. He had given a lecture in Geneva in 1996, in the scope of teaching History and Philosophy of Science, whose title was: "Historical and Philosophical Approaches to Botany". Numerous articles and talks in symposiums have focused on various subjects converging on botany during these years. This involved special studies on authors such as Linné (on whom he wrote many articles), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (he showed he was a quite well-informed amateur Botanist), Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (on whom he worked on a complete re-edition of Mémoires et souvenirs), Alexandre de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland (for their trip to equinoctial America), Michel Adanson (for his throughs on the names of plants), Charles Darwin (he made a preface for the republication of the 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species and he showed the importance Darwin gave to botany), Georg Mendel (for his work on heredity from the cultivation of peas), Lamarck and his Flore française etc… It also included themes such as naturalist travelers, botanical gardens, botanical geography, the question of purpose of botany, botany as a model for classification, amateurs and academic societies, the popularization of science, pedagogy, the sexuality of plants... He has worked both at La Villette and at the Musée national d’Histoire naturelle, on exhibitions where botany played an important role, such as L'expédition d'Egypte, le Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland (La boussole et l'orchidée), Nature vive… From all these works came out a synthesis on the stakes of botany, "lovable science", just as serious as other more austere ones. L'herbier des philosophes situates historically and philosophically the development of this science, and broaches the question of nomenclature and classification, the relationship between botany and evolution, the role of time and space in botany. The book ends with an "Imaginary Herbarium", on the model of the " Musée imaginaire " of Malraux, where he associates a plant and a botanist, in short sentences that summarize an anecdote, a reference, or a discovery. This passage in particular was praised by Michel Serres in a 2009 book published by Editions du Pommier. Jean-Marc Drouin, he says, "makes up an imaginary collection, to decorate with flowers his purpose. He garnishes this delicious herbarium with plants, which he associates one by one with a botanist so creative that history has retained his name". Serres then compares this association between a plant and an author to totems, which gives it an interesting anthropological and philosophical dimension ("to each his flower, to each his totem" Serres, 2009, p. 32-33).
Jean-Marc's latest work dates back to 2014. He was extremely tired and predicted that this would be his last book. La Philosophie de l'insecte, published as L'herbier des philosophes in the "Science ouverte" collection at Seuil editions, deals with a theme he had been interested in for a long time: the so-called "insect societies". Réaumur and his discovery that winged ants were the sexual form of these insects. Under the French Revolution, the debates on the "queen" or the "king" of bees, or on the " republic", had given rise to the first texts. His idea to increase his scope of study and not to focus only on "social insects" led him to write this book where he approaches the question of the size of insects. He shows that it is the structure of the anatomy of these animals that prevents them from being taller. Indeed, if we multiply the width of the legs we are dealing with a surface, whereas for the size of the body we are dealing with a volume, therefore the legs would collapse under the weight of the body. Only fantasy tales can dispense with these simple laws of mathematics and physics, for the pleasure of frightening oneself! The book also discusses the history of classification. The distinction between Insects and Arachnids, for example, which are two groups belonging to the class Arthropods, is relatively recent. Spiders are no longer insects, to the extent that insects now only include six-legged arthropods (whereas spiders have eight legs), have a larval form before they become insects (whereas young spiders have the same shape as the adults in smaller size), etc… Actually, the word "insect" already existed, but its scientific definition now corresponds only to a part of the group that was so named. Hence the funny question "Where were the insects when they didn't exist yet? ", that is to say, when the more precise definition of the notion of insect had not yet been formulated. The place of insects in literature or the various artistic fields lead Jean-Marc to quote Marcel Proust, Maeterlinck, Michelet, Robert Desnos, movie-makers, sculptors... It shows to what extent, including in some colloquial expressions, insects are inserted in daily life: be in the doldrums, be as busy as a bee, have ants in the pants, flutter about, to be the bee’s knees… This book also shows us to what extend insects are important in scientific research, either when they are used to model issues such as genetics with Drosophila, mimetism, camouflage, or when they are the subject of research as vectors of a disease, as in work on malaria. The uncertain future of bees is one of the challenges of a better knowledge of insects and their roles in the interactions that govern natural and artificial balances and imbalances. One of the points dear to Jean-Marc's heart was to find the best position on anthropomorphic metaphors concerning insects. This is not to ironically condemn the use of terms such as "king" or "queen", "workers", "soldiers", and even "slaves", but the point of these analogies is to understand the structure of gatherings of individuals and the role of each group, without attributing to them a kind of morality that would allow us to consider them as a model to be imitated. These metaphors and analogies should be seen as a convenient way of describing behavior, as well as a translation of the concerns and ideologies of an era. This book was awarded two prizes: the Grand Prix Moron of the Académie française (2014) and "La science se livre" organized by the Hauts de Seine department. It was translated into Japanese and English at Columbia University Press, and a contract between Seuil Editions and a Chinese publishing house was signed in 2019.
