CE27 - Culture, créations, patrimoine

Figures and Configurations of Chance in Western Literature/Arts/Sciences/Philosophy,XVIth-XXIth c.) – ALEA

ALEA: «Artificial Figurations/Configurations of Chance (16th- 21st century)

History and analysis of cultural representations of chance in the West, from the 16th century to the present.

A new approach to the cultural paradigms of perception of chance in the West

The ALEA CRP analyses the ways in which chance has been represented in literature, the arts and fiction in general, in Europe and the United States since the 16th century. At the time of the Anthropocene, at the beginning of a 21st century deeply marked by crises (environmental, financial, health), the aim is to develop new tools for understanding the role played by representations of chance in our attitudes to the unpredictable and in our behaviour towards risk.

The ALEA CRP is an interdisciplinary project whose framework borrows from literary studies, art history, philosophy, history of science, sociology and cognitive science. The team, which brings together nearly one hundred researchers from French and international laboratories, includes recognised specialists in each of these fields. Based on a historical reflection (the history of the representations of chance since the beginning of modernity), the ANR ALEA CRP aims at proposing original answers to cross-cutting issues: chance and causality, chance and ethics, chance and games, chance and creativity, etc. By identifying and historicising the main fictional and factual modes of figuration of chance, the ALEA CRP seeks to identify the central role that art plays in the human perception of contingency, and in pre-modern, modern and post-modern practices of projection onto the future.

The ALEA CRP will result in the publication of a two-volume synthesis work: Figures of Chance I and II (2023, 1200 p.; hasard.hypotheses.org/4050). Published in open access, this collection of essays, which is intended to become a reference work on the issues of representation and cultural management of chance and risk, will be published simultaneously in French and in English. It will offer a multidisciplinary analysis of cultural phenomena linked to the evolution of human representations of chance, randomness and contingency.
Volume 1 « Towards a cultural history of chance « (6 chapters) establishes a relative chronology of the artistic, scientific and literary history of the representations of chance from the beginning of modernity (XVIth-XVIIIth).
Volume 2 'Representing/theorizing chance' (8 chapters) re-evaluates the part played by figurative representations in contemporary discourses of knowledge about chance and contingency.

Led by an international consortium of researchers specialized in various aspects of Comparative Literature (A. James (U. Chicago), K. Kukkonen (U. Oslo), D. Dwivedi (IIT- Dehli), A. Duprat (UPJV-IUF), F. McIntosh (U. Lille), AG Weber (U. Artois)), the ALEA CRP has federated a large team of researchers from the exact sciences and humanities who specialise in analyses of the representations of chance. It also resulted in establishing a teaching network at Master and PHD level between the three participating universities of Hauts-de-France (master and doctoral seminars, two PHDs, 3 post-docs).
At the end of the ANR project, this work will continue through the activities of the permanent Network of Scientific Research ALEA (RRS ALEA, dir. Anne Duprat). The blog dedicated to the public outreach of the project, Hasard 2.0 (https://hasard.hypotheses.org/) will be transformed at the end of the project into a permanent scientific journal with a reading committee dedicated to the study of chance and randomness in the humanities.

The academic outputs of the project will be published in the collective volumes «Figures of chance I & II«. In addition to this publication, the ALEA CRP will produce exhibitions, colloquia, webdocs, publications, conferences and academic seminars, as well as the project «Asterion: the Meaning Machine«, an online serious game developed by the ANR ALEA CRP team and dedicated to the statistical measurement of the apprehension of chance in a fictional framework (https://hasard.hypotheses.org/3272).

The Collaborative Research Project ALEA aims to analyze the role played by artistic representation in the construction of Western ideas of chance.
Starting from the fact that the way we represent chance determines our understanding of the role it plays in the organization of the physical world and in the occurrence of events, the project intends to measure how much our societies’ capacity for projection and forecasting owes, since the beginning of the modern era, to the cultural portrayal and/or modeling of a reality understood as being governed by contingency.

In bringing out and historicizing the main modes of fictional and factual depiction of chance, the Collaborative Research Project ALEA intends to highlight the central role that art and literature have played in the perception of contingency in the West since the Renaissance, in order to better understand contemporary human attitudes toward risk.

Benefitting from the contribution of more than 50 researchers coming from 17 multidisciplinary laboratories (literature, history, art history, philosophy, mind sciences, sociology, mathematics, neurosciences, complex systems physic), in close relation with international networks of research on risk studies, probability and aleatory phenomena, “Figures du hasard/ Figures of Chance” will constitute the main product of the Collaborative Research Project ALEA.
Issued in two versions (French and English), “Figures du hasard/ Figures of Chance” will anchor the particular contribution of French research on chance in the international context of reflections on the following subjects: the human treatment of risk, the testing of proposals in the field of mind sciences as to the epistemological status of literary practices, and post- chaos and complexity theory conceptions of the contingency of events.
The chronological scope and thematic precision of the collective book Figures of Chance will allow it to become a reference tool for the analysis of cultural phenomena linked to the evolution of human presentations of contingency.

- A plan for the interactive valorization of scientific culture (website/media outreach/academic events/cultural events/serious games) will ensure the dissemination of the project results but also the participation of a non-specialized public in research on the cultural processes of figuration and representation of chance.
- A plan for university studies (Master-Doctorate-Postdoc), encompassing the three Northern French universities which are carrying the project, will create a multidisciplinary field of inquiry on chance whose impact will be immediately visible thanks to the three foreign universities which are partners in the project (U. Chicago/IITDehli/U.Oslo).

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Université d'Oslo / Université d'Oslo
Université de Chicago / Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
ITT New Dehli / ITT New Dehli
Textes & Cultures TEXTES ET CULTURES

Help of the ANR 225,979 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2020 - 36 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter