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The Law of Kinship - Camille Robcis

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Ithaca and London

For Milena

It has become common—and even encouraged—to present kinship as the dinosaur of the social sciences. Those who make this claim are clueless. Kinship is indeed a dinosaur within the social sciences, but not in the sense that it belongs to the past! It is a dinosaur in the sense that it is here, in an instrumental way, that it poses authentic problems. Until we understand how kinship figures at the heart of the social bond, it is difficult to see how we can access the intelligibility of the political or the economic, to mention only these two domains.

Françoise Héritier, Regards au loin et alentour, entretien avec Georges Guille-Escuret.



List of Abbreviations



1. Familialism and the Republican Social Contract

2. Kinship and the Structuralist Social


3. The Circulation of Structuralism

in the French Public Sphere


4. The Quiet Revolution in Family

Policy and Family Law

5. Fatherless Societies and Anti-Oedipal



6. Alternative Kinships and Republican


Epilogue: Kinship, Ethics,

and the Nation



This project began as a reflection on alternative models of kinship, on the possibilities and limits of choosing one’s kin, and imagining new modes of social, political, and intellectual belonging that could accommodate change and critique. The greatest reward of finishing this book is to realize how the community that has accompanied me in this process exemplifies the kind of kinship model that I was originally interested in. I am grateful to my mentors, colleagues, friends, and students, who have consistently pushed me to question all assumptions, think harder, and be clearer. This book is the product of long-standing conversations with each of them.

Several people were essential in shepherding this project in its early stages: Dominick LaCapra, whose generosity, dedication, and ethical and intellectual rigor never cease to amaze me; Steve Kaplan, who taught me so much about French history; and Tracy McNulty who guided me through Lacan’s writings and who remained an incredible advocate despite disagreeing with me on so many occasions. Carolyn Dean got me thinking about French universalism and difference in the first place and inspired me to become a historian. Len Tennenhouse, Nancy Armstrong, Mary Ann Doane, Elizabeth Weed, and Neil Lazarus taught me how to think critically. So many of the ideas in this book emerged from discussions I had with Éric Fassin, Michel Feher, and Michel Tort. Beth Povinelli and Lou Roberts were critical in helping me reconceptualize the book manuscript. Joan Scott agreed to read my work when she barely knew me and she has since then consistently pushed me to refine and attune my arguments.

Cornell was an amazing school to attend as a graduate student and has been an even more amazing place to work. The history department has provided me with endless encouragement, support, and engagement. For their friendship and their feedback on these chapters, I am especially grateful to Vicki Caron, Holly Case, Duane Corpis, Durba Ghosh, Sandra Greene, Itsie Hull, Dan Magaziner, Mary-Beth Norton, Barry Strauss, Eric Tagliacozzo, Robert Travers, Claudia Verhoeven, and Rachel Weil. Outside the history department, several colleagues and friends have been absolutely essential in making daily life in Ithaca stimulating and delightful: Jeremy Braddock, Jason Frank, Becky Givan, Jerry Johnson, Rayna Kalas, Jenny Mann, Judith Peraino, Lucinda Ramberg, Masha Raskolnikov, and Amy Villarejo.

I was lucky to spend a year at the University of Pennsylvania Humanities Forum as a postdoctoral fellow and another at Princeton University as a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA). The year at Penn allowed me to distill the main argument for the book, and I could not have done this without the help of a wonderful group of people who happened to convene in Philadelphia that year: Emma Bianchi, Warren Breckman, Judith Brown, Virginia Chang, and David Kazanjian. David Eng deserves a special thank you for working through most of these ideas with me, for giving me the title for the book, and most importantly for being such a generous and brilliant friend. The LAPA fellowship provided me with a much needed leave to finish the book. I am grateful to Kim Scheppele, Leslie Gerwin, the LAPA staff, and my fellow fellows for making that year so great. Also at Princeton, I thank John Borneman, Peter Brooks, and Philip Nord for their sustained engagement with my work. Once again, I benefited from geography and was fortunate to coincide with Elizabeth Bernstein, Wendy Chun, Ruben Gallo, Terence Gower, Dagmar Herzog, Amy Kaplan, Karuna Mantena, Gayle Salamon, and Judith Surkis in Princeton that year.

