DS0805 - Droit, démocratie, gouvernance et nouveaux référentiels

On the Government of Familial Feelings: Towards a Sociology of Contemporary Ethopolitics – ETHOPOL

Ethopol – On the Government of Family Feelings

ETHOPOL is a research program hosted by the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès. Five social scientists collaborate to analyze the diversity of family regulations and their subjective consequences. Members of this team work on adoption, medically assisted reproduction, surrogacy, paternity testing, and the regulation of birth; they aim to study how institutions frame families and modify the way subjects feel, think, and act.

Managing families, Framing Subjects, Reforming Selves

ETHPOL aims to understand how institutional activity governs subjects by transforming their feelings. This project unifies five researchers working on family issues, and conducting different but complementary fieldworks; they work on international adoption, surrogacy, paternity testing, IVFs refusals, and postpartum depression. Each social scientist dedicates him or herself to a specific object and conducts an autonomous research. All aim to analyze how families(-to-be) are framed and managed by institutions that are deployed to act on subjects’ psyches and “interiority”.<br />To analyze these configurations and their meanings, ETHOPOL suggests a reinterpretation of Nikolas Rose’ concept of ”ethopolitics”, using this term to label politics whose primary goals are to transform ethics, norms, and values. How one does learn to renounce? to love? to accept? How does institutional activity related to family issues – led by physicians, psychologists, experts, or social workers – facilitate and produce a new way of considering selves and others? By adapting the notion of ethopolitics to the study of family, ETHOPOL renews the way we consider subjects’ and subjectivities’ institutional and emotional framing.

ETHOPOL focuses on ethnography; we consider this method as particularly relevant to the analysis of how institutions work on subjectivities. Each researcher conducts a specific fieldwork.
- Jérôme Courduriès. Jerôme is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, where he studies surrogacy. He has conducted numerous in-depth interviews in France and Canada with intentional parents and NGOs. In the summer of 2017, he will spend several weeks in the USA to meet with surrogate mothers and the agencies they work with.
- Mélanie Gourarier. Mélanie was recruited to ETHOPOL as a postdoc in 2015-2016, to conduct fieldwork on paternity testing in the USA. She joined a private laboratory in New York to observe how tests are conducted in practice, and to meet with both professionals and clients.
- Sébastien Roux. Sébastien is a CNRS Researcher at the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, and the leader of the team ETHOPOL. He studies transnational adoption, and conducts ethnographic fieldworks in France and Ethiopia. He focuses more specifically on politics that frame, regulate, and moralize the international circulation of children.
- Michela Villani. Michela was recruited as a postdoc in 2015-2016 to study in vitro fertilization-related policy in Italian hospitals. She is currently a researcher at the University of Freiburg, where she continues to collaborate with the program.
- Anne Sophie Vozari. Anne-Sophie is a PhD Candidate at the EHESS in Paris. She works on postpartum depression, and the contemporary framing of birth.

All fieldworks have been conducted to understand how family intimacy is framed, managed, and controlled by and through institutional supervision.

We focused on four major themes:

1) The political anthropology of kinship. ETHOPOL puts into question the politics of family arrangement. The team shows how family configurations – which are perceived as intimate and private – become a major concern for institutions. We analyze how specific policies are developed and implemented, in order to renew our understanding of the links between power and intimacy.

2) Ethopolitics and liberalism. ETHOPOL studies the politics of feelings, and the institutional interventions that ask subjects to reconsider their norms and values. Using the notion of ethopolitics – which was formulated first by Nikolas Rose at the beginning of the years 2000s – we show how contemporary institutional interventions demand self-reform, and require subjects to normalize and regulate themselves.

3) Affects. Our team has been particularly interested by emotions. Doubt, love, guilt, shame, joy… all these affects traverse the framing of families. Subjects are required to “work” on these feelings to adjust themselves to institutional expectations and desires (so they can express some feelings, suppress others, and ultimately “correct” themselves). Thus, ETHOPOL suggests linking the study of feelings with more classical sociological perspectives on institutions and power.

