Robcis, Camille

Associate Professor of History and French

Office Hours

Spring 2020: Wednesdays 3-5 PM



Ph.D. – Cornell University, 2007
B.A. – Brown University, 1999


Interests and Research

Camille Robcis specializes in modern European intellectual history, with a focus on nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. Her interests have circled around three issues: the historical construction of norms, the intellectual production of knowledge, and the articulation of universalism and difference in modern French history. Prior to coming to Columbia, she taught at Cornell for ten years.

Robcis is the author of The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France which was published by Cornell University Press and which 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.

She is currently working on two projects. The first, tentatively titled Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in France, is a history of institutional psychotherapy, a psychiatric reform movement born in France after the Second World War. Anchored in Marxism and in Lacanian psychoanalysis, institutional psychotherapy advocated a radical restructuring of the asylum in order to transform the theory and practice of psychiatric care and ultimately revolutionize society. Institutional psychotherapy had an important influence on many intellectuals and activists, including François Tosquelles, Jean Oury, Félix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Georges Canguilhem, and artists such as Paul Éluard and Jean Dubuffet.

Her second project explores the legacy of social Catholicism in contemporary French law. In this context, she has written on the recent protests against gay marriage in France and on the Catholic attack against a “theory of gender” presented as both the origin and the outcome of gay marriage. She has also been interested in the revival of concepts derived from political Catholicism (such as the person and dignity) as tools to reorganize the social and the sexual.



  • HIST GR8938: Gender as Critique

Fellowships and Awards

  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2015-2016
  • Institute for Advanced Study (Member of the School of Historical Studies), Spring 2016
  • Faculty Fellowship, The Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, 2013-2014
  • LAPA Fellowship, Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University, 2011-2012
  • Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Penn Humanities Forum, University of Pennsylvania, 2007-2008



The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France


Recent Scholarly Articles

“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

“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.