Preliminary versions of these chapters were presented at various institutions. I am thankful to my hosts and to the audiences who urged me to clarify several key points: Cornell’s European History Colloquium, the Society for French Historical Studies, the Penn Humanities Forum, the Gender and Sexuality Works in Progress Seminar, New York University’s Institute of French Studies, the Law & Humanities Colloquium at the Cornell Law School, Williams College, the New York Group in European Intellectual and Cultural History, the New School, and Princeton’s LAPA seminar and its Modern European Workshop. Thank you especially to the organizers of these events: David Bell, Ed Berenson, Federico Finchelstein, Stefanos Geroulanos, Heather Love, Bernie Meyler, Sam Moyn, Joel Revill, Jerry Seigel, and Frédéric Viguier.

This book would not have been possible without the financial support of the following institutions: the Institute for European Studies Luigi Einaudi Research Fellowship; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) International Dissertation Field Research Fellowship; the Society for French Historical Studies John B. and Theta H. Wolf Travel Fellowship; and the Phi Beta Kappa Society Mary Isabel Sibley Research Fellowship. I am equally grateful to the libraries and archives that opened their doors to me: the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Archives Nationales, the Archives Françoise Dolto, the Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC), the Archives contemporaines d’Indre-et-Loire, the Union nationale des associations familiales, the Centre de documentation at Sciences-Po, the Bibliothèque du Cedias at the Musée social, and the libraries of Cornell University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University.

John Ackerman at Cornell University Press has endorsed this project from the beginning and was able to see how the various parts of the book fit together even before I did. I am also extremely grateful to the two anonymous reviewers solicited by the press and for their thorough, generous, and engaged reports. Thank you to Anna Maria Maiolino for allowing me to use her beautiful piece for the cover of this book. Portions of Chapter 6 were published as French Sexual Politics from Human Rights to the Anthropological Function of the Law, in French Historical Studies 33, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 129–56, and as How the Symbolic Became French: Kinship and Republicanism in the PACS Debates, in Discourse 26, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 110–35. I thank Duke University Press and Wayne State University Press for allowing me to republish these materials.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge my family and my friends from Brown, Cornell, Paris, New York, and beyond who have enriched my life in more ways than I can explain: Alexis Agathocleous, Tanya Agathocleous, Anton Aparin, Tarek el-Ariss, Will Bishop, Xochitl Calderón, Julie Coe, Charly Coleman, Gloria Deitcher, Rossana Fuentes-Berain, Marcela Fuentes-Berain, Ben Kafka, Rachel Kleinman, Rose-Ellen Lessy, Amy McFarlane, Mark Miller, Thierry Nazzi, Maria Ospina, Simon Parra, Stephanie Pope, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Sebastien Robcis, Beatriz Saucedo, Ruti Talmor, Caterina Toscano, Karen Tongson, Francesca Trivalleto, Heidi Voskhul, and Althea Wasow. Judith Surkis and Todd Shepard have read every page of this book, multiple times. My thanks also to David Lichtenstein for showing me the limits of theory and for always knowing what to say and what to not say. My parents, Henri Robcis and Sandra Fuentes-Berain, tracked down obscure books, collected newspaper clippings on family-related issues, and engaged me in endless debates. Their enduring trust, love, and support are the greatest gifts. Yael Kropsky has lived with this book as long as I have, and I am so grateful for her love and for the joy of imagining and practicing kinship otherwise.



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 households, 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, as politicians elsewhere were turning to religion, morality, tradition, or nature to ground their objections against gay marriage and medically assisted reproduction, French judges and legislators found solace in structuralist anthropology and psychoanalysis, and more specifically, in the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan. Deputies cited The Elementary Structures of Kinship in parliament to argue that heterosexual marriage was the foundation of all societies and, consequently, that gay marriage was not naturally but socially unacceptable. Others invoked Lacan to suggest that children raised by lesbians or single mothers would be lacking the Name-of-the-Father and were thus more likely to be psychotic. Others, still, insisted on the importance of the incest prohibition as they highlighted the symbolic nature of kinship relations and the anthropological function of the Law. As elected officials referenced some of the most difficult and abstract anthropological and psychoanalytic concepts, scholars and intellectuals continued the discussion in academic publications and in the general media where they argued about the meaning of the symbolic order, the Oedipus complex, castration, psychosis, the Law, exogamy, and the anthropological invariables of society.

