Dynamics of Civilisation

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Rousseau between Antiquity, Enlightenment and Modernity


Date: 2 December 2016
Location: Chadwick G07
Click here for further information

Could Modern Civilization Collapse?


Date: December 2016
Location: TBD
Click here for further information


Rousseau between Antiquity, Enlightenment and Modernity


Date: Friday 2 December 2016

Time: 5 p.m. onwards

Location: Chadwick G07


· Prof. Céline Spector (Paris IV – Sorbonne)

· Prof. John Robertson (Cambridge)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is widely recognised as one of the first critics of modern civilisation and its discontents: the pursuit of self-interest, the division of labour, lack of authenticity, and political structures founded on greed and exploitation. However, recent research has opened up a variety of new perspectives on Rousseau that do not necessarily fit the traditional picture. This event is aimed at a reassessment of such recent views of Rousseau and their relationship with wider trends in Enlightenment studies. It will be based on a discussion of two new publications: the volume Engaging with Rousseau: Reaction and Interpretation from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2016); and ‘Rousseau’s Imagined Antiquity’, a special issue of the journal History of Political Thought (2016), both edited by Avi Lifschitz (UCL History).

All welcome; the discussion will be followed by a reception. 

Please register on Eventbrite.


Organised and sponsored by CREDOC, the UCL Centre for Research into the Dynamics of Civilisation

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Could Modern Civilization Collapse?

A multidisciplinary approach from Archaeology, Climatology and History on Climate Change and the possible Collapse of Civilization


Date: December 2016 (dates to be decided)

Location: TBD

Organiser: Miguel Fuentes

The dynamic of the collapse of civilizations has been widely treated by historical and social sciences during the XIX and XX century in several fields like Archaeology, History and Art. It has also been a common theme in popular culture and mass media for decades. Some of the most common discussions in this subject have been, for example, the fall of the Roman Empire, the destruction of American civilizations, the crisis of ancient Rapanui society, etc.

Furthermore, the perspective of collapse has been a regular part of intellectual and artistic discussions in Western civilization: for instance, in the case of the outbreak of the First World War and the statement made by the Polish thinker Rosa Luxemburg: "Socialism or Barbarism". Another example is the social, cultural and artistic “paranoia” that surrounded the nuclear arms race between USA and the USSR during the second half of the last century. In some ways, it can be said that the notion of collapse has been an important part of the intellectual and artistic inquiry and self-representation of Western society until today, playing also a crucial role in shaping some of the most important aspects of the contemporary world like science, art, literature and mass media.

This conference will try to figure out how the notion of climate change has increasingly replaced previous "discourses of collapse", for example the danger of nuclear war during the Cold War. This will be achieved by carrying out an evaluation of the "discursive structures" of this concept from several perspectives: Archaeology, Climatology and History. One of the main goals will be to assess the ways in which the concepts of climate change and collapse have been culturally and historically mixed in recent times, seeking to discuss some of the main features and tensions of the particular notions of civilization that underlie this process.

The first part of this conference will consist of a discussion on the concept of climate change and collapse from a scientific and archaeological perspective, aiming to answer the question: Could modern civilization collapse? The main goal will be to evaluate the magnitude and rhythm of current climate change and the scale and main characteristics and tendencies of it in comparison with previous events of climatic transformations that occurred in the geological past, this last taking also into consideration the possible impacts of these processes on human civilization today.

We will also discuss several scenarios of climate change during this century and its possible impacts on human society and civilization, attempting to establish some linkages between the current climatic situation and some cases of climate change in the archaeological past. Potentialities and limits of social and technological resilience of human societies will be discussed. Relevant cultural questions will be considered such as: what could be the importance of ecological factors on the development of human society during the current century? How can we compare the role of climate change on societies in the archaeological past with current situation? How can we measure the possible impacts of climate change in the future?

Taking into consideration the possibility of collapse of modern civilization from an archaeological and climatic perspective, our conference will seek to challenge the traditional decimononic notion of civilization that characterize the Western world, with its supposed properties of socio-political and techno-economic superiority and stability.

This last will be done by discussing, from a historical and cultural perspective, the possible connection between the current situation and different past scenarios where social crisis led sometimes not only to the destruction of previous social systems, but also to an important reconfiguration of societies and artistic expressions: for example, in the case of the collapse of the Roman Empire and its consequent reconfiguration into the European Middle Ages Societies. The objective here is to understand how climate change and the current ecological crisis could lead in the present to important transformations of the current social system and culture.

Finally, this conference will count with presentations of some social and political leaders and activists on public issues related to climate change, with the aim to engage scientific discussion with a more public debate.


Miguel Fuentes Muñoz

PhD Student. Institute of Archaeology

Dr. Francisco Diego Fras

Senior Teaching Fellow Astrophysics Group (UCL)

Grupo de Seguimiento de la Crisis Climatica Mundial


This 3-4 days Conference will be carried on December 2016. It will consider a digital publication (conference proceedings). Speakers of the conference will include world leading climatologists, biologists, archaeologists and historians.


UCL Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilization

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Institute of Archaeology (UCL)


Previous conferences and audio-visual materials produced by Miguel Fuentes:

1-Peter Wadhams Interview: Could Modern Civilization Collapse? (Nov 2015)

Institute of Archaeology - UCL

2- Peter Wadhams Interview: Could Modern Civilization Collapse? (Nov 2015)

Institute of Archaeology - UCL

For more information about this conference contact Miguel Fuentes

Grupo de Seguimiento de la Crisis Climática Mundial


[1] Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge.

Page last modified on 26 oct 16 12:34