Round Table 9
Family, Marriage, and Property Rights
One of the central concepts in discussions of family and social reproduction is the notion of "strategy," popularized by Pierre Bourdieu. For some scholars, the notion seems too intentional, and fails to capture the emotional and amity-based aspects of familial life. There has also been a tendency to contrast early modern or medieval familial dynamics, based on instrumentality, with "modern" familial processes constituted around love and sentiment. Criticism of this dichotomy has centered on language and codes, explicit and implicit ways of doing things and describing relations. It seems naïve to discuss the nineteenth-century bourgeois family without taking into consideration property and ownership, but the problem remains how to deal with the language of sentimentality and behavior that often seems unrelated to material interest. In this Round Table discussion, we have brought together historians of "traditional" and "modern" Europe to discuss the usefulness of concepts like "social reproduction," "strategy," and "material interest." "Property" itself as a notion might be considered less in terms of its reified materiality than as a "relational idiom"-something that mediates relationships, that can best be thought of in a field of rights, duties, claims, and obligations.
Much of the discussion in this panel will be centered, of course, on the property holding classes. But it will also be concerned with the construction of class and class relations themselves. Groups of interrelated people constructed ways of maintaining connections through marriage alliance, property devolution and transmission, paternal authority and fraternal alliance, maintenance of kindreds, circulation of goods and services, gendering rights and obligations, and constructing social milieus through familial rituals, festivities, and socializing.
Although most work on the family during the past several decades has centered on the household or the nuclear family, there is considerable new interest on kinship and the ways families, households, and individuals connect with the wider set of kin. There is renewed interest in the formation of kindreds, the systemic forms of alliance between kin, the dynamics of courtship, marriage, and alliance. How property considerations play a role in the wider considerations of kinship is a problem of crucial interest.
Lars Ivar Hansen is concerned with medieval principles of property devolution and strategies of social reproduction. Among the issues that he will bring to the discussion are: the formation of kindreds, the residual claims to property of collateral heirs, and the development of communal property rights of spouses. Gerard Delille, working on Southern Italy, has analysed the "semi-complex" forms of kinship alliance in a field of strong vertically constructed patrilineal groups. How the circulation of spouses links up with the circulation of goods is a crucial issue of his work. In his understanding of the issues, capitalism and the formation of bourgeois class values broke with forms of systemic exchange. Christopher Johnson, who is studying the dynamics of French nineteenth-century bourgeois families at once contests the centrality of property for bourgeois marriage and underlines the fact of systematic marriage alliance. Endogamous marriage was crucial for the development of class hegemony. In contrast to Johnson, Rachel Fuchs puts property at the heart of the modern French family, and argues for a close interrelationship of property, paternity and family. She challenges the split that Johnson wants to open between material interest and emotion.