In an attempt to settle these debates, the French parliament passed a series of laws, most importantly the bioethics laws in 1994 and the Civil Pact of Solidarity (PACS) in 1999. With the bioethics laws, the government outlawed surrogacy and restricted assisted reproductive technologies to married or cohabiting heterosexual couples of procreative age. With the PACS, it offered various rights and benefits such as tax breaks, health insurance, housing, and inheritance rights to cohabiting couples, independent of their sexual orientation. Unlike marriage, the PACS did not include any parenting rights. Through both of these laws, the French government reinforced its commitment to the normative heterosexual family, a commitment that was equally shared by the Left and the Right. The PACS was celebrated as a step forward in the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians, but the fact that the final law did not mention parenting was key. Homosexuals could now be recognized by the state as individuals and even as couples, but not as families. Similarly, single individuals wishing to conceive a child though medically assisted reproduction were explicitly forbidden to do so by the bioethics laws. It was this commitment to the normative heterosexual family—what I call here familialism—that was defended in abstract, scientific, and normative terms through the theoretical framework of structuralist anthropology and psychoanalysis. In particular, the concept of the symbolic derived from the works of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan proved particularly useful: kinship in the form of the normative heterosexual family was said to be symbolic, and, as such, any law that recognized alternative familial configurations breached the symbolic order and needed to be opposed.

Thus, on the right, representative Renaud Dutreil referred to Lévi-Strauss’s Elementary Structures of Kinship in parliament to oppose the PACS: all human societies have produced a certain number of norms: exogamy, the prohibition of incest, and heterosexuality . . . Society enriches itself in otherness. Today, the other is the other sex. Homosexuality is the fear of the other.¹ Another deputy, Jacques Myard, also cited Lévi-Strauss to argue that the anthropological foundations of our society are constituted by two pillars: sexual difference and generational difference, which, together, uphold the family. All anthropologists, all ethnologists, have brought to light this fundamental structure which constitutes the family.² Representative Jacques Kossowski turned to psychoanalysis to posit that the Oedipal situation remains a model essential to the process of elaboration of the individual, and that it was important that a child learn to be confronted with the other sex. This dialectic is necessary for him to forge an identity and become a subject as such. It is necessary to conserve, within the family, the two ancestral pillars of humanity which are femininity and masculinity. To say this, Kossowski added, was in no way ‘homophobic.’ It simply showed that the PACS gravely threatens the millennial edifice that the family is.³ Similar arguments were made on the left, with Elisabeth Guigou, the former Minister of Justice, who explained that while she strongly supported the PACS, she rejected the idea of gay parenting: like many psychoanalysts and psychiatrists, I believe that for his psychic, social, and relational structuring, a child needs to be faced throughout childhood with . . . a model of sexual difference, a referent man and a referent woman.⁴ Irène Théry, a sociologist hired by the socialist government to evaluate the civil union bill, deplored its desymbolizing passion because it refused to distinguish heterosexual and homosexual couples.⁵ The psychoanalyst Jean-Pierre Winter warned against the dangers of producing symbolically modified children.

This book tells the story of how some of the most obscure and complex notions put forward by Lévi-Strauss and Lacan came to provide a theoretical justification for familialism. How did structuralism circulate with such apparent fluidity across the political spectrum? How did the family become the privileged site for reasserting a particular kind of social and psychic normativity, for rethinking the law, and for ultimately anchoring a new concept of the political in France? My aim is neither to write the history of familialism nor structuralism but rather to explain their entanglement and their success in French political culture. This project straddles intellectual history and political/legal history because there are textual and contextual explanations for why anthropology, psychoanalysis, and family law came together in this puzzling way. Without considering the two together, we can only get a partial understanding of why this language proved to be so politically effective for both the Left and the Right. Thus, on a textual level, I argue that the early and more explicitly structuralist texts of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan were appealing to familialists for two main reasons. First, both authors constructed the heterosexual family as a trope for social and psychic integration. Sexual difference (figured in the incest prohibition and in the Oedipus complex) served as the catalyst for the transition from nature to society for Lévi-Strauss and as the anchoring of the symbolic for Lacan. Second, they treated the emergence of kinship, of the social, and of subjectivity as structural phenomena. Structuralism offered these thinkers a way to bypass what was historical, geographical, political, and even empirical in sexuality and in kinship and to define them instead as abstract, universal, and normative categories. I refer to the structuralist social contract of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan to describe this process through which both authors established a causal relation between kinship and socialization (particularly through the concept of the symbolic), posited sexual difference as the necessary condition for all social and psychic organization, and presented the transition to sociality as a logical and necessary outcome.

