Individu, Personne et Parenté En Europe [Individual, Person and Kinship in Europe]

By Cahen, Fabrice | Population, April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Individu, Personne et Parenté En Europe [Individual, Person and Kinship in Europe]


Cahen, Fabrice, Population


Enric Porqueres i Gené, Individu, personne et parenté en Europe [Individual, person and kinship in Europe], Paris, Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2015, 294 p.

This chronologically organized set of studies by Enric Porqueres I Gené ranges over a wide variety of fields and approaches. Its coherence lies in the power and resonance of the research problem that runs through the various chapters. From patristics to bioethics, from marriage practices of the Xuetes of Majorca (descendants of converted Jews, a group Porqueres has studied in depth) to Basque nationalism, this is a fascinating peregrination. We are readily convinced of the validity of his overarching thesis: structuralist rigidities on one hand and on the other the common understanding that contemporary societies are characterized by "individualization" do not mean that we are through with anthropology of kinship - the question now is how kinship should be understood today - let alone with kinship itself.

Jack Goody, often cited here, warned against evolutionist, ethnocentric interpretations of changes in the areas of family, conjugality and fertility. Understanding the "individualization process" - a variant of "the civilizing process" - as a shift from the absolute predominance of collective organization and logic to the autonomous individual understood to be constitutive of modernity (and the definitively "nuclear" family), the prelude to a postmodern subject with absolute control over his destiny and accountable to himself alone, is simplistic. According to Porqueres, we need to surrender those broad historical categories, along with materialist reductionist concepts such as Bourdieu's "marriage strategy," to concentrate on a finer-grained dialectic involving tension between two "ideologies." Porqueres explains that Saint Paul (whose thinking was manipulated by the Church Fathers, hostile to Roman and Jewish notions of marriage) constructed a figure of the human individual as detached from community memberships by baptism, which brought him instead into the universal community of believers. The cornerstone of the Christian earthly city was love, a value supposedly brought to the fore and transmitted to society as a whole by affection-based marriage founded on shared sexual affinity. In response to this model, studied by French historians from Flandrin to Burguière, a type of vertical, lineage-centred thinking developed in the Middle Ages which instead emphasized blood ties, understood to guarantee the stability and perpetuation of families, inter-family balances and, ultimately, existing hierarchies and the social order. This second type of logic implies meticulous collective control over marital unions.

While the Pauline schema, associated with the una caro doctrine (man and woman become "one flesh" through sexual union), constitutes the foundation of Western, exogamous and cognatic kinship and a significant part of the legal-social order of European states (access to citizenship, naturalization conditions, etc.), it was in continual conflict with the genealogical approach, which received increasing support from the temporal powers. And in the early modern period "genealogical reasoning" and "blood rhetoric" came to the fore, as attested by the limpieza de sangre statutes (a person whose blood was tainted by Jewish ancestors, for example, had to be segregated from others), resulting in the emergence of racial exclusion policies, Napoleon's Civil Code, and the development of "ethnic nationalisms." From the fixation on blood ties came an intense preoccupation with reproductive sexuality and its future effects - we know how this kind of thinking impacted the fields of medicine, biology, eugenics. Porqueres draws on social history to demonstrate the power that kinship thinking had in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, extensively citing the major (though not flawless, as François-Joseph Ruggiu has shown) research studies of David Sabean, Simon Teuscher and Gérard Delille: before various discourses (including genetics) discredited consanguinity, marriage between first cousins was on the rise. …

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