Archives de Tag: Paradigm Shift

Brussels, 24 September 2014

Foresight is a future and strategy-oriented process, which aims at bringing about one or more transformations in the system by mobilising collective intelligence. Foresight is used to identify long-term issues, to design a common and precise vision of the future of the organisation, company or territory, to build strategies to reach it and to implement measures in order to achieve the changes and tackle the challenges [1].

Futurists should therefore not be seen as gurus who would own the truth about the future, but as people who try to understand developments and are able to gather other actors and get them to work and think together.

It is commonplace, especially in times of economic difficulty or tensions, to hear it said or read that the crisis is not cyclical, but represents a structural transformation of the economy or society. What is being referred to is a paradigm shift.

1. What do we mean by a New Industrial Paradigm?

An attempt at the clearest possible identification of the « new industrial paradigm » towards which we are said to be moving first of all requires an explanation of the three words of which the term is composed.

1.1. A paradigm is essentially a model and a system of reference and of representation of the world, which we invent and construct mentally in an attempt to grasp and describe its components. The sociologist Edgar Morin describes paradigms as the principles of principles, the few dominant concepts that control minds and govern theories, without our being aware of them ourselves. He refers to today’s world in terms reminiscent of Schumpeter on innovation: « I think we are living in a time in which we have an old paradigm, an old principle that compels us to disconnect, to simplify, to reduce and to formalise without being able to communicate or ensure the communication of that which is disconnected, without being able to conceptualise entities and without being able to conceptualise the complexity of reality. We are in a period “between two worlds”: one that is dying but not yet dead, and another that wants to be born, but has not yet been born  » [2].

1.2. We describe this paradigm as industrial. In doing so we refer to the model that was introduced in Britain in the late eighteenth century and gave rise to economic activities based on the extraction and processing of raw materials and energy sources, by humans and machinery, in order to manufacture products and put them on the market for consumption.

1.3. Finally, we have said that this model is new. This means that we are seeing a renewal. This final dimension is by far the hardest for both you and me to grasp, so diverse and even contradictory are the signals that are sent to us by scientists and by economic, political or social actors. As the Professor at the University of California (Berkeley) Manuel Castells suggests, a society can be called new when structural transformation has occurred in the relations of production, in the relations of power, in interpersonal relations. These transformations bring about an equally significant change in social spatiality and temporality, and the emergence of a new culture [3].

The level we will consider in order to analyse the New Industrial Paradigm will be that of radical shifts, in other words profound and lasting transformations. I will start by drawing a distinction between observed shifts and desired shifts. For the former, an exploratory approach must be taken consisting of analysing and recording. For the latter, a normative approach is appropriate, and strategies need to be developed to achieve desired futures. The two may merge, reinforce one another or oppose one another. Transition is of course the sequence during which one passes to the heart of a change, transformation or shift.

Thus, I believe that the beginning of the 21st century is patterned by three main shifts.

2. The three shifts driving 21st century industry

2.1. We are still in the Industrial Society

The first shift is the deepening and extension of the paradigm born of the Industrial Revolution and described by Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, then by Karl Marx in the first volume of Das Kapital (1867), and then of course by many others all the way down to Joseph E. Stiglitz [4] and Thomas Piketty [5] to name but a few. The reason that I point this out is because, unlike some others, I believe that we are continuing and will continue in this model for a long time. The model does not just involve mechanisation, capitalism, or a particular social model and a particular political model. It is a complex overall system born of a global shift. Of course, this system has undergone many waves of innovation, and various political and social systems. However, these changes have not affected the essence of the model. The French sociologist Alain Touraine long ago noted that we should not confuse a type of society – whether the industrial society or the information society – with its forms and its modes of modernisation. He pointed out that we had learned to distinguish the industrial society, as a societal type, from the process of industrialisation, which might be capitalist or socialist, for example [6]. In addition, the transition from the steam engine to the dynamo, to the diesel engine or to atomic energy did not cause sufficient shifts to change the nature of the model. It should therefore survive future waves of innovation and the new values and goals arising from the other shifts. It is true that industry’s contribution to GDP or employment is tending to decrease, as the European Commission has lamented. But leaving aside the fact that outsourcing skews the statistics, our entire society remains largely underpinned by industrial society and continues to largely fall within that category.

The reason why I stress this continuity is that some authors such as Jeremy Rifkin regularly announce the end of industry and the end of capitalism in the years ahead. Personally, I observe that we are continuing and will continue in this model for a long time.

