Spring 2024 Colloquium Series

Feb 12, 2024, 12:00 pm1:15 pm



Event Description

About this talk:

Céline Bessière's last book, The Gender of Capital (Harvard University Press, 2023) co-authored with Sibylle Gollac, demonstrates the existence of a gender wealth gap in formally egalitarian societies and analyzes the social mechanisms that cause it within the family, as revealed in moments of marital breakdown and inheritance. Why do women in different social classes accumulate less wealth than men? Why do marital separations impoverish women while they do not prevent men from staying or becoming wealthy? This book approaches the institution of family from a materialist point of view, breaking with the dominant sociological theory of economically disinterested relations in contemporary families. Through an original blend of ethnography and statistics, this book builds on the works of the economists, in the wake of Thomas Piketty, who observe a return to property inequality, based on the legacy of capitalism in the twenty-first century. It reconsiders the effectivity of legal changes that profess formal equality between men and women, while condoning inequality in practice. Drawing on research spanning twenty years, the authors analyze what they call family wealth arrangements. They break with the common understanding of the family as an emotional haven of peace in a brutal capitalist world. Spouses and partners, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers do not play the same part in family strategies of social reproduction, nor do they reap the same profits from them. The family is an economic institution that plays a central role in the production, circulation, control and evaluation of wealth. The meaning of this economic institution is revealed, in particular, in moments of marital breakdown and inheritance. From the single mothers of the French “Yellow Vest” movement to the divorce of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, from the legacy of family businesses to the estate of the Trump family, the mechanisms of control and distribution of capital vary according to social class, yet they always result in the dispossession of women. Capital is gendered. This book describes how class society is perpetuated through the masculine appropriation of capital.

About the speaker:

Céline Bessière is currently a Professor of sociology at Paris Dauphine University (PSL University) and a senior member at the Institut Universitaire de France. She studies the material, economic and legal dimensions of family, in particular through the analysis of inheritance and marital breakdown. Her new project is about gender and wealth accumulation in Europe. Her research is at the crossroads of several fields: economic sociology, sociology of law and justice, sociology of gender, class and family. In January-March 2024, Céline Bessière is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of French Studies at New York University.