4) National issues. Finally, ETHOPOL demonstrates how issues of reproduction and issues of nationality are intertwined. We show how the stakes of reproduction elicit questions about belonging and community, and how family issues challenge notions of borders and boundaries.

The ETHOPOL team will continue to study the institutional management of family intimacies, with fieldworks conducted by jérôme Courduriès (surrogacy, France-Canada-USA), Mélanie Gourarier (paternity tests, USA), Sébastien Roux (adoption, France-Ethiopia), Michela Villani (IVF policies, Italy), and Anne-Sophie Vozari (postpartum depression, France).
Several articles, books, and special issues of scientific journals will be published soon; a colloquium on “Traces, Marks, and Origins” will be organized in Toulouse in May 2017; a final event on ethopolitics will be held in Paris in 2018.
The first two years of the program were dedicated to fieldworks; our next phase will focus more specifically on the dissemination and review of our results, amongst both the scientific community and the general public.

You can access all ETHOPOL publications and activities on the team website: ethopol.hypotheses.org

Drawing on Michel Foucault, many contemporary sociological works criticize social institutions by focusing on the ways in which those institutions control, limit and discipline bodies. Fewer pieces – with notable exceptions – have concentrated on the disciplinarization of minds. By scrutinizing the social production and framing of feelings and emotions, ETHOPOL will analyze institutional work as a specific pedagogy that transforms not only our identities and behaviors, but also our feelings and judgments. Members of ETHOPOL will focus on policies that aim at transforming subjectivity, in order to detect practical forms of power and government that are deployed onto and into their subjects’ “inwardness”. Hence, rather than focusing on biopolitics (which directs the lives of people), we will focus on actions that regulate feelings and redefine ethical relations to the self and to the world, a relation we define as “ethopolitics”.
Unlike many contemporary approaches, ETHOPOL does not aim to describe the affective dimension of actions; we rather intend to analyze how affectivity becomes the main – if not exclusive – object of regulation policies. In fact, ethopolitics seems to encompass specific forms of social intervention, which endeavor to transform how people think (including about themselves), how they formulate moral values and judgments, and how they feel. Members of ETHOPOL have decided to focus on family intimacy to observe these dynamics – and more specifically on institutions that produce, correct, authorize, and/or impede family ties. These institutions have been carefully selected for being complementary to one another. Either belonging to public, associative or business sectors, they intervene in various fields: social work, health care, moral expertise, etc. Five different objects have been selected as sites in which to observe these processes of ethical alteration: international adoption, gestational surrogacy, paternity testing, postnatal depression, and IVF refusal.
These objects share a similar but paradoxical dynamic. All five include institutions which aim to intervene in order to support, help, or appease. However, these interventions can be perceived as a means of transforming their participants’ relations to the self and to others, and which – by “working on” their affectivity – compels individuals to concur with the process to which they have been subjected. Thus, for example, adults who are engaged by Adoption Bureaus experience a transformation of their parental desires; parents by gestational surrogacy are confronted to moral and ethical dilemmas that surround the relationship between their child and his/her biological mother; individuals who resort to paternity testing question their paternal love; women suffering from postnatal depression are cured from their so-called inability to “mother”; and, finally, people who are denied IVF have to cope with a refusal based upon an expertise which judges them inapt to parenthood. Due to the fact they are “taken in charge”, all these people experience – in different ways – an evolution of their own judgments, wills, desires, and also their convictions, opinions and ways of being. As such, they experience a policy that “directs” them by arousing their voluntary adhesion to a process that limits and frames their desires and affects (rather than undergoing a mere discipline that would “correct” them by imposing new forms of action and/or behavior). Newly convinced subjects, they are now expected to feel how purposeful and well-founded enacted norms are.
This project is part of a broader theoretical perspective, which aims at unifying the critique of framing processes with the comprehensive analysis of their effects, by focusing on “inwardness”. As such, ETHOPOL will help to understand sensitive marks of the government of self, and to develop a new reflection on these “ethopolicital” subjective transformation policies.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Sébastien Roux (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités, Sociétés, Territoires)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LISST Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités, Sociétés, Territoires

Help of the ANR 288,600 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 48 Months

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