2.2. We are now living the Cognitive Revolution

The second shift has been gradually observed since the late 1960s and especially since 1980. From Daniel Bell and Jean Fourastié [7] to William Halal [8], and from Thierry Gaudin [9] to John Naisbitt [10] and James Rosenau [11], many futurists have described how the industrial age is gradually giving way to a ‘cognitive age’, through a new revolution – The Cognitive Revolution. This latter affects the organisation of all aspects of civilisation, both production and culture, and is based on the many changes brought about by computing and genetics, and by the notion of information as an infinite resource [12]. Intelligence – grey matter – is the raw material, and its products are informational, and hence largely intangible.

The key factor in this shift is the convergence between, firstly, information and communication technology and secondly, the life sciences. In the long term, this development is broader and more significant than is commonly imagined. The general trend is for a phenomenal development in information management capacity. Thus, the accelerated growth of technologies for studying molecular biology is closely linked with the development of information and communication technologies. The case of genetics is obvious, but not isolated: computer tools have been created that can be used to analyse and understand the interactions between genes. It is the convergence between life sciences and information sciences that has really given molecular biology a boost.

But, as we have said, this observed shift also turned out to be a strategy when in March 2000 the Lisbon European Council set itself the task of establishing a new strategic goal for the decade 2000-2010: « to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion » [13]. Most of the policies that were subsequently conducted in the field of innovation had this same objective of « preparing the transition to a competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy » [14].

2.3. We are building a new harmony through Sustainable Development

The third shift was wanted. It is itself the result of three distinct but complementary processes reinforced by NASA’s Apollo Program, which greatly contributed to our collective awareness that the Blue Planet is a rather closed and fragile system. First, there has been the challenging of modernity and the critique of industrial society and the American way of life by intellectuals such as Herbert Marcuse [15], but also Donella Meadows [16] and Aurelio Peccei [17]. Next, there have been the environmental programmes of the United Nations, whose conferences, from Stockholm to Rio II, have constructed a new conceptual framework. Finally, there has been the human experience generated over time by ecological disasters, some of them very spectacular – such as Torrey Canyon (1967), Amoco Cadiz (1978), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), Deepwater Horizon (2010) or Fukushima (2011) – which have contributed to an awareness of the biosphere’s fragility. Since the report of the Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (1987), the definition of sustainable development has been accepted as a major goal, stressing as it does the limits imposed by the need for harmony between humans and between mankind and nature. This goal of sustainable development has caused us to rethink our entire economic policies and the management of all our businesses in all areas of human activity, and to adopt a long-term view. Our industrial policies are being reformatted by the transition to a low-carbon society. New industrial approaches such as the circular economy and all its components represent a response to these new needs. The Secretary General of the Industrial Materials Association Europe, Michelle Wyart-Remy, is right in saying that resource efficiency is not just about using less resources but about using resources better. At every stage of the supply chain, industry is working to be increasingly resource-efficient. That path will maximise the efficiency of resources used [18] and will contribute to the decoupling of economic growth from resource use and its environmental impacts – a stated goal of the Europe 2020 Strategy [19].

 3. Four vital factors: materials, energy, structure of time and relationship with life

Bertrand Gille convincingly showed in his history of technology that it was the conjunction of rapidly rising levels of education in the population and the dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge that drove technological progress forward and made the machine-based Industrial Revolution possible [20]. It is on the basis of that historian’s work that Thierry Gaudin and Pierre-Yves Portnoff have highlighted the fact that, in the three main technological destabilisations that the West has undergone, four vital factors – materials, energy, the structure of time and our relationship with life – were activated simultaneously. They described contemporary transformations:

– hyperchoice of materials and their horizontal seepage from applications in cutting-edge sectors to the most everyday forms of use;

– the tension between the power of nuclear energy and the economy of energy resources, in the context of recycling;

– our relationship with life and the immense field of biotechnology, including genetics;

– the new structure of time, divided into nanoseconds by microprocessors[21].

Although I have no wish to announce new structural changes, I do wish to assert that the three shifts – industrial societies in continuous transformation, the Cognitive Revolution building a new Knowledge Society, and Sustainable Development as a conscious search for harmony, will continue their interactions, and, hopefully, their convergence. For me, this is the New Industrial Paradigm in which we are living and working, and in which we will live and work for some decades.


Thus what is most surprising, alongside the speed and accelerating pace of change[22], is how long the shift is taking. Whereas Alvin Toffler thought in 1980 that the emergence of the ‘Third Wave’ would be a fait accompli in a few decades [23], we believe today that the change could extend over another century or two. These shifts are long-term movements which straddle time and conquer space. As we have indicated, the Industrial Revolution, which began in around 1700, continues to extend into new territories even as its effects are disappearing in other places. Likewise, in his analysis of the labour force in the United States, Professor William H. Halal of Washington University traces the long term of the knowledge society back to the late eighteenth century [24]. He also affirms his belief that the big changes are yet to come [25].