The originality of Jean-Marc's thinking was to work as a true historian and an authentic philosopher. The best example of this dual approach was probably expressed in an article interrogating the relationship between Darwinism and Ecology, on the basis of the work of Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle and his son, Alphonse de Candolle, both Botanists, confronted with that of Darwin. It is possible, says Jean-Marc, to distinguish two levels: " the strictly historical level of events, conflicts and compromises; and the epistemological level of conditions of possibility, prerequisites and conceptual sequences." His conclusion is that "historical rigor moderates the role of the Darwinian revolution in the constitution of Ecology" but that "the reading of their common sources shows that Evolution and Ecology enlighten each other". (JMD, 2010, p. 87)
Jean-Marc was delighted to be part of Michel Serres' team who wrote les Éléments d'histoire des sciences (1989). On the one hand, he studied the role of Mendel in the history of genetics, and on the other hand, the role of Naturalist travelers in the knowledge of nature and the constitution of scientific theories. This volume was elaborated collectively through reciprocal critical readings and then evaluated by the students before publication.
It is not possible to retrace all of his work. I give here only a few indicative examples, which I tried to present in an explanatory way without giving an exhaustive list. I almost forgot about his work on the dissemination of knowledge, science and its public, amateurs and professionals, etc… For a more extensive bibliography, you can visit the website of the Centre Alexandre Koyré under the tab "Members" then "Associate Members". The references below are those cited or mentioned in these few pages.
Finally, a few words about his career path. Jean-Marc was a Philosofy teacher at the Ecole Normale d’Instituteurs in Douai in the scope of an Educational psychological lecture. After that, he was a Philosophy teacher at the Corbeil-Essonnes high school. It was during this period that he could work with the INRP (Institut national de la recherche pédagogique – National Institute for Pedagogical Research) team that was looking into the possibility of introducing elementary school students to the concepts of energy in Physics and Ecosystem in Biology. He then had the opportunity to work with the future Cité des sciences et de l'industrie settling in La Villette. He was passionate about museological creation, especially that of children's rooms. He was then integrated into the CRHST (Centre de recherche en histoire des sciences et des techniques – a research center for the history of Science and Technology) which was located in La Villette, and in this respect he could participate in the conception of several exhibitions, especially the one on scientists during the Revolution, and on the history of chemistry. During the première in 1989, he had been scientific adviser for the realization of a Happy families cards game which was an opportunity in two or three lines to summarize the identity and the contribution of a scientist. For example, in the "Naturalist" family, we could find "Etienne de Lacépède (1756-1825). He continues Buffon's work and gives lectures at the Museum on fish and reptiles". Forty-two short texts were thus written by Jean-Marc on other families: "Chemists", "Hot-Air Balloons", "Astronomers", "Measurements", "Industrialists", "In Egypt". When he became a Associate Professor at the Musée national d’Histoire naturelle in 1994, then promoted to the title of Professor of Musée national d’Histoire naturelle in 2004, he contributed to the conception of other exhibitions, such as the one on the journey of Alexandre de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, produced in partnership with the CNAM. The title he proposed, "La Boussole et l'Orchidée" (The Compass and the Orchid), reflected the technical and naturalistic dimension of this exhibition. He often had good title ideas, very poetic, rigorous and relevant at the same time.
