L'invention de la sphère domestique au sortir de la Révolution

Abstract : Nation and family were imagined together on the eve of the French Revolution. The family was not considered as a distinctive private sphere, but rather as a political association like any other association in France; conversely, the nation itself was conceived of as a family under the authority of a father-king. Revolutionaries transformed both realms in a series of dramatic measures, from the unprecedented institutions of secular marriage and divorce to the proclamation of popular sovereignty and the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Nonetheless, they continued to think in some of the same terms, treating the family as a political unit and the nation as a family, one now embodied by the French people as a whole rather than the monarchy. Indeed, such hidden continuites became even more important just as revolutionaries attempted to completely destroy the old political order by executing the king.

Because revolutionary juridical and political categories did not define the family as an intermediary between the individual and the state, they helped open the way for debates about both the rights and the duties of citizenship for women and children. While legislators often assumed that the citizen was, or should be, the paterfamilias (the term often included not only fathers of families, but also adult men capable of becoming heads of households), they rarely stated their assumptions. Ambiguity about the nature of citizenship, combined with the conflation of family and nation, provoked not only contestation over the role of women in the sovereign, but also conflicts between national and familial duties in a variety of other, often unexpected, arenas.

In the wake of the Terror, revolutionaries redefined the family as special kind of association, qualitatively different than other forms of civil society, and similarly redefined the nation as an agglomerate of families. They proclaimed that the citizen should be clearly equated with the paterfamilias who served as the intermediary between dependents in the household and the state. The separation between public and private did not precede the revolution, rather it was created by it.

This evolution suggests that to understand the gendered nature of citizenship, we need not only to pay attention to the activism or misogny of contemporary actors and the ways in which sexual differences have been defined. We also need to look at changing ideas and assumptions about the relationship between nation and family.
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Anne Verjus, Jennifer Heuer. L'invention de la sphère domestique au sortir de la Révolution. Annales historiques de la Révolution française, Armand Colin, 2002. ⟨halshs-00003785⟩

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