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interdisciplinary as I often rely on critical theory, literature, psychoanalysis, and anthropology to examine historical documents, but also as I offer historical analysis as a means to elucidate philosophical questions.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.”  Disalienation was awarded the 2024 Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association.  A revised edition appeared in French translation as Désaliénation: Politique de la Psychiatrie. Tosquelles, Fanon, Guattari, Foucault.

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.  During the 2024-2025 academic year, I will be a fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Selected Publications

“Frantz Fanon, Institutional Psychotherapy, and the Decolonization of Psychiatry,” The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 81, Issue 2 (April 2020), 303-325.

“François Tosquelles and the Psychiatric Revolution in Postwar France,” Constellations, Vol. 23, Issue 2 (June 2016), 212-222.

“The Biopolitics of Dignity,” The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol.115, No.2 (April 2016), 313-330.

“Catholics, the ‘Theory of Gender,’ and the Turn to the Human in France: A New Dreyfus Affair?” The Journal of Modern History, Vol.87, No.4 (December 2015), 892-923.

“Liberté, Égalité, Hétérosexualité: Race and Reproduction in the French Gay Marriage Debates,” Constellations, Vol.22, Issue 3 (September 2015), 447-461.

“Lévi-Strauss’s Structuralist Social Contract,” Yale French Studies 123 (July 2013), 145-165.

“‘China In Our Heads:’ Althusser, Maoism, and Structuralism,” Social Text 110, Vol.30, No. 1 (Spring 2012), 51-69.

“French Sexual Politics from Human Rights to the Anthropological Function of the Law,” French Historical Studies 33.1 (Winter 2010), 129-156.

“How the Symbolic Became French: Kinship and Republicanism in the PACS Debates,” Discourse 26.3 (Fall 2004), 110-135.

Other Media

Humaniser le soin: Histoire d’une psychiatrie libératrice, Radio interview with Xavier Mauduit, “Le Cours de l’histoire,” France Culture, May 2024.

Psychique et politique, la psychothérapie institutionnelle comme théorie politique, Radio interview with Sylvain Bourmeau, “La Suite dans les idées,” France Culture, March 2024.

“Uncovering Radical Psychiatry and Institutional Psychotherapy in Postwar France” Interview for podcast Mad in America, March 2023.

“Institutional Psychotherapy in Post-War France” in series titled “Object Relations” for Podcast Red Medicine (with Samuel Kelly), July 2022

Podcast on Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for Writ Large, 2022 (with Zachary Davis).

“Politics and the Psyche,” Humanities, Spring 2022, Vol, 43, Issue, 2

“France and the Question of Consent,” Public Books, 9/29/2021

Interview with J.J. Mull for the New Books in Psychoanalysis Podcast, June 2021

“Fanon and the Decolonization of Psychiatry,” Wiser Public Position Series: Fanon After Fanon, April 2021

Liberté, égalité, hétérosexualité: interview with Camille Regache for

“Why an IVF bill is the next fault line for the French Republic,” The Washington Post, 14 Oct. 2019

“Institutional Psychotherapy in France” : Hidden Persuaders, September 28, 2017.

“PMA: aux sources du débat français,” Médiapart, July 30, 2017

Les structures familiales de la République,” La Suite dans les idées, France Culture, December 2012

“Jean Oury and the Clinique de La Borde” Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology, June 2014

New Books in French Studies, February 2014