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Socialists and marriage
Article published on 9 January 2006

by r-c.
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Socialists and marriage

Session des 6 et 7 octobre 2006.

Laboratoire de Démographie historique
de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS - Paris)

Call for papers - Send a brief abstract (250 words) and a short CV to the appropriate session moderator - Deadline: January 15, 2006.

Socialists and marriage is an enormous topic, especially for a conference that seeks to work from both a historical and an international perspective. Therefore, we have decided to organize the meeting around five essential themes. The papers should respect this choice, and thus fit into one of these five areas. The languages of the conference are French and English.

1 - Knowledge and fantasy

The socialists of the 19th century could rely on an immense mass of sources : ancient writings, historical studies, travel literature, the notes of missionaries. This information made clear that marriage as it existed in the Old World was only one way to organize the affective and social life and the socialization of children. We do not want to judge whether these writings were based on realities, fantasies or misunderstandings, but rather we would like to explore the influence they had on the work of the early socialists. A first series of papers will discuss these historical or exotic examples and their use in developing socialist theories on marriage and the family.

Contact: Jesse Battan

2 - A new world of love

In the many socialist projects to create a new rational and just society that flourished during the 19th century, the nuclear family and marriage were often seen as essential social institutions of the Old World that perpetuated its repressive and unjust system and were targeted for destruction. After an introduction, which explores the best-known examples of alternative perspectives (Enfantin, Fourier, Engels, various anarchists...), other papers will discuss lesser-known or forgotten contributions to this discussion.

Contact : Francis Ronsin

3 - Free unions

The condemnation of marriage, combined with a fear of engaging in ways of life that completely differed from bourgeois models, led to the creation of an intermediate form between marriage and free love : the free union. Couples living in such unions had a lifestyle often very close to that of married couples sharing with them the same concerns regarding continuity, exclusivity and descendance. As a result of the rejection of customs and laws, the free union became a symbol of mutual trust, non-conformism and relative autonomy - especially for women, such as feminists who could keep their name and legal responsibilities. A series of contributions will focus on the role free unions played in the programs of left politicians and labor union leaders and on the debates between the socialists who preferred free love and those who supported free unions.

Contact : Marcela Iacub

4 - The exercise of power

Socialists have successfully come to power and have even exercised it in openly dictatorial forms. We invite presentations that will explore efforts to modify marriage laws and regulations as well as examine the impact this had on actual marital relations, particularly in countries that have known "real socialism," in order to compare them with the initiatives created by social-democrats when they occupied positions of power.

Contact: Monika Pisankaneva

5- Same-sex marriage

In the late 1960s, a radical queer movement coincided with a revival of revolutionary socialisms and of debates on the access to free pleasures. The gay movement of that time opposed the existing social and moral order, including marriage, which was considered to be bourgeois, conformist, sexist and restraining free sex. The queer radicals paved the way for more reformist homosexuals who played the political game of sexual politics with a reformist left and a liberal right. It resulted in demands for marriage and legal rights regarding posterity for gay and lesbian couples. Socialists reacted to these demands in very different ways : radicals regretting these claims because they were so conformist, reformists supporting them out of solidarity and because of ideals of equality, and traditional socialists opposing them out of outmoded beliefs in family and heterosexuality. In countries with leftist/liberal governments, rights of marriage and adoption have now been extended to gay and lesbian couples, or something similar but less developed. Papers are invited to discuss this recent and surprising development from scholarly, political or personal perspectives.

Contact : Gert Hekma


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