In a second step, I argue that this vision of kinship at the root of intersubjectivity coincides in surprising ways with the role that the family has played in modern French law and public policy. Both the 1804 Napoleonic Code and the 1939 Family Code, the foundational texts for French civil law and for family policy, respectively, are examples of political familialism in that they set up the family as the best unit to organize solidarity and build political consensus, the most universal and most abstractable mode of social representation, and the purest expression of the general will. Both documents insist on the idea that the family is never simply private: as the foundation of the social order, it is intimately connected to the public. I suggest, in other words, that the family is the condition of sociality in both the structuralist and the political social contracts. My contention here is not simply that the family was important for the formation of the social or that it operated as a microcosm of the social. Rather, the argument in these texts, political and philosophical, was more specific: the heterosexual family was constitutive of the social. There could be no social contract without the heterosexual family.

In light of this reading of structuralism and of French familialism, two problems remain: how did these concepts actually enter the political world and how were they ultimately translated into concrete laws and policies? Indeed, the politicization of Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s thought is perplexing, given how removed from political life both authors were, particularly in a time when the figure of the engaged intellectual was so central to the French political landscape. Lévi-Strauss claimed again and again to have lost all interest in politics after 1945, when he returned to France from his years of exile in New York.⁷ Similarly, he explained that he had chosen to stay away from politics because he did not believe that they could be the object of a theoretical reflection,⁸ and that he saw absolutely no link between structuralism and any political system.⁹ Lacan was just as suspicious of organized politics, to the chagrin of many of his students who were actively involved in left-wing causes during the 1960s.

Furthermore, even though Lévi-Strauss and Lacan wrote extensively on kinship, they ultimately had little to say about real families. In fact, as I have indicated, their embrace of structuralism represented a move away from the concrete, the empirical, and the historical toward the abstract and the normative. Lacan, for instance, created his concept of the Name-of-the-Father to expand the role of the biological father in Freud’s Oedipus complex and to include larger structures of authority. Although they were not always successful, both authors were quite explicitly invested in maintaining a tension between the prescriptive and the descriptive, between the normative and the heteronormative. It is this abstraction in the works of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan that has led many commentators to simply dismiss the references to structuralism during the recent family law debates as misunderstandings or misreadings. Especially in the case of Lacan, psychoanalysts have pointed to his deconstructive style and his aporetic concepts, which he specifically designed to defy appropriations and flat interpretations, as evidence that if Lacan were alive he would never abide by these positions.

One of my aims here is to pay attention to these linguistic and philosophical concerns, to examine the tensions inherent in Lacan’s and Lévi-Strauss’s writings while considering also how certain of their concepts might at times at least appear to invite certain misreadings or misappropriations. Indeed, I am interested in how the meaning of these highly abstract concepts has changed as they have traveled from the social sciences to the political field, and how they were ultimately reworked into laws and policy. Thus, the second, more contextual argument that I make in this book is that Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s understanding of kinship, the social, and sexual difference—their structuralist social contract—was popularized and politicized through a series of bridge figures. These were anthropologists and psychoanalysts who borrowed the conceptual frameworks of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan and translated them for popular culture and for the political world. By maintaining close relationships with decision makers and occupying key roles in governmental committees pertaining to family policy, they ensured that their ideas had a direct impact on the actual legislation of the family. It is through these bridge figures that the empty signifiers in Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s work got filled with real fathers, real mothers, and real children. As such, the distinction between the normative and the heteronormative, still central for Lévi-Strauss and Lacan, collapsed by the time the bridge figures had filtered their theories into the political sphere. The bridge figures that interest me here did not simply exercise a vague and diffuse influence on government officials. Rather, their exchanges were rooted in very concrete networks through which we can map various points of convergence between politics and ideas.

Much has been written on the role of gender and sexuality in the works of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan, and on the history and sociology of the family in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. This book builds upon these fields, but its originality is to bridge the two, to analyze how academic discourses on kinship have intersected and overlapped with political discourses on the family. I am interested in how both sets of discourses have positioned subjects in similar ways, naturalized certain assumptions, mobilized particular sets of norms, and presupposed a series of inclusions and exclusions around these norms. By bringing to light these mechanisms, my hope is that the recent debates around the family will contribute to three larger historical, theoretical, and methodological discussions: on the particularities of French political culture, on the nature of sexual difference, and on the relationship between texts and contexts in intellectual history.

