1This book brings together several of the papers presented at a 2014 conference marking the fortieth anniversary of France’s Institut des Sciences de la Famille (ISF), an organization to which both editors belong. A great number of specialists of the family, representing several nationalities and a wide variety of disciplines, including historians, legal specialists, psychologists, theologians, philosophers, sociologists and ethnologists, took part in the conference, exchanging their findings before a wide audience and in the open-minded spirit characteristic of the ISF. However, the work’s pronounced multi-disciplinarity, the extremely wide range of viewpoints, ultimately constitutes a weakness, as it is not conducive to a clear discussion. While the aim is to understand how family ties have changed over time, the reader quickly discovers that the notion of time has quite different meanings for the different authors, making the whole quite heterogeneous.
2The first section presents the Institute and its activities, rooted in the socialistic Catholicism of its founder, the jurist Emma Gounod, one of whose texts is included here. Valérie Aubourg sets out to retrace the institutional history of the ISF, its training and research missions, and the specific groups it addresses. The historian Paul Servais traces the history of changes in the family, ties between the Catholic Church and the institution of the family in France, and between the university and the Church – a history to which the ISF is heir.
3Contributors to the second part reflect on time and the changes that have impacted families. In his theoretical text, Georges Eid analyses new types of attitudes to the past and tries to relate them to changes in the family. Adopting a post-modern perspective, he relates the emergence of “pointilliste” time, in which individual practices are focused on and guided by the present, to “protean” family forms marked by separation, blending and fragmented event histories. Eid names this attitude to time, where individuals work to protect themselves against an uncertain future – especially in connection with romantic encounters – “preventive time”. Pascale Boucaud examines the implementation of international legislation guaranteeing individuals the right to marry and found a family, a right first put forward in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Her primary focus is legal regulation of forced marriages and legal equality and responsibility in families.
4The third part analyses “families in the time of democracy” – here, time means period or era. In his compact text, Jean-Hugues Déchaux describes how the spirit of democracy (founded on equality and contracts) modified representations of and beliefs about parenthood, and how a kind of secularization of parenthood facilitated the development of family structure pluralism. In a framework where family obligations are seen as contractual, individuals become the “instituting power of the parenthood tie” in collective representations. Surrogacy, for example, and medically assisted reproduction intensify the voluntary, elective, contractual dimension of the tie between parents. This section includes two other texts on the family and time.
5The fourth part discusses “temporality and family-related uncertainties”. The psychologist Kamel Arar examines how the accelerated time of contemporary society has changed the “fabrication of humankind” and affected groups like the family whose purpose is to produce “the human”. The psychologist Jacques Arène probes the time dimension of the family in connection with the question of continuity in family lines, which he considers one of the family’s essential functions. He observes that the rise of narcissism has somewhat eroded that continuity.
6The last part focuses on families in the current period of “virtual” activities. Gérard Neyrand reflects on the influence of social media in meeting potential life partners. Social media modify the space and time of classic encounters, which are now marked by uncertainty and greater male-female symmetry. Last, the historian Olivier Servais reflects on how video games have redefined family time. After a period in which video game-playing separated the generations, a new generation of parents now seems to be reducing that fracture, sharing time playing video games with their children.
7The thinking put forward in this book on relations between time and the family thus seems rather fragmented. Above and beyond the problem of multiple disciplinary perspectives, the notion of time here is much too general and vague: we move from shared time to the time of filiation, from “the spirit of the time” – i.e., of a particular period – to a more or less uncertain future. Moreover, it is regrettable that so many chapters are based on secondary source material – while some cite no empirical documentation at all – leaving the impression of a heterogeneous assembly of abstract, essayist writings.