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In this presentation I examine how technical devices and ideas of improvement were intertwined in European societies from the 18th century onwards. During the Enlightenment, inventions were presented as material arrangements/technologies that could perform the impossible – for example, overcoming gravity, resuscitating asphyxiated or drowned people, and mastering fire and heat. Embodied in objects/’things’ (adaptable commodities, apparatus designed to perform useful actions) a new material culture brought together a bottom-up dynamic of urban invention with a vibrant culture of consumption. In ways that gradually changed societies’ attitudes towards the day-to-day management of the “elements” of nature (air, fire…), these practices shaped the perception of the natural world and the making of knowledge.