The recent French polemics around the family did not arise in a historical or geographical vacuum. The international context, particularly that of the United States and Western Europe, was instrumental in pushing judges and elected officials to adapt French family law to modern times. Legal cases involving surrogacy and adoption disputes, such as the famous 1988 case of Baby M. in the United States, were cited as models for both the critics and the advocates of assisted reproductive technology. In 1994, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians and encouraged the members of the European Union to open marriage to same-sex couples or to set up equivalent juridical measures—civil unions or registered partnerships. By the late 1990s, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Belgium had complied with this measure. Similarly, in the United States, several cities began offering domestic partner benefits to their municipal employees as early as the 1980s. In 1989, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed that a gay couple was a family for the purposes of rent-control laws, and the California Bar Association came out in favor of gay marriage. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court declared that the state had no compelling reason to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a decision followed by the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Vermont in 1999. The promoters of the PACS relied extensively on these examples to argue for the importance of recognizable same-sex unions in France. In response, those opposed to the bill did so in the name of republicanism. Republicanism, a synonym here for French political culture, was characterized, they argued, by abstract universalism. Abstract universalism—to be able to speak and govern in the name of the general interest, of everyone—was the guarantee of equality before the law and preserved the unity, cohesion, and integration of the French nation. Same-sex unions were deemed anti-republican because they were perceived be to be catering to the particular—and hence nonuniversal—interests of homosexuals. They were, to cite one of the terms that recurred most often, communitarian, the opposite of republican.

The limits and possibilities of French universalism, as an ideal type and as a reality, were tested and debated throughout the 1990s, most notably with the citizenship reform that affected primarily France’s large community of North African descent and with the parité law that sought to provide gender equality in politics. Both cases highlighted the difficulty for republicanism to accommodate difference, particularly that of race and gender.¹⁰ The discussions around the family that I examine here were part of this conversation, which was gendered and raced. Those opposed to the recognition of alternative familial models emphasized the French republican understanding of the family, which, according to both the familialist and the structuralist social contracts they were invoking, was universal and heterosexual. They contrasted this French republican model to two other extremes, both communitarian and differentialist: Anglo-Saxon liberalism on the one hand, and totalitarianism—whether in the form of communism, Nazism, or Islamism—on the other. Unlike these two poles, the French republican model of the family and of the social (which were connected) stood as the perfect balance of freedom and cohesion, able to avoid the extreme individualism, anomie, and market dependence of liberalism, and the excessive homogenization of totalitarianism. The heterosexual family, rhetorically assimilated to the French social, needed to be defended if France wanted to retain its political culture and if it wanted to be shielded from the globalizing forces of the twenty-first century.

If the transnational dimension of these French discussions on the family was key, the role of French theory—particularly of Lévi-Strauss and Lacan—was also critical in Anglo-Saxon discussions of kinship, gender, and sexuality. In her 1975 groundbreaking essay, The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex, the anthropologist Gayle Rubin singled out Lévi-Strauss and Lacan for having elaborated a sex/gender system responsible for legitimating the exchange of women and the institution of heterosexuality.¹¹ Because marriage and kinship, according to Rubin, required the division of the sexes and the subordination of women, feminism needed to call for a revolution in kinship and for a genderless society. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler pursued this reflection around Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, and the heterosexual matrix, and moved toward a theory of gender as a performative and signifying practice, a theory that she has been revising and refining since then. In her more recent work, particularly Antigone’s Claim and Undoing Gender, Butler has returned to Lévi-Strauss and Lacan to wonder whether kinship is always already heterosexual and to ask whether it might be possible to rethink kinship outside of the foundational structures of the incest taboo and the Oedipal myth.¹²

But if Lévi-Strauss and Lacan were instrumental in the development of the theory of gender in the United States, they were also essential figures in one of the most trenchant and serious critiques of this theory of gender. Indeed, in recent years, psychoanalytically-inclined scholars such as Leo Bersani, Joan Copjec, Tim Dean, Charles Shepherdson, Lee Edelman, Tracy McNulty, and Slavoj Žižek, have criticized Butler’s understanding of gender for failing to capture the specificity of sexual difference, for misunderstanding the problem of embodiment and the unpredictable ways in which desire fixes itself on particular subjects.¹³ Sexual difference, they have argued, is not just another historically developed human convention or norm that can be subverted: it is primary, originating, and foundational. It is neither socially constructed (as gender) nor biologically grounded (as sex), but it is nonetheless related to both. Most importantly, it is coextensive with language. In this context, Lévi-Strauss, Freud, and particularly Lacan have reemerged as useful figures to resist the so-called historicist impulse in the field of sexuality studies. As Charles Shepherdson has put it, to think sexual difference is to think the end of historicism, or in the terms of Joan Copjec, sex does not budge, and it is not heterosexist to say so.¹⁴ Sexual difference, these thinkers have argued, cannot be deconstructed, nor can it be studied by social scientists or historians, because it is neither quantifiable nor representational. As the psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller once told Michel Foucault in an interview, one cannot write the history of sexuality in the way that one would write the history of bread.¹⁵ Much of the impetus behind this book comes from these debates around the nature of sexual difference. What happens to the abstraction, the universalism, the ahistoricity of structuralist concepts (such as castration, the incest prohibition, or sexual difference) when they literally move through history and when they absorb specific content? One of the goals of this book is to address these philosophical questions through historical analysis, as I consider what models of social, political, and cultural intelligibility can arise from the transcendental and foundationalist definitions of sexual difference that we find in the works of Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, and many of these contemporary psychoanalytic thinkers.