4. Five long-term challenges to tackle in order to face the New Industrial Paradigm

4.1. How can industry be reinforced with the innovations of the Cognitive Revolution?

Since the 1980s, we have observed the development of smart or intelligent materials able to respond to stimuli, thanks to the knowledge embedded in their structure in order to transform them. The reinforcement of the link between research and innovation is a classic issue. We can also point to the capacity to orient public research, and especially academic research, more effectively and to use industrial innovation in order to bridge the gap between science and industrial technology (market-driven research) through open innovation [26].

4.2. How can we concretely apply the principles of the circular economy to all the activities of the supply chain, in order to achieve a zero-waste business model for the industry of the future?

The circular economy appears to be a major line of development, with a global-to-local structure and underpinning systemic and cross-disciplinary policies pursued at European, national/federal, regional and divisional level. These policies are intended to fit together and link up with each other, becoming more and more concrete as and when they get closer to the actors on the ground, and therefore companies [27]. Although considerable improvements are still necessary to achieve a zero-waste business model, we know that such a strategy can help at a time when accessibility and affordability of raw materials is vital for ensuring the competitiveness of the EU’s industry [28].

4.3. How can we reduce energy consumption in order to improve the competitiveness of industry?

We know that the industrial sector consumes about half of the world’s total delivered energy. According to the US Information Energy Administration, despite the global crisis, energy consumption by the industrial sector worldwide is expected to increase by an average of 1.4% per year, growing by more than 50% by 2040 [29]. We are far from the target of a 40% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 on the EU agenda [30]. That is why the EU Council in Luxembourg on 13 June 2014emphasised the need to accelerate efforts in particular as regards reviewing the Energy Efficiency Directive in a timely manner [31].

4.4. How can we prepare the different actors, and especially companies, for the Low-Carbon Economy?

The EU Commission has stressed the need to develop new low-carbon production technologies and techniques for energy-intensive material processing industries. Technology Platforms have been established and Lead Market Initiatives have been introduced. The Sustainable Industry Low Carbon (SILC I & II) initiatives aim to help sectors achieve specific GHG emission intensity reductions, in order to maintain their competitiveness. The involvement of companies, including SMEs, in these projects as well as the development of public-private collaboration are needed to ensure the deployment and commercialisation of the innovations in this field, including carbon capture and storage [32].

4.5. How can we build a real partnership between policymakers, civil society and companies in order to create positive / win-win multilevel governance?

With the new public governance, born in the 1990s, the role of companies themselves, but also of their commercial, sectorial, or territorial representatives, from individual cities up to European level and higher, has moved towards the building of common partnership policies. I prefer that term to ‘public policies’ because the incapacity of political leaders, who have failed to activate the stakeholders, is widely recognised nowadays. But we all know that the process of organising democratic and efficient multilevel governance is very difficult, and needs exceptional people to run it, with strong leadership and a real openness to the culture of the other actors. These decision-makers are the ones who will provide their country or their region with strategic thinking and implementation capacities. They are also the ones who will shape the environment for entrepreneurship and create the institutional framework that can enable companies, including SMEs, to reach their full potential [33].

Conclusion: Are we ready?

These long-term challenges are mostly present in the Industrial Materials Association – Europe roadmap as identified issues. What is crucial is for the people involved in working with these issues on a day-to-day basis to identify, with precision, what processes and measures they will have to introduce, year after year, in response to them.

The CEO of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for Human Progress, Pierre Calame, said rightly, some years ago, that Huge shifts await us, comparable in magnitude to the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world. The ability of our societies to understand and manage these shifts will be decisive for the future. Are we ready? [34]

The power to change lies in your hands: do not be afraid!

Philippe Destatte

[1] See: Philippe DESTATTE, What is Foresight?, Blog PhD2050, Brussels, May 30, 2013.

What is foresight?

This text is the reference paper of a conference presented at The Industrial Materials Association (IMA-Europe) 20th Anniversary, IMAGINE event, Brussels, The Square, September 24th, 2014.

About the challenges, see: Jerome C. GLENN, Theodore J. GORDON & Elizabeth FLORESCU dir., 2013-14, State of the Future, , Washington, The Millennium Project, 2014.

[2] Edgar MORIN, Science et conscience de la complexité, dans Edgar MORIN et Jean-Louis LE MOIGNE, L’intelligence de la complexité, p. 40, Paris-Montréal, L’Harmattan, 1999.

[3] Manuel CASTELLS, The Information Age, Economy, Society and Culture, Oxford, Blackwell, 2000. – L’ère de l’information, t. 3, Fin de Millénaire, p. 398 et 403, Paris, Fayard, 1999.

[4] Joseph E. STIGLITZ & Bruce C. GREENWALD, Creating a Learning Strategy: A New Approach to Growth, Development and Social Progress, New York, Columbia University Press, 2014.

[5] Thomas PIKETTY, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Boston, Harvard University Press, 2014.

