In an analysis that adds to the growing debate on tensions between the modern state and the family, Professor Donzelot...



In an analysis that adds to the growing debate on tensions between the modern state and the family, Professor Donzelot (Sociology, Nanterre) studies 1) how the state effected a penetration of the family--how we went from being a ""government of families to a government through the family""; and 2) the rise of social welfare institutions from being viewed as embarrassments to the state (concerned only with dire poverty, leprosy, insanity) to being seen as a cause for national pride in terms of services offered and numbers treated. Like his colleague Michel Foucault (The History of Sexuality), Donzelot is interested in the subtle shading of social control; by ""policing"" he means all ""methods for developing the quality of the population and the strength of the nation."" This penetration started, curiously enough, in the mid-18th-century with an attack on wet nurses and servants. It was considered poor public economy to see lower-class men run off to the city to work as servants--deserting the countryside, overburdening the cities, and leaving their wives to serve as wet nurses to the wealthy. It was also bad private economy for the rich, however--a waste of children directly through their loss or indirectly through their exposure to the servants' values. And so doctors and families struck up an alliance to safeguard the children's health and moral education. Then, as ""the social"" part of the state comes to center more on the conjugal bond than on the extended family, the poor wife is encouraged to look toward her home, pulling her husband out of cabarets and her children off the streets, and the rich wife is encouraged to look out from her home, becoming a sort of missionary in charitable work. Into the void created by destruction of the extended family steps philanthropy: halfway between the family and the state, it takes upon itself solving the problems of pauperism and worker allegiance. And, as a fourth line of argument, Donzelot sees a new alliance emerging between medicine and the state. A system of tutelage is established through social work and oriented toward the lower classes, and a system of control by contract is aimed at the middle and upper classes and effected through the currency of psychoanalysis. Playing upon the currency metaphor, Donzelot argues that psychoanalysis does not impose any definite plan of action but rather allows moral rules ""to float in relation to one another until they find their equilibrium."" Thus the crisis of the family is a misconceptualization since the modern family is off the gold standard, floating like the dollar and seeking new equilibrium. The argument here is apt to anger Marxists (the family is more than a tool of capitalism, it is both ""queen and prisoner""), feminists (women supported the penetration of the social and benefitted from it), and psychoanalysts (how Freud won out over the competition), but also apt to excite others willing to stick with Donzelot through the metaphors and paradoxes.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 1979


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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