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A multicultural problematic of the notion of hybridization

Philippe Dumas
Référence(s) :

Gwiazdzinski, L. (2016). L’ hybridation des mondes: Territoires et organisations à l’épreuve de l’hybridation. Seyssinet-Pariset : Elya. ISBN: 979-10-91336-07-9. 340 p.

Cet article est une traduction de :
Une problématique pluriculturelle de la notion d’hybridation [fr]

Texte intégral

1The title of the book reflects its objective: hybridization, originally a biological mechanism, has become a metaphor for describing the interpenetration of diverse worlds in both the personal and societal spheres. It is therefore logical, and necessary, to approach it from a multidisciplinary angle. This is what Luc Gwiazdzinski does by summoning forty (37) specialists from all horizons: “Experienced in the interdisciplinary approach, most of them practice and know about hybridization. They are most often “secant marginals” – smugglers – at ease in their fields and happy to rub and mix with others: historian, linguist, geographer, geneticist, philosopher, architect-urban planner, economist, perspectivist, psychosociologist, statistician, sociologist, visual artist, information and communication scientist, mediologist, political scientist, anthropologist, light artist, musician, entrepreneur, school teacher, mathematician, town planner or shepherd” (p. 16). The result is a book teeming with ideas and examples capable of inspiring the new pedagogical forms that are emerging under the drive of technologies and new training needs, although the preferred fields here are geography and town planning. Although, Luc Gwiazdzinski, the director of publication, presents himself as a geographer, he does not downplay the exhortation of Theodore Zeldin, an historian, sociologist and English philosopher, who, imbued in French culture, states “hybridity expresses a free gaze, a gaze that refuses limits” in the preface (p. 11).

2The book is divided into three parts. The first identifies the semantic field. The second, abundant, crosses disciplinary perspectives, and the third returns to the territorial sciences at large. We will most closely scrutinize the first two parts in this reading note. Rather than a linear review, we propose to approach from axes which emerge from the different communications. Note that Luc Gwiazdzinski makes a very rich summary of the articles in his beautiful introduction (p. 11-23).

The vocabulary of hybridization and its derivatives

3Although the keyword of this work is “hybridization”, the authors associate it with many other terms, which tends to validate the modernity and the pervasiveness of the concept in the field of social sciences. From the start, linguist Jean Rey reminds us of the “peasant” origins of the word and its practice. After the Neolithic age, which saw cereals evolve through crossbreeding, ibrida in Latin (with an “I”) “which names the Crossbreeding between wild boar and sow to obtain a result which was also excellent from the point of view of livestock” (p. 27). It then mingled with the Greek concept of hubris or hybris, which means excess or exaggeration and brings it the “Y”. As of the nineteenth century, the words “hybrid” and “hybridization” spread as metaphors and then, passing through Mendel and his peas, with increasingly broad meanings, and connotations as positive as negative. But strictly speaking, “Hybridization, in the genetic sense, produces the “blend” by sex of the characters of two lines within all sexual species” says André Langaney (p. 40).

4Given this semantic framing, it should be noted that the multiplicity of concepts associated with pivot lemma (hybrid -e -ation) are included in this book. We thus note the terms of mestizo, creole, bastard, graft, connection, recycling, interlacing, crossing, combination, entanglement, mixing, poaching, peregrination, heterology, glocal... This list is found throughout the reading and is certainly not exhaustive. We can thus read the words of geographer, Paul Claval: “Territories are therefore hybrids in many ways: initially because they are made up of combined, overlapping and intertwining spaces” (p. 300).

5Other concepts are also often used in connection with hybridization to name facts or ideas that are difficult to categorize in current thought frames, such as: in-between, non-places, non-days, third places, outside- inside, co-something, -development, -habitation, -operation, -opetition, carpool… This already says a lot about the dissemination of the concept of hybridization, speaking and thinking frameworks, without forgetting the avoidances in the “game of tricks and of leaks, made of reconciliations or bypasses, which have given communities and their refuge space operational functions, which were, in theory, denied to them and institutionally prohibited” as stated by Philippe Genestier (p. 73).

Limits of Hybridization

6As a counterweight to Luc Zeldin's request to reveal the “beauty of hybridization”, the first authors we meet immediately highlight the limits of plant or animal hybridization (André Langaney), or its societal version of miscegenation (Jean-Loup Amselle). Whatever the term used, these phenomena are complex, ambivalent, polymorphic and produce all kinds of consequences as well as their opposites. For example, interbreeding as an ideology produces both a “progressive” imperative of cultural diversity and a “reactionary” call to ethnic purity to stem the bastardization of this culture. The caveat is displayed. Hybridization is not a panacea, although we are all hybrid (André Langaney and most of the authors assembled here) or encouraged to practice it in our minds and in our actions. Thus Art, which can be a paradigm of the hybridization making, confronts us with the challenge of reconstructing a world where humans could reclaim their history and their destiny (Jean-Jacques Wünenberger).