[6] Alain TOURAINE, Préface, dans Manuel CASTELLS, L’ère de l’information, t. 1, La société en réseaux, p. 9, Paris, Fayard, 2001.

[7] Jean FOURASTIE, La civilisation de 1995, p. 123, Paris, PUF, 1974.

[8] William HALAL, A Forecast of the Information Revolution, in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Août 1993, p. 69-86. – William E. HALAL and Kenneth B. TAYLOR, Twenty-First Century Economics, Perspectives of Socioeconomics for a Changing World, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1999.

[9] Thierry GAUDIN, Introduction à l’économie cognitive, La Tour d’Aigues, L’Aube, 1997. – Th. GAUDIN, L’Avenir de l’esprit, Prospectives, Entretiens avec François L’Yvonnet, Paris, Albin Michel, 2001. – Th. GAUDIN, Discours de la méthode créatrice, Entretiens avec François L’Yvonnet, Gordes, Le Relié, 2003. – Th. GAUDIN, L’impératif du vivant, Paris, L’Archipel, 2013. – See also: Pierre VELTZ, La grande transition, Paris, Seuil, 2008.

[10] John NAISBITT, Megatrends, New York, Warner Books, 1982. – John NAISBITT & Patricia ABURDENE, Megatrends 2000, New York, William Morrow, 1989.

[11] James N. ROSENAU, Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier, Exploring Governance in a Turbulent World, Cambridge University Press, 1997. – James N. ROSENAU et J. P. SINGH éd., Information Technologies and Global Politics, The Changing Scope of Power and Governance, New York, State University of New York Press, 2002. –

[12] William E. HALAL ed., The Infinite Resource, San Francisco, Jossey Bass, 1998.

[13] Conseil européen de Lisbonne : conclusions de la présidence, Council documents mentioned in the Annex to be found under Presse Release, p. 2, Lisbon (24/3/2000) Nr: 100/1/00 – – 20/04/02

[14] Ibidem.

[15] Herbert MARCUSE, One-Dimensional Man, Boston, Beacon Press, 1964.

[16] Donella H. MEADOWS et al. Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, New American Library, 1977 (1972).

[17] Aurelio PECCEI, The Chasm Ahead, New York, Macmillan, 1969.

[18] Imagine the Future with Industrial Minerals, 2050 Roadmap, p. 24-25 & 37, Brussels, IMA-Europe, 2014. The industrial minerals sectors estimates that up to 60% of all minerals consumed in Europe are recycled along with the glass, paper, plastics or concrete in which they are used (p. 37). The goal for 2050 is a 20% improvement in recycling of industrial materials (p. 38). – Recycling Industrial Materials, Brussels, IMA-Europe, October 2013.

[19] Reindustrialising Europe, Member’ States Competitiveness, A Europe 2020, Initiative, Commission Staff working Document, Report 2014, SWD(2014) 278, September 2014, p. 42. – Europe 2020 Strategy, « A Ressource-efficient Europe »… #

[20] Bertrand GILLE, Histoire des Techniques, coll. Bibliothèque de la Pléade, Paris, Gallimard, 1978.

[21] Thierry GAUDIN et André-Yves PORTNOFF, Rapport sur l’état de la technique : la révolution de l’intelligence, Paris, Ministère de la Recherche, 1983 et 1985.

[22] John SMART, Considering the Singularity : A Coming World of Autonomous Intelligence (A.I.), dans Howard F. DIDSBURY Jr. éd., 21st Century Opprtunities an Challenges : An Age of Destruction or an Age of Transformation, p. 256-262, Bethesda, World Future Society, 2003.s

[23] Alvin TOFFLER, La Troisième Vague, … p. 22. – il est intéressant de noter avec Paul Gandar que Toffler n’a pas pu décrire le passage à la société de la connaissance par l’effet du numérique. Paul GANDAR, The New Zealand Foresight project dans Richard A. SLAUGHTER, Gone today, here tomorrow, Millennium Preview, p. 46, St Leonards (Australia), Prospect Media, 2000.

[24] William HALAL, The New Management, Democracy and enterprise are transforming organizations, p. 136, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 1996.

[25] William H. HALAL, The Infinite Resource: Mastering the Boundless Power of Knowledge, dans William H. HALAL & Kenneth B. TAYLOR, Twenty-First Century Economics…, p. 58-59.

[26] Imagine Roadmap…, p. 33 & 50.

[27] Ph. DESTATTE, The circular economy: producing more with less, Blog PhD2050, Namur, August 26, 2014.

[28] Reindustrialising Europe…, p. 42.

[29] Industrial Sector Energy consumption, US Energy Information Administration, Sep. 9, 2014.

[30] EU’s Energy Efficiency review puts high target on agenda, in Euractiv, June 17, 2014.

