Philosopher, Author and Professor at the Université de Moncton’s Shippagan Campus
A rigorous thinker and man of conviction, Alain Denault is a professor of philosophy and sociology at the Université de Moncton’s Shippagan campus. He teaches about subjects such as equality, social justice and developing companies in a sustainable manner. The philosopher and researcher was born in September 1970 in Quebec’s Outaouais region, growing up among a family of teachers who gave books pride of place. After taking part in cultural events at the National Arts Centre and Ottawa museums, he soon realized that intellectual pursuits would be a central part of his life.
Following studies in journalism at Ottawa’s Algonquin College and in literature at the Université de Montréal, he arrived in Paris at the age of 20, where he was strongly impressed by the city’s architectural heritage. In 1992, he enrolled at Sorbonne University. He later attended the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris, then entered graduate studies at Université Paris-VIII in 1997, from which he obtained his doctorate in 2004.
His work on the managerial ideology and sovereignties of private powers and their impacts on society is strongly influenced by the French economist François-Xavier Verschave, a human rights advocate whose approach is similar to that of the Swiss professor and sociologist Jean Zigler. Living simply on the income from his teaching jobs, research work and speaking fees, he is the author of 20 essays, including at least 14 that have been translated into languages such as English, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. The list of awards and honours recognizing his work is a long one. It includes being a finalist for Canada’s Governor General’s Awards and a guest of honour at book fairs in Quebec and Switzerland. Also of note are his appearances in the media and documentaries that highlight his contributions to creating a better world.
He has published several books for Quebec’s Éditions Écosociété on the controversial practices of private and public bodies engaged in industrial globalization, consumerism and capitalism. As an intellectual involved with the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris and a program director, Alain has also published six theoretical monographs on the concept of the economy with Montreal’s Éditions Lux. In his work L’économie de la nature (“The Economy of Nature,” 2019), the author explores ecological science, the links between species, ecosystems and human beings, and nature’s exploitation by humans, particularly by the agriculture industry. He presents ideas and facts with the aim of rehabilitating the word “economy” through dissociating it from material stewardship, exploitation and capitalism.
Activism was an important part of Alain’s life as a student and young researcher. He recounts his participation in a cross-Canadian campaign for an alter-globalist organization in 1999, during which he gave talks in Vancouver, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax on globalization, free trade and their consequences. In 2020, he was a finalist for the Prix des Libraires du Québec (Quebec Booksellers’ Award) in the essay category for his book Bande de colons: Une mauvaise conscience de classe (“The Colonist Gang: Bad Class Consciousness”), published by Éditions Lux. Adopting a polemical approach, he reflects on the impacts of colonialism in terms of the exploitation of natural resources, discussing the colonizers (large oligarchical companies), colonists (the workers) and colonized (the Indigenous peoples who have suffered the pain of their lands being appropriated for industrial and speculative purposes).
“The large-scale exploration of natural resources, which is a legacy of industrial society and the desire of certain people to dominate others and make themselves richer, has led to the dispossession of founding peoples and, as a result, the erosion of their cultures,” notes Alain. “I can certainly speak to this after taking part in five parliamentary commissions on tax havens.”
On the other hand, the 20th and 21st centuries have seen the emergence of numerous polices based on the rule of law in Canada. These include the rights stipulated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to vote, and policies relating to wages and improving living conditions for the middle class.
For Alain, who appears in the media both in Canada and Europe, the link between the state of the planet and social equality between Indigenous groups and those who occupy the land is a reality that took too long to become a governance issue. The Meadows report (The Limits of Growth) published in 1972 by the Club of Rome outlined the consequences of economic growth, the limits on resources and demographic evolution. Its conclusions about the state of the planet—which lie at the heart of the research Alain is doing on the sustainable development of Eastern Canada’s coastal regions—are now being exacerbated by the impact of climate change and the extinction of species.
The global balance continues to preoccupy Alain, who decries the social inequalities associated with the appropriation of resources, driven by the globalization of business and the dominance of large oligarchical corporations. Between the end of the 19th century and 1992, half of the world’s energy resources were consumed. What’s more, the global disruptions caused by climate change are threatening the survival of rural and local communities, due to phenomena such as floods, rising water levels, forest fires, ice storms, drought, the acidification of the oceans, the migration of undesirable species and the weakening of biodiversity.
Given the imbalance between human production and environmental conservation, the time has come to practice degrowth (consuming less, spending less, polluting less) before the biosphere, natural structures and contemporary institutions all collapse. It’s also time to develop research and teaching activities focusing on sciences relating to eco-anxiety, the study of “low” technologies, the geopolitics of bioregions, environmental crisis management, the accommodation of environmental refugees and regional planning.
In line with the vision of Yves-Marie Abraham (Hautes Études Commerciales, Montreal), Alain believes that unsustainable growth—given the limits of ecosystems and availability of resources—calls for new social organizations and regional-based governance. “I believe in regional democracy,” he says. “That means combining the strengths, resources, talents and ambitions of people at the regional level and reinventing governance and consumption.”
This visionary thinker adds: “We have to abandon our dependence on certain types of energy, harness local and renewable energy, rely on regional-based supply, organize production and consumption in short cycles, optimize the lifecycle of products, and recycle and reuse waste.”
Among the topics presented and discussed as part of the Sustainable Development and Coastal Areas program which he leads at the Shippagan campus, Alain raises concerns about the sustainability of certain industries, such as blueberry and cranberry growing, peat extraction, and crab and lobster fishing. He takes evident pride in training those who will shape the society of tomorrow.
“By providing academic content about ethics, social issues and historical context, I’m helping to create a pluralist vision among the students,” he notes, adding that in the absence of ready-made solutions, it’s necessary to develop regional governance systems adapted to today’s political, social and environmental issues.