The Law of Kinship

The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France

Camille Robcis
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Law of Kinship
    Book Description:

    In France as elsewhere in recent years, legislative debates over single-parent households, same-sex unions, new reproductive technologies, transsexuality, and other challenges to long-held assumptions about the structure of family and kinship relations have been deeply divisive. What strikes many as uniquely French, however, is the extent to which many of these discussions-whether in legislative chambers, courtrooms, or the mass media-have been conducted in the frequently abstract vocabularies of anthropology and psychoanalysis.

    In this highly original book, Camille Robcis seeks to explain why and how academic discourses on kinship have intersected and overlapped with political debates on the family-and on the nature of French republicanism itself. She focuses on the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan, both of whom highlighted the interdependence of the sexual and the social by positing a direct correlation between kinship and socialization. Robcis traces how their ideas gained recognition not only from French social scientists but also from legislators and politicians who relied on some of the most obscure and difficult concepts of structuralism to enact a series of laws concerning the family.

    Levi-Strauss and Lacan constructed the heterosexual family as a universal trope for social and psychic integration, and this understanding of the family at the root of intersubjectivity coincided with the role that the family has played in modern French law and public policy. The Law of Kinship contributes to larger conversations about the particularities of French political culture, the nature of sexual difference, and the problem of reading and interpretation in intellectual history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6840-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In recent years, the family has emerged as a particularly controversial topic in French politics. The debates around the legislation of bioethics, same-sex unions, single–parent house holds, family names, surrogacy, transsexuality, and gay adoption have been furious. They have torn through party lines, generated heated parliamentary sessions, persevered in the courts, and inspired many scholars to intervene. France, of course, is not the only country where the political and social organization of sexuality and reproduction has triggered intense passions, but the particular arguments and vocabulary that were mobilized during these discussions were symptomatic of a distinctly French polemic. Indeed,...

  6. Part One: The Rise of Familialism

    • Chapter 1 Familialism and the Republican Social Contract
      (pp. 17-60)

      Since 1789, politicians and intellectuals in France have worried about the question of “the social.” The problem of how to reconcile social solidarity and individual liberty—one of the central paradoxes of the Revolution—has haunted French political theory from the Left to the Right since the eighteenth century. Is the social body constituted by particular interests that merely coexist (as in liberalism), or does it have a more general and mystical quality that transcends the sum of these parts (as in Rousseau’s notion of the general will)? Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this French “social question” was defined...

    • Chapter 2 Kinship and the Structuralist Social Contract
      (pp. 61-101)

      Law and social policy were not the only fields in France concerned with the relationship between the familial and the social. In the social sciences, kinship—which by definition straddled the social and the familial—had always been an important object of study, especially for anthropology and psychoanalysis. As these two disciplines were redefined in the aftermath of World War II, so was the study of kinship. More specifically, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan radically reconfigured the study of kinship by adopting structuralism as a mode of analysis. This chapter offers a reading of Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s early texts on...

    • Chapter 3 The Circulation of Structuralism in the French Public Sphere
      (pp. 102-140)

      As discourses, familialism and structuralism shared a number of features. Both insisted on the direct correlation between the family and socialization, and both treated kinship as a nonhistorical and universal structure with a normative function. Familialism, however, was not simply an ideology; it was a concrete movement anchored in a wide legal and administrative infrastructure. By the 1960s, structuralism was also solidly implanted in the social science disciplines. In 1959, Lévi-Strauss was elected to the prestigious Collège de France. In 1960, he founded the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, a research center affiliated with the École des hautes études in which many...

  7. Part Two: The Critique of Familialism

    • Chapter 4 The “Quiet Revolution” in Family Policy and Family Law
      (pp. 143-167)

      By 1945, familialism appeared to have triumphed in France. Pro-family activists had succeeded in implementing the two main issues on their political agenda which they had been pushing since the interwar years: family benefits—universalized and standardized under the Sécurité sociale banner—and a system of political representation for family interests in the Union nationale des associations familiales (UNAF). A series of governmental advisory bodies had flourished during the Liberation years, such as the Haut comité consultatif de la population et de la famille, the Ministry of Population, the Institut national d’études démographiques (INED), and the Conseil économique et social....

    • Chapter 5 Fatherless Societies and Anti-Oedipal Philosophies
      (pp. 168-210)

      During the 1960s and 1970s, the law was not the only domain that questioned the legal fiction of paternity or used the family to rethink social norms. The idea that a critique of the nuclear heterosexual family would lead to a more forceful social critique was certainly not specific to France. In West Germany, the New Left embraced the “sexual revolution,” which they argued would protect their country against the resurgence of fascism.¹ For these German ’68ers, there was no doubt that sexuality and politics were intimately and causally connected. Around this time, in the United States, several women who...

  8. Part Three: The Return of Familialism

    • Chapter 6 Alternative Kinships and Republican Structuralism
      (pp. 213-261)

      During the last two decades of the twentieth century, the debate around the historicity of the family continued. Some politicians, lawyers, and scholars insisted on the need to adapt the family to modern society, to the “tide of history.” Others, such as Irène Théry, deplored the legal “instrumentalization” of the family and called for the creation of new norms, for “alternative symbolic and legal references.”¹ The most contentious family laws passed after the 1980s—and in particular, the two that interest me in this chapter, the 1994 bioethics laws designed to regulate medically assisted reproduction and the 1999 Pacte civil...

    • Epilogue: Kinship, Ethics, and the Nation
      (pp. 262-266)

      By the time it was voted in 1999, the PACS essentially encompassed the same rights and benefits as marriage, except for two: filiation and nationality. Unlike married couples, PACS contractors could neither acquire French citizenship nor have access to adoption and medically assisted procreation. The fact that reproduction and nationality were both excluded from the PACS was significant. As I have indicated in this book, discussions of kinship—whether it be in the fields of law, anthropology, or psychoanalysis—have always entailed a discussion of the social and of the “ethical order” in the Hegelian sense of Sittlichkeit. Kinship has...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-286)
  10. Index
    (pp. 287-302)