International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

« Françoise Héritier. Entretien avec Alain Morel »

Françoise Héritier
Alain Morel
Full reference

“Françoise Héritier. Interview with Alain Morel”, collection “L’Ethnologie en héritage”, n°13, director : Gilles Le Mao ; producer : Gilles Le Mao /La Huit, 2009, 180 min.

Presentation :
Françoise Héritier is renowned not only as an anthropologist but also for her presence in the political and social field, for her commitment to fight discrimination against women and for her literary talent in describing the small pleasures that make up daily life and give meaning to existence. She has always combined fieldwork and theoretical reflection. Her first research in the Samo country (Burkina Faso) in 1957 focused on kinship. She deepened the question of alliance by developing an analysis of the functioning of semi-complex alliance systems. Continuing Lévi-Strauss’s reflections on incest, she invented the concept of “incest of the secondary type”, the prohibition of which translates into prohibitions on sexual relations with the same partner for two persons united by a close link of consanguinity. She has paid particular attention to the elementary qualities of the sensible world, in which man lives in sympathy : hot, cold, dry, wet, from which societies think and order their existence. Her research also focuses on the universal foundations of male domination and has led her to propose the concept of “differential valence of the sexes”, an anthropological invariant that underpins this domination. Extending her reflection to the origins of thought, she posits that “It is the observation of gender difference that is at the foundation of all thought and at the foundation of all known social organisations, both traditional and scientific”. A senior researcher at the CNRS, from which she obtained the silver medal, then director of studies at the EHESS, she was elected to the Collège de France in 1982 where she succeeded Claude Lévi-Strauss and inaugurated the Chair of Comparative Studies of African Societies. Her work on kinship has contributed to the debate on anonymous childbirth, adoption and medically assisted procreation. Committed to the fight against discrimination, she has taken part over the last thirty years in institutional reflections on the major debates on society, and has chaired the National AIDS Council.

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