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Hybridisation: "building bridges between generations, sectors, places or even uses"

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Interview with Philosopher Gabrielle Halpern by Stéphane Brunerie, published in Stripfood, May 11, 2021

Who are you, Gabrielle Halpern ?

I’m a centaur! More specifically, I have a doctorate in philosophy, and I'm a graduate of and associate researcher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. At the same time, I worked for several years in different ministerial offices, where I was in charge of foresight and speeches. I then joined a startup incubator, in order to support young people in the development of their activity and today I advise companies and public institutions, while actively pursuing my work in philosophy. One foot in each world to try to gradually build bridges between them, - hybridisations - despite their apparent contradictions and their difficulty in dialogue...

I define myself as a centaur because this "half man and half horse" figure is the epitome of hybridisation. This is why I dedicated my philosophy thesis to centaurs, as well as this essay "Let's all be centaurs!" A celebration of hybridisation "(Le Pommier, 2020). For me, hybridisation isn't a simple research project, I live it intimately and I see it as a vision of the world, a social project that I would like to help build.

Our world has been built around a traditional functioning in silos, in an extremely fragmented way. Why ?

In the West, we've developed a remarkable tool for building science, but a formidable one for tackling reality; namely, rationality. While it was originally very useful to better understand the world around us, it's clear that it has rigidified over the centuries. It looks like a sort of factory for the massive production of boxes, each one more rigid than the other. Its operation is simple: we identify (i.e., we assign an identity or we stick a label, which amounts to the same thing), we sort and we classify. This is how we organize people, things, situations, professions, territories or even generations - in boxes. We don't know how to approach the world other than through the prism of identity and labels ... We're completely disconcerted when we're confronted with the unavoidable - that scares us, because it's unpredictable. At best then, we ignore it, at worst, we reject it or try to remove it ...

If there is a crisis today, it's indeed one of our relation to reality, which, by definition, is hybrid, and even more and more hybrid. When are we going to stop being afraid of this hybridity and when will we manage to approach the world differently, by accepting it as it is?

Your book, "Let's all be centaurs! A celebration of hybridisation" is a true hymn to hybridisation. Can you define the term for us?

My book is an invitation to come to terms with reality, thanks to this hybrid thinking. The hybrid is that which is heterogenous, contradictory, mixed, elusive; that's everything that doesn't fit into our boxes. Hybridisation is the unlikely union, i.e., the meeting of things, people, professions, ideas or worlds that are radically different.

For a meeting to take place, for hybridisation to really take place, we must not only juxtapose them, we have to work on their reciprocal metamorphosis to give rise to a third-thing, a third-character, a third-profession, a third-party, a third-use, a third-world.

Cooks know this by heart, because that’s precisely what is at work in food preparation: how to cook ingredients together, without them losing their taste or without the flavour of one taking precedence over that of the other? The art of the cook, in my opinion, is to achieve this hybridisation that will allow all foods to "enhance" each other.

In other words, what I mean by "hybridisation" has absolutely nothing to do with the sad trivialization of this term, currently used to designate a meeting, training session or event, face-to-face or remote! Hybridisation, as you can well imagine, is a thousand times richer than that!

We're seeing an acceleration of this hybridisation in offers, places, marketing networks or professions,… how can this movement be explained?

The world is indeed more and more hybrid and this great trend affects almost all areas of our life: objects (my phone hybridises uses, functions and activities), cities are becoming green, third places are multiplying, art is inviting itself where we didn't expect it, etc. In my opinion, this hybridisation that we're witnessing is a positive sign that we're starting to tame our fear of the unbreakable and that we are finally ready to give up our reassuring old categories.

The health crisis has accelerated this trend even further, but it was at work long before the virus arrived in our lives. This accelerating hybridisation may make us optimistic about the future!

How can this movement be a great opportunity for our society and how can we seize it individually?

If we assume that a station is a station or that a museum is a museum, we will never get out of the silos! But if we're ready to redefine those old boxes, then we will have painting exhibitions in stations, in the streets, in shops, and there will be real equality in access to culture. What if retirement homes were also startup incubators? What if restaurants were also schools or vegetable gardens? It is only if places, trades, equipment or shops hybridise by offering different uses, that there can be a real social mix, real intergenerational solidarity, sustainable economic developments, and of course , a more respectful relationship with nature. By putting things, activities and people in boxes (for example, the elderly with the elderly in retirement homes), we don't realize that we're causing divisions in society. This tendency to hybridise our society is therefore an extraordinary opportunity for each of us, because by breaking our boxes, we will finally be able to build bridges instead of artificially building walls between generations, sectors, places or even uses.

Individually, one becomes a centaur, when one is ready to "cast one's anchor as far as possible", in the words of the philosopher Elias Canetti, towards what seems most radically different from oneself. Many restaurateurs, for example, very courageously, have been extraordinarily creative since the start of the health crisis, by transforming their restaurant into a grocery store, by setting up partnerships with supermarkets, by taking a step towards street food. We can go even further with hybridisation, there are a thousand things to invent, a thousand unlikely unions to be made in the field of catering, as in all other fields!

Finally, why does the way we speak of the "world after" make no sense?

During the first lockdown, everyone was talking about the world after; during the second confinement, everyone was talking about the world before ... Proof that "this brighter tomorrow" and that we bet on all our ideals made no sense! If you look closely at the wishes for this world afterwards, you will see that they were all attempts to lock it in the boxes of the past. Until we come to terms with our old categories, we will not come to terms with reality, and that's what it is. We've built our lives around our fear of the unpredictable. The whole history of humanity is one of repression, of rejection, of the attempt to eliminate the unknown, of everything that can't fit into our boxes in principle.

The next world won't happen by spontaneous generation - it's time to get down to business and learn how to all be centaurs!


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