Intellectual History Working Group Colloquium: Camille Robcis

Camille Robcis is an intellectual historian of modern France whose work focuses on three broad issues: the relationship among intellectuals, ideas, and politics: the historical construction of norms; and the articulation of universalism and difference in the context of modern France. Her recent book titled The Laws of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France examines the role of the family in French law, public policy, and French traditions of psychoanalysis and anthropology. Recent projects include a history of institutional psychotherapy in France after the Second World War and a study on the legacy of social Catholicism in contemporary French law. She teaches broadly on European and particularly French history, intellectual history, gender and sexuality, contemporary critical theory, and European social and political thought.

The Biopolitics of Dignity

My talk traces the genealogy of the notion of “human dignity” in modern French law.  My goal is to explain how and why dignity has come to be associated with national belonging and public order, as evidenced for example by the 2010 law banning “face coverings” in public spaces or by the recent pleas to revive “national indignity” after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  I argue that that the definition of dignity that has been circulating in French law since the 1990s is primarily a corporatist one.  Rather than promoting abstract individual freedom, human rights, and democratic inclusion, this understanding of dignity (theoretically much closer to that of political Catholicism and personalism than to the Kantian or liberal understanding of dignity that we see in American law) insists on the obligations that the individual has towards the community, towards the social, and, in its most recent formulations, towards France.  Thus, I propose to consider human dignity in the French context not as a value intrinsic to a person but as a project of biopolitical rule. 

Co-sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for the Study of Law and Society, the Graduate Assembly, the French Department, the History Department, and the Intellectual History and Theory Working Groups.

Event is ADA accessible. For disability accommodation requests and information, please contact Disability Access Services by phone at 510.643.6456 (voice) or 510.642.6376 (TTY) or by email at

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 - 4:00pm
3335 Dwinelle