[31] EU Council of The European Union, Council conclusions on « Energy prices and costs, protection of vulnerable consumers and competitiveness, Council Meeting Luxembourg, 13 June 2014. Roadmap…, p. 29.

[32] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era Putting Competitiveness and Sustainability at Centre Stage, Brussels, COM(2010), 614 final, 28.10.2010, p. 30. Roadmap…, p. 31.

About SILC:

[33] « Countries’ overall direction is shaped by their ability to define their interests and assets (including industrial), have a clear vision of the challenges and risks ahead, set coherent long-term goals, make informed policy choices and manage uncertainty. Leading, enabling and delivering strategic policy- making requires strong leadership and effective strategic-thinking skills in public institutions. It calls for a strong centre of the government that is capable of promoting coherent cross-departmental cooperation and better implementation of government reform programmes. The consultation of expert communities as well as the general public on future trends, opportunities and risks offers the chance to engage more strongly with the public and helps (re)build trust in government. » Reindustrialising Europe…, p. 60 & 55. – Imagine Roadmap…, p. 23 & 49.

[34] Pierre CALAME, Jean FREYSS et Valéry GARANDEAU, La démocratie en miettes, Pour une révolution de la gouvernance, p. 19, Paris, Descartes et Cie, 2003.

Bucharest, 26 June 2013 [1]

 An understanding of the world requires explanatory and pedagogical models that can be used to explain transformations that are underway, accelerate them or advocate them. Philosophies, ideologies, scientific theories and business models are embellished with these grand tales that arouse sometimes enthusiasm and sometimes scepticism from intellectuals and those involved. Paradigm shifts are cited; societal transformations or civilisational changes are described. In these models, revolutions often constitute rites of passage and lend their tempo to or punctuate the major periods of history. If the past is under consideration, historians generally preside. If it is the present or future that is to be interpreted, futurists become the high priests who invoke these transformations. Recently Jeremy Rifkin, chairman of the Foundation on Economic Trends (Washington DC), a fine writer and excellent speaker, a regular at the major gatherings of the World Futures Society, has thus provided us with a Third industrial Revolution, which he continues to promote, especially at the EU level and in the European countries and regions [2].

An Industrial Revolution is a profound transformation in all areas of society

This is certainly not the first time that such an advent has been announced to us. In the 1980s, bolstered by its new economic autonomy and industrial dynamism, the Flemish Region announced, on the occasion of the major exhibitions entitled Flanders Technology, its intention to initiate the « DIRV », the Derde Industriële Revolutie in Vlaanderen (Third Industrial Revolution in Flanders). Marc Eyskens, a professor of economics at the KUL and former Belgian Prime Minister, described these changes in 1985 as an ongoing industrial revolution, in which innovations and technologies abound everywhere [3]. This announcement is in line with the transformation described since the end of the 1960s, notably by American sociologist Daniel Bell, the pioneer who conceived of the post-industrial era [4]. In France, ten years later, the French Finance Inspectors Simon Nora and Alain Minc described the principles of the computer revolution in a well-known report addressed to President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing [5]. Raymond Rifflet, chairman of the fifth congress of French-speaking Belgian Economists in November 1982, already preferred to speak of a transition from one era to another, an evolution that, he noted, was neither simple nor linear: it is therefore necessary to structure the transition from an industrial and para-industrial society (with the tertiary depending on the secondary sector) to a post-industrial society in which the laws of development will be very different  [6]. At the same time, the American futurist John Naisbitt expressed the idea of a time of parenthesis between two eras [7]. In his Rapport sur l’état de la technique (Report on the State of Technology), published in 1983 under the direction of Thierry Gaudin and Marcel Bayen, André-Yves Portnoff cited a revolution in intelligence. There he described a profound transformation in organisations, a transformation during which Europe would go from mass industry, organised in hierarchies, with moderately qualified personnel, to industry in small units, structured in networks, with a high density of brainpower and talents [8]. Inspired by the work of historian Bertrand Gille, the authors of the Rapport sur l’état de la technique show that, in each transition from one type of society to another, fundamental changes take place in the four key aspects of materials, time, energy and living things. Innovations in the third transformation correspond to each of these aspects: polymers, artificial intelligence, nuclear and solar energy, and genetics.

However much the idea of a transformation toward an Information Revolution, or even a Cognitive Revolution as Thierry Gaudin would call it later, attracted me at the time – John Naisbitt described it exactly in 1982 in Megatrends – the idea of a Third Industrial Revolution seemed to me inappropriate.

