Take Care

Version imprimable
Take Care (Prendre soin). 
Bernard Stiegler.
Presentation at the conference “To take care.” Colloquium: “On nature as culture?”


The Bible appears as a discourse on farmers [agriculteurs]—shepherds [pasteurs] and cultivators: agriculture is a new mode of being of culture, which is no longer that of the hunter-gatherers, but more that of the farmer who takes care of the living.


He takes care of the living with a view to providing subsistence, and thus to cultivating life, taking good care of existence so that it is not reduced to subsistence: it is thus in this sense of taking care of living that he makes sacrifices.


This sacrifice is called a cult—and this cultivator is thus also the one who consecrates a cult.


This cult is thus on an other plane than that which merely subsists and which exists: it is a plane which consists in that, as consistence, it exceeds subsistence and existence. “Consistents” are what, while not themselves existing, nevertheless constitute the condition of what does exist.


For example, justice does not exist. But life is led according to a desire for a justice which overcomes the injustice of what is.


Consistence is that which confers the unity of ends (which Kant named “the rule of ends”), and it was mono-theism that during more than two millennia so constituted agriculture in cult and in culture.


Then these times came to an end.




Inasmuch as it is the age of culture, and the origin of civilisation as sedentarisation, agriculture is a care taken of the world: it is a therapeutic. It must take care of the world because to produce it, to cultivate it, is also to do violence to it: to throw it out of balance [le déséquilibrer].


Taking care in Greek is called therapeuma. The farmer cares for the living at the same time as he does it violence: he works with his knife which is at once a plough or the knife with which he cuts the cord tying the lamb to its mother, and with which he cuts the throat of this mother or this lamb.


The farmer has, therefore, his tools and his technical knowledge: he cultivates an art of working the land [terre] which is also a violence against the land [terre].


This violence must temper and sublimate itself in a taking care of this earth [terre]. The farmer causes nature to suffer, but while making nature suffer, he makes of it a culture—insofar, however, as he dedicates to it a cult. This cult is a sublimation, in the sense Freud gives to the word: the sublimation of that violence by which the farmer throws nature into disequilibrium.


If agriculture is therefore a part of culture, it is a very singular part: in one way or another, it is the very origin of that which we call culture, and insofar as when we speak of culture, we hear civilisation, sedentarisation and urbanisation: cities. It is a very limited view of history or of protohistory that opposes “town” and “country.” There are only towns insofar as farmlands formed. And, giving the gift of civilisation—that is to say, of civility and elevation—nascent agriculture, as the raising of the living, and through this, the elevation of man himself, inaugurates a new modality of what I call, after Simondon, the process of psychic and collective individuation.


This modality consists in territorialisation—and takes form as an ensemble of territorial systems which are at once biological, geographical (physical geography and human geography), technical, economic, political, linguistic, religious and cultural.


Thus appear, then, the farmer, the artisan, the priest, and the soldier, and between them a common base develops, which is the technical system.




The technical system is that which, appearing in the history of life, constitutes the beginning of “hominisation” around three million years ago. Sedentarisation is thus a very late arrival, and constitutes the exit from prehistory.


With the concept of “epiphylogenesis” I have theorised technics as a system of memory which transforms the history of the living, and which also totally changes the conditions of evolution, making selection proceed intrinsically from this technicity. The farmer who takes care selects—and is thus not content simply to reproduce, but produces, that is to say, trans-forms. This trans-formation, insofar as it forms a world, is what must therefore take care of the world, and not just nature. This is what agri-culture is.


We live today in an extremely singular moment, a moment of rupture in relation to the epiphylogenetic base which has formed technics for several million years—and a rupture which very probably constitutes an exit from that which was opened in the epoch of sedentarisation. I want to speak about the appearance of what no longer constitutes techniques of life, what one could call the arts of living, but rather technologies of life.


Agriculture raises [élève] animals and plants, for which it takes care, and one must relate this “raising” [élevage] to the question of elevation and even of an education in the interior of which it takes shape and place, that is, what one calls culture.


Culture is that which cultivates. What is cultivated is that which is worthy of being taken care of by the raising of a cult. Culture is what supposes not simply a rupture with nature, but a transformation of the process of vital individuation through a process of psychic and collective individuation which causes a third process of individuation to appear, which is the technical system.


The process of psychic and collective (that is to say, social) individuation, is technical: it rests on a physiological, technical and social organology which deploys systems concretising this evolution, which is an incessant trans-formation and which one calls human history. This process constitutes the threads [trames] from which are woven the motifs of psychic and collective individuation, but such that these threads are overdetermined by the techniques and technologies of threading [trames].


