Camille Robcis

Camille Robcis

Research Interests:
History of Modern France; Cultural and Intellectual History; Critical Theory; Gender & Sexuality; History of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis; Legal and Political Theory.

My area of scholarly expertise is modern European history, gender and sexuality, and intellectual, cultural, and legal history.  In both my teaching and my research, I examine the relationship between texts and their various contexts (cultural, social, political, economic).  My work is intrinsically interdisciplinary as I often rely on critical theory, literature, psychoanalysis, and anthropology to examine historical documents, but also as I offer historical analysis as a means to elucidate philosophical questions. I conceive of history not only as way to document the past but also as an invitation to engage in a dialogue with the present.

My first book, The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France was published by Cornell University Press and won the 2013 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize.  It examines how and why French judges and legislators turned to structuralism – and more specifically, to some of the most difficult and abstract concepts of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan – to reassert the centrality of the heterosexual family in political debates around bioethics, same-sex unions, single-parent households, family names, surrogacy, and adoption.

My second book, Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in Postwar France (Chicago, 2021) maps the intersections of politics, philosophy, and radical psychiatry in twentieth-century France.  It focuses on a psychiatric movement called “institutional psychotherapy” which had an important influence on many intellectuals and activists, including François Tosquelles, Jean Oury, Felix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Georges Canguilhem, and Michel Foucault.  Anchored in Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, institutional psychotherapy advocated a fundamental restructuring of the asylum in order to transform the theory and practice of psychiatric care.  More broadly, for many of these thinkers, the asylum could function as a microcosm for society at large and as a space to promote non-hierarchal and non-authoritarian political and social structures.  Psychiatry, they contended, provided a template to better understand alienation and offer perspectives for “disalienation.” 

I am currently working on a project tentatively titled The War on Gender in which I try to make sense of various arguments that have emerged in recent years against a so-called “theory of gender,” “gender ideology,” or “gender agenda.”  According to its critics, this “gender ideology” has driven the push for a broad range of sexual and reproductive rights, from the legalization of abortion, access to contraception, same-sex marriage, sexual education in schools, non-discrimination bills, access to new reproductive technologies, trans rights, and much more.  My book traces the discursive origins of this “anti-genderism” to various UN conferences in the 1990s and it maps the global circulation of the term, first through the Vatican and its different think tanks, and later through other religious, right-wing, and populist groups.

I received my B.A. in History and Modern Culture & Media from Brown University in 1999 and my Ph.D. in History from Cornell in 2007.  Prior to coming to Columbia, I taught at Cornell for ten years.  I have received fellowships from the Penn Humanities Forum, LAPA (Princeton Law and Public Affairs), the Society for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. 

Selected Publications