Of course, the concept of an Industrial Revolution as it took place first in England, then in Belgium, and especially in Wallonia, at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, is well known. This profound transformation in all areas of society was moreover described by numerous contemporaries – one thinks notably of the remarkable report by Natalis Briavoinne presented before the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1839. To read this text is to understand what an Industrial Revolution is. The most striking excerpt of this follows:

In the second half of the past century, faster progress was imprinted on the human spirit; knowledge took on a focus that was both more intense and more practical. A remarkable phenomenon! At the very time when all the classes and almost all the peoples of Europe were rushing furiously at each other, amassing enormous efforts to destroy each other, at the same time people everywhere were seized with a greater desire for improvement. This passion then took such a great hold among men, it endowed them with resources so fertile, that a twenty-five-year war accompanied by internal convulsions could not stop progress in all branches of the material organisation of society. In the midst of this enormous unrest, the sphere of work enlarged; the means for performing it were multiplied and simplified more each day. As a consequence, the population grew as risks of mortality were reduced. The treasures that the earth contains were better and more abundantly exploited; man produced and consumed more; he became richer. All these changes constitute the industrial revolution [9].

The systemic and holistic aspects of the effects of the transformation were blatant. They established the idea of global transformation dear to Bertrand Gille when he spoke of changes in the technological system and not a series of inventions independent of each other, of partial technical progress [10], much more than did the text by Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui (1798-1854), the economist and professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, although he is often cited as the inventor of the concept of the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, Natalis Briavoinne shows that the Industrial Revolution was not just a revolution in technology, but a profound change in every area of society. This is what Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui did not understand when he wrote that he was limiting his list of discoveries to those that involved the manufacture of cotton cloth, because these are the ones that have brought about the industrial revolution that has changed relations among nations, that has allowed our civilisation and our expertise to penetrate into every country where our fabrics have found a place, that finally has given a large number of workers the occupation and the salary they need to live and support their family [11]. As Patrick Verley wrote in 1997, the entire society and the entire economy, including agriculture and services, were directly or indirectly involved [12]. Quantitative historical studies conducted under the direction of Pierre Lebrun have shown that the change in structure constituted by this phenomenon should in fact be interpreted in systemic terms as to its multidimensional impact on the whole of society [13]. The works that have followed, with more qualitative approaches, have certainly stressed social relations more, but have also strengthened the necessity for this systemic view [14].

To understand this is to understand that what is sometimes called the Second Industrial Revolution is not of the same nature. Moreover, is it not stressed that what is involved is first and foremost a technological revolution? [15] The Revolution of the turning point of the 18th and 19th centuries constituted in fact a systemic change in the structure of society. It was marked by the generalised advent of entrepreneurship, capitalism and the proletariat, with new production methods, described precisely first by Adam Smith and then by Karl Marx. What is called the Second Industrial Revolution constituted rather a process of partial substitution of oil and electricity for coal, with the transition to internal combustion and electric engines. Unlike the changes that marked the Industrial Revolution, these never seemed to me to be either systemic or emblematic of a transformation in the very nature of generalised capitalism, the driving force of Western Europe since the beginning of the century. And so, in my opinion, these technological transformations certainly do not deserve the name of « Second Industrial Revolution »

A convergence between a new communications technology and a new energy system

Jeremy Rifkin surely does not share this opinion. His thesis, his common thread, his theory is that the major economic transformations of history occur when a new communications technology converges with a new energy system. Rifkin believes that the new forms of communication then allow the more complex civilisations that the new energy sources make possible to be organised and managed. The First Industrial Revolution is consequently interpreted via the introduction of steam technology into printing, making it a means of communication allowing the transformation to be managed. The developments in printing, the reduction in costs that allowed printed matter to proliferate in America and in Europe, encouraged mass literacy, creating, thanks to the public schooling initiated between 1830 and 1890, a literate workforce that was able to organise the complex operations of an economy based on the railway, the factory, coal and steam. Jeremy Rifkin sees a second Industrial Revolution in the conjunction of centralised electricity, the era of oil, the automobile and the construction of suburbs. It underwent two stages of development, a first period between 1900 and the onset of the Crash of 1929, and a period of development in the aftermath of the Second World War marked by the construction of motorways and residential real estate. This era has been in decline since the end of the 1980s. The problem that Rifkin stresses is that telephone, radio and television, these types of centralised communications that should have played a major role, were not able to do so through a sort of temporal discrepancy. To Rifkin, the information technologies sector, including the internet, has not constituted an Industrial Revolution as it has not converged with a new energy regime. For the author of Biotech, the establishment of an energy-communications infrastructure over a period of several decades initiates the long-term growth curve of a new economic era.