A last point that I will add in these few pages, which do not claim to retrace his whole life, is his taste for drawing and watercolor. The Japanese publishing house of the Philosophie de l’insecte even used as cover watercolors of beetles that he had made.
August 31st, 2020
Texts cited or mentioned
- Jean-Marc Drouin, L’écologie et son histoire, Paris, Flammarion, 1993 (coll. Champs) [Première édition : Réinventer la nature, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1991][Traduction en portugais, Reinventar a natureza . A ecologia e a sua historia, Lisboa, Instituto Piaget, 1991]
- Jean-Marc Drouin, L’herbier des philosophes, Paris, Seuil, 2008 (Coll. Science ouverte) [Traduction coréenne, 2011]
- Jean-Marc Drouin, Philosophie de l’insecte, Paris, Seuil, 2014 (Coll. Science ouverte) [Traduction japonaise, 2016 ; anglaise, Columbia University Press, 2019].
- Jean-Marc Drouin,« Les Candolle et Darwin, écologues avant la lettre », dans Pierre-Henri Gouyon & Hélène Leriche (dir.), Préface de Hubert Reeves, Postface de Nicolas Hulot, Aux origines de l’environnement, Paris, Fayard, 2010, p. 75-87.
- Michel Serres, Écrivains, savants et philosophes font le tour du monde, Paris, Le Pommier, 2010.
- Jean Daniel Candaux & Jean-Marc Drouin (eds.), avec le concours de Patrick Bungener & René Sigrist, édition complétée et commentée des Mémoires de souvenirs (1778-1841) d’Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle, Genève, Georg, 2004.
Jean-Marc Drouin, « Mendel côté jardin », dans Michel Serres (dir.), Éléments d’histoire des sciences, Paris, Bordas, 1989, p. 407-421. [Traduction espagnole, Madrid, Catedra, 1991 ; allemande, Francfort, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994 ; anglaise, Oxford, Bakewell, 1995 ; portugaise, Lisbonne, Terramar, 1996]
- Jean-Marc Drouin, « De Linné à Darwin, le »s Voyageurs naturalistes », dans Michel Serres (dir.), Éléments d’histoire des sciences, Paris, Bordas, 1989, p. 321-335. [Traduction espagnole, Madrid, Catedra, 1991 ; allemande, Francfort, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994 ; anglaise, Oxford, Bakewell, 1995 ; portugaise, Lisbonne, Terramar, 1996]
- Jean-Marc Drouin, « Rousseau, lecteur de Linné », Bulletin d’histoire et d’épistémologie des sciences de la vie », 2000, 7 (1), p. 39-57.
- Jean-Marc Drouin & Charles Lenay, Théories de l’évolution, une anthologie, Paris, Press Pocket, 1990.
- Charles Darwin, L’Origine des espèces, Présentation par Jean-Marc Drouin de l’édition de 1859, Traduction d’Edmond Barbier revue par Daniel Becquemont,Paris, Flammarion, 2008 (Coll. GF) [réédition revue et actualisée d’une première édition de 1992]
- Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent & Jean-Marc Drouin, « Nature for the people », dans Nick Jardine, Jim Secord, Emma Spary (dir.), Cultures of Natural History, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 408-425.
- Jean-Marc Drouin, « Linné et la, dénomination des vivants : portrait du naturaliste en législateur », Le temps de savoirs, « La dénomination », n° 1, p. 17-38.
- Jean-Marc Drouin & Robert Fox, « Corolles et crinolines: le mélange des genres dans l'œuvre d'Henri Lecoq ». Revue de Synthèse. « L’inscription de la nature », 1999, IVe série, n° 4, p. 581-599.
- Jean-Marc Drouin, « Les amateurs d’histoire naturelle : promenades, collectes et controverses », Alliage, 2011, n° 69, p. 35-47.