Finally, this book is engaged in a methodological conversation around the problems of reading and interpretation in history. One of the challenges of intellectual history is to articulate the relationship between a text and its pertinent contexts, to expose how the context of a text might shape our reading of it but also to engage the text actively and refuse to treat it as a simple document or symptom of a particular time and place. Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s unequivocal rejection of history and their explicit political disengagement make their thinking particularly interesting from the perspective of intellectual history. Indeed, most of the scholars who have commented on the use of their theories in recent family law decisions have contended that politicians were either misreading the original texts, or on the contrary, that they were expressing their truth—bringing out their latent homophobia or misogyny. Similarly, they have interpreted their works symptomatically as signs of their times, as desperate defenses of a patriarchal order in a time of crisis of masculinity and authority. Alternatively, they have argued that the context in which these two figures were writing should not matter at all, that reading these figures historically refuses to engage with the radical ahistoricity of the theories.¹⁶ My aim here is to avoid all of these positions and to consider instead how texts might ask certain questions of their contexts and vice versa. The structure of this book attempts to reflect this dialogical approach in the sense that the intellectual history chapters are neither illustrations, symptoms, or effects of the political history ones.¹⁷ My argument is thus not that Lévi-Strauss and Lacan read the founding fathers of French familialism or vice versa but rather that they made analogous arguments. The familialist and the structuralist social contracts did meet up through the bridge figures, but they are not connected by cause and effect.

The Law of Kinship is divided into three parts that are organized chronologically and that interweave political/legal analysis, and intellectual/cultural history. The first section, consisting of the first three chapters, traces the roots of this theory of familialism postulating that the family is the categorical imperative behind all sociality and the enactor of universality. Chapter 1 provides a genealogy of familialism in French law and social policy. It centers on the Civil Code and the Family Code, which both consider the family essential to structure the social and the individual. The writers of the Civil Code hoped that the family would stabilize social bonds and individual passions in the aftermath of the Terror. The promoters of the Family Code postulated that the family would resolve the depopulation crisis that had plagued France since the end of the nineteenth century and that had become a keyword for many of the problems associated with modernity: nationalism, feminism, and the social question, among others. Chapter 2 offers a close analysis of Lévi-Strauss’s and Lacan’s early texts on kinship, which I read as social contract theories, as a structuralist social contract. While Lévi-Strauss was primarily interested in the transition from nature to culture and in the overarching organization of society, Lacan focused on the effects of these social structures on the psyche. In both cases, I interpret their work as a transcendental anthroposociology, to use the expression of Marcel Gauchet: anthroposociology in the sense that they sought to diagnose what was specifically human and link it to the social, and transcendental in terms of its normative ambitions.¹⁸ The concept of the symbolic more specifically allowed them to triangulate the sexual, the subjective, and the social. Chapter 3 examines how this structuralist social contract came to circulate in the political sphere and in popular culture through three bridge figures: Georges Mauco, André Berge, and Françoise Dolto. All three were psychoanalysts who actively participated in the shaping of family policy in the second half of the twentieth century.

The second section of the book encompasses Chapters 4 and 5 and examines how this model of familialism came into crisis—politically and intellectually—during the 1960s and 1970s. Chapter 4 focuses on family law and family policy, which from 1964 to 1975 underwent what one legal scholar described as a quiet revolution. Because of the new demographic context of the baby boom, the impact of May 1968, the end of the Gaullist regime, and the emergence of a new political culture with shifting priorities, family policy no longer served as a political rallying point. As postwar family activists grew less influential within the