Thus it is the confluence of internet communication and renewable energies (that) is engendering a Third Industrial Revolution. Rifkin justifies this on the basis of a compelling account that has been lacking until now both in America and in Europe, capable of recounting the story of a new economic revolution and explaining how all these technological and commercial initiatives, seemingly random, are part of a vast strategic plan. This account is marked by the support, described at great length, of European powers that be, politicians and entrepreneurs for the idea of entering a post-carbon era of zero emissions in 2050. For the American economist, this Third Industrial Revolution rests on five pillars:

– the transition to renewable energies;

– transformation of the global building stock into an ensemble of small power stations that collect renewable energies onsite;

– deployment of hydrogen technology and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure for storage of intermittent energies;

– use of the internet to transform the power grids of every continent into energy-sharing inter-grids;

– the transition to electric vehicles that are plug-in or have a fuel cell, capable of buying and selling electricity on a smart continental interactive power grid[16]. Rifkin believes that a worldwide effort to install this five-pillar infrastructure of the Third Industrial Revolution will create hundreds of thousands of new businesses and hundreds of millions of new jobs.

One can be anything but naive when one speaks of democracy…

My purpose of course is not to report on this work, but to measure the degree to which the model of Jeremy Rifkin constitutes an alternative to the paradigm changes that have been described to us up to the present. What is striking is that behind a general discourse that veers constantly from the messianic to the strategic, aside from a few fantasies and liberties with regard to historical knowledge, the discourse on the Third Industrial Revolution on the whole recycles those on the energy transition and Greentech to which Rifkin has moreover contributed widely for twenty years. In addition, he partially answers our question on the change in the nature of capitalism by indicating that we are entering the era of distributed capitalism where business practices will be cooperative, stressing the cooperative nature of the new economy and evoking social entrepreneurship. Thus, this third transformation would sound the death knell of the industrial model itself as, Rifkin observes, the Third Industrial Revolution is indissociably the last phase of the great industrial saga and the first of the emerging cooperative era.

The strongest criticisms that can be addressed to Rifkin’s account appear to me to be of three kinds: ecological, political and philosophical. First, because his very technocentric discourse upholds the confusion between the relatively free nature of internet communication – relatively, as the costs of the digital revolution in fact translate into tangible monthly bills for businesses and families – and the potential pseudo-free nature of so-called distributed domestic energy production. In fact, this domestic production can only be developed by substantial investments – according to a model that remains very capitalistic – and by increasing extraction of more and more rare natural raw materials [17]. Then, because the new roadmap Rifkin proposes, while it helpfully endorses a model of governance involving the participants as promoted today by international institutions, cannot be followed in the idea that energy regimes determine political systems and that in this case a lateral democracy could emerge from this model, after the example of the democratic internet. Everyone knows that there is much to be said and written on internet governance and on the methods of direct democracy in which it might result. One can be anything but naive when one speaks of democracy… Finally, and the debate organised on France Culture between Luc Ferry and Jeremy Rifkin [18] on 13 February 2012 was enlightening in this regard, the assumptions of « the man who has the ear of the powers that be«  [19] on homo empathicus and biospheric consciousness, based on the biophilia concept of biologist Edward Osborne Wilson[20], add to the scepticism with regard to the Rifkin model.

Some have seen in The Third Industrial Revolution a pertinent and rather easy means of advancing the ideas of the transition to sustainable development, GreenTech or the changes necessary faced with energy and climatic challenges, or even political ecology, with a more presentable vehicle than the works of Tim Jackson [21] or Thierry Gaudin. The author of L’avenir de l’esprit (The Future of the Spirit) recalls in his latest work that storytelling is the response to disorientation, hyperchoice, future shock – another idea of Alvin Toffler –-  that is imposed on us by the speed of machines that generate and circulate information at speeds that our neurons can neither follow nor master [22]. But in his work L’impératif du vivant (The Imperative of Life), Gaudin invites us less to read a story or discover a vertically designed strategic plan than to work together. He invites us to a sociological analysis intended to guide us, individuals, institutions, societies, in our development, as a tool for continuing functioning of the collective consciousness. In fact, he writes, while humans fear changing their mental references because they foresee the risk of conceptual confusion and confusion of identity, it cannot be hoped that they will evolve without ongoing, sustained and reassuring analytic deliberation. Furthermore, no representation of the world can be excluded from this. Quite the contrary, the French futurist very correctly observes; acknowledgement of the participants’ visions of the world constitutes a precondition to the cognitive approach and a necessary condition for organising it [23]. We know with Johan Galtung that there is no final state of development and will never be [24]. Just a common path we have to build together. Concretely, on the field, just like we heard from Maya Van Leemput’s Katanga foresight exercise.

A sustainable, tenable, viable world is yet to be constructed, we were reminded recently [25]. In concrete terms, everything remains to be determined and probably to be redefined. It is important to do this together, departing from the path that marks itself out, or that is plotted out for us. And to do this through dialogue, and openly. First, by listening to each others as Jennifer Gidley, President of the WFSF, invite people to do at the opening of the 21st Conference in Bucharest. Let us avoid copy-and-paste strategies that confine us, and construct ours based on those who will have to implement them, basing our understanding on the acknowledgement of others, and open to democratic deliberation. This is what Minister of State Philippe Maystadt, the former president of the EIB, said recently to the Walloon Parliament on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of The Destree Institute [26]. Ultimately, deliberative democracy is the only valid strategy for transforming the world and going ahead in the search of harmony.