This is the domain of agriculture insofar as it carefully arranges different types of systems, but where the geographic and biological systems each play a very specific role in a territoriality which brings to its environment a subsistence base which, most often, is not simply a matter of subsistence, but also of modes of existence and consistence.


Now, when people are tempted to set fire to American flags or to cut down the fields of transgenic plants, they are casting blame for the destruction of ways of life and of savoirs vivre for which are substituted modes of employment: they feel dispossessed, expropriated, deprived of the right to exist. These reactions are then combined with the rejection of technoscientific becoming and scientific-industrial becoming, and with the rejection of globalisation. It has, however, always been this way, since the origin of civilisation, the process of deterritorialisation which at the same time contradicts and is the cause of the dynamism of territorialisation, in which civilisation consists and which is the principal factor destroying existing ways of life, that is to say, ways of existence: it is thus also what has produced the trans-formation of the world, and to such an extent that farmers ceased to be the only actors.


But in the case of what is these days called globalisation, this is concerned with substituting modes of employment [modes d'emploi] for modes of life, and this is an immense change. The question is no longer simply that of the spread of the Greek way of life into Egypt and across Alexandria, but rather of replacing a mode of life with “directions for use” [mode d'emploi]: this is the destruction, in other words, of a mode of existence and of consistence through which life is elevated above mere subsistence.




The farmer takes care in that, from out of the reproduction of which he is in charge, he develops ways of life, the knowledge of how to live in a territory [savoir vivre territorialisés], and this territorialisation might seem to oppose the deterritorialisation engendered when technique becomes technological; at the same time, the farmer has a technical relation to life—the stock-breeder [l'éleveur] who selects transforms the living. Now, the technological evolution of the relation to life, across the biotechnologies, prepares the way for the dispossession [dessaisie] of this responsibility. Is this dispossession ineluctable? Whatever the answer, the question today is what, in this context, culturally seizes the farmer as a new form of responsibility, and what remains of the responsibility of society toward the living, given the fact that some of this responsibility must be delegated to technicians, insofar as these technicians take care of what is entrusted to them.


The cult is that which from the beginning cultivates the feeling of responsibility. I must take care of something for which I am responsible and, obviously, the farmer has a responsibility: this is the meaning [sens] of the place he occupies in the Old Testament. It is clear that he does not necessarily perceive this responsibility, but that through his savoir vivre and his savoir faire, he exercises this responsibility which is also his existence, and it is in this sense that his existence is in relation with his consistence. The farmer has a very original relation to the original question of the articulation between life, technique, and the symbolic, one which maintains the feeling of a responsibility for the living which he does not want to lose, for example, through what biotechnology permits imagining as the expropriation of his knowledge, and which constitutes in the strict sense a proletarianisation of that knowledge.


Simondon claimed that the worker, losing his knowledge as it passes into the machine, was condemned to the status of proletarian in the sense that he was thereby deprived of the capacity to become an individual, and the present transgenic techniques are part of this same process of disengagement.


The whole question here is to not make the refusal of this state of affairs a comportment consisting in the refusal of biotechnological evolution itself.


I would not claim to be qualified to offer any judgment on the necessity or not of genetically modified organisms [OGM]: I have not done the work which could authorise such a judgment—insofar as it is ever possible to settle such questions in a clear manner. Today, then, I do not have a firm opinion on this subject; but I am however inclined to think that the future of humanity passes through OGM or comparable technologies. I also think, however, that the putting to work of these technologies must be accomplished through a socialisation which cultivates a care and a trust [confiance]—and which constitutes a new culture, and a new agriculture.


Today, this trust is fundamentally absent because society has wanted to socialise all-out what it calls innovation, and to do so without having constituted the fabric of trust, of fidelity, of belief, of socialisation and of individuation. Ever since, the agricultural world, or a large part of the agricultural world, but also a large part of consumers in general, that is to say, the whole of the population, have lost confidence and rejected technologies which have not been correctly socialised because they require the invention of a new process of psychic, collective and technological (that is to say, industrial) individuation.


Here, then, is a task of political economy which echoes similar questions found throughout the rest of society. A lack of political thought about these questions means we are seeing the development of situations of conflict, where those who wish to enter into the service of this cult which is culture, including agriculture, those who would like to take care, set about rejecting the techniques which are precisely, however, the therapeutics of such a care.


Translated by Suzanne Arnold, Patrick Crogan, and Daniel Ross.