New horizons opened up by hybridization, town planning, art, culture, communication

7The erasure of borders and boundaries is a consequence and driving force of hybridization. There is an “emergence” phenomenon, in the sense of the social systemics of Morin or Le Moigne; a “disfigurement of borders”, says Alfonso de Toro, quoted by Jean Viard in his afterword (p. 328). The relationship between space and time gives rise to “urban space-time hybrids” according to Sandra Boniglioli (p. 280). The example of the relationship between what is known as the “city” and the “countryside” is cited by Chris Younès, a philosopher of the architecture of the environment, who notes that “All [the authors] call for new alliances that require hybridizations. Urban nature, nature in the city, ecocity, biotope city, new names are surfacing, which denotes that fruitful encounters will attract new possible combinations” (p. 66). Olivier Turquin, a geographer and shepherd, suggests several terms to account for this emergence of borderline places: “naturban”, “peri-natural”, “econologist”, “rurban” (p. 304) that Martin Vanier, a geographer, introduced into his vision of the mutation of territories (p. 284). Hybridization is often a crossing between antagonisms.

8This reasoning applies to any project approach as a method for achieving a goal that is not the simple outcome of a more or less fantasized forward-looking narrative. For Vincent Pacini, the transition from story mode to project mode involves the creation of hybrid knowledge. It is this which makes it possible to reconcile the divergent visions of entrepreneurs and actors. It is practiced within the territorial intelligence; and more broadly the collective intelligence. Moreover, the question of the current domination of the Project paradigm in management encourages us to question, with Jean-Pierre Boutinet, the figures of modernity, post-modernity and even anti-modernity and the history of their relationships with the concept of hybridization, bastardy or hybris.

9Art in all its forms – dance, music, theater, live performances, visual arts, digital arts, etc. – is one of the fields of development for hybridization. This has to do with both human history and sociology. Often, hybridization in art emerges not only from artistic production itself but also and perhaps especially from the way we look at it. Through Duchamp’s “ready-made”, we discovered that art is essentially a mix of objects, therefore bastardized. The surveys on French cultural practices evoked by Pierre le Quéau take us far from the static vision of a Bourdieu. We realize that the urban - the city's new qualification - is the privileged place for the mix of the arts and the public. For Pascal Ferren, “hybrid urbanism” is a postmodern ethics.

10Another example of the possible hybridization of many fields with art is the development of movements such as “Art-Science”, even if it is “around the production of art and research, and relatively little around culture and knowledge” says Marie-Christine Bordeaux (p. 169), who prefers the concept of border object. Daniel Bougnoux joins the group of researchers who find that hybridization is “very welcoming” and intervenes everywhere. Especially in information and communication. Information has value once processed and transformed by its receiver, who mixes and integrates it into his/her stock of knowledge. Its dissemination is conditioned by its reappropriation, therefore its malleability. The digital screen is the model of the hybrid machine. “By hybridizing letters, numbers, images and sounds, the computer screen multiplies and relaunches ad infinitum a movement, or a dance, initiated by the invention of the Lumière brothers […] because the screen is not a page or a scene, and, in its digital form, it contributes to tremendously deconstructing, and putting back into motion, all categories (genres, identities, hierarchies, supposedly immutable essences) […] Hybridize ? But this is life itself!” (p. 181).

Hybridization and globalization

11More or less explicitly, the shadow of globalization hangs over the current interest in hybridizations. Globalization activates cultural hybridizations. It is the object of a generalized marketing that tends to standardize the human race. Several authors also associate global hybridization with the aftermath of colonialism and post-colonialism. Guy Saez, Jean-Loup Amselle or Philippe Genestier evoke on this subject the “creolization” dear to Edouard Glissant. Hybridization also meets the problem of the local and the global and that of virtuality, cited by Francis Jaureguiberry or Nils Aziosmanoff.


12At the time of concluding this note, we are in the midst of an existential crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. All that we have just read confirms to us that the world and its representation are in the process of extinction. In the twentieth century, hope for infinite progress has collapsed. Today, generalized rationalization, the mathematization of the world, faith in the domination of nature and of the uncertain, the specialization of institutions, markets and individual skills are collapsing. This reading leads us to think that hybridization could help us to rebuild our vision of the world (Weltanschauung). But this remains conditional as the burdens are heavy and the result uncertain. Let us remember the double parentage of the word: from hybrida the sweet and ubris the violent.

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Philippe Dumas, « A multicultural problematic of the notion of hybridization  »Distances et médiations des savoirs [En ligne], 30 | 2020, mis en ligne le 25 juin 2020, consulté le 14 août 2020. URL :

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Philippe Dumas

University of Toulon

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DMS-DMK est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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