 Philippe Destatte

[1] A short version of this paper has been presented at the 21st World Futures Studies Federation World Conference, Global Research and Social Innovation: Transforming Futures, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, June 26, 2013. – About these questions of Paradigm Shifts, see also:  Philippe DESTATTE & Pascale Van Doren, Foresight as a Tool to Stimulate Societal Paradigm Shift, European and Regional Experiences, in Martin POTUCEK, Pavel NOVACEK and Barbora SLINTAKOVA ed., The First Prague Workshop on Futures Studies Methodology, p. 91-105, CESES Papers, 11, Prague, 2004.

[2] Jeremy RIFKIN, The Third Industrial Revolution, How Lateral Power is transforming Energy, The Economy and the World, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

[3] Marc EYSKENS, La source et l’horizon, Le redressement de la société européenne, p. 85sv, Paris-Gembloux, Duculot, 1985. – Hugo DE RIDDER, Sire, Donnez-moi cent jours, p. 14, Paris, Duculot, 1989.

[4] Daniel BELL, The Coming of Post-industrial Society, New York, Basic Books, 1973.

[5] Simon NORA & Alain MINC, L’informatisation de la société, Rapport à M. le Président de la République, Paris, La Documentation française – Seuil, 1978

[6] Raymond RIFFLET, Discours de clôture, dans Cinquième congrès des Economistes belges de Langue française, Alternatives économiques et sociales : choix et responsabilités, Actes, p. 186, Charleroi, CiFoP, 1984.

[7] John NAISBITT, Megatrends, p. 249-250, New-York, Warner Books, 1984.

[8] Rapport sur l’état de la technique, La Révolution de l’intelligence, Sciences et Techniques, numéro spécial, mars 1985, Paris, ISF, Paris.Rapport sur l’état de la technique, La Révolution de l’intelligence, Paris, Ministère de l’Industrie et de la Recherche, Numéro spécial de Sciences et Techniques, Octobre 1983.

[9] Natalis BRIAVOINNE, De l’industrie en Belgique, t. 1, p. 185-186, Bruxelles, E. Dubois, 1839.

[10] Bertrand GILLE, Histoire des techniques, p. 773-774, Paris, Gallimard, 1978.

[11] Jérôme-Adolphe BLANQUI, Cours d’économie industrielle, t. 2, p. 42-43, Paris, Hachette, 1838.

[12] Patrick VERLEY, La Révolution industrielle, Histoire d’un problème, p. 120, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.

[13] Pierre LEBRUN, Marinette BRUWIER, Jan DHONT, Georges HANSOTTE, Essai sur la Révolution industrielle en Belgique, 1770-1847, Bruxelles, Parlais des Académies, 2ème éd., 1981.

[14] M. BERG & P. HUDSON, Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution, in The Economic History Review, vol. 45, n°1, 1992.

[15] Andrew ATKESON, Patrick J. KEHOE, The Transition to a New Economy after the Second Industrial Revolution, NBER Working Paper Series 8676, Cambridge MA, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2001.

[16] Jeremy RIFKIN, La Troisième Révolution industrielle…, p. 58-59.

[17] See Laurent MINGUET, Je n’aime pas la « 3e Révolution industrielle » de Jeremy Rifkin,, Le blog du vrai développement durable.

[18] La Troisième Révolution industrielle sera-t-elle démocratique ? Du grain à moudre, Une émission d’Hervé Gardette avec Jeremy Rifkin et Luc Ferry, France Culture, 13 février 2012.

[19] Voir Jean GADREY, Jeremy Rifkin, le gourou du gotha européen, 1, 9 mai 2013.

[20] J. RIFKIN, op. cit., p. 336.

[21] Tim JACKSON, Prosperity without Growth, Economics for Finite Planet, London, Earthscan, 2009

[22] Thierry GAUDIN, Le choc du vivant, Suggestions pour la réorganisation du monde, p. 173, Paris, L’Archipel, 2013.

[23] Thierry GAUDIN, Le choc du vivant…, p. 209sv.

[24] Johan GALTUNG, A Theory of Development, Overcoming Structural Violence, p. 10, Oslo, Kolofon Press, 2010.

[25] Philippe DESTATTE, Une Transition… mais vers quoi ?, Blog PhD2050, 12 mai 2013.

Une Transition… mais vers quoi ?

[26] Philippe MAYSTADT, Pour une stratégie régionale de Développement durable, Namur, Parlement wallon, 11 juin 2013.