Office Number: 14N-321
Phone Number: (617) 715-5384

Bruno Perreau

Cynthia L. Reed Professor of French Studies

Bruno Perreau is the Cynthia L. Reed Professor of French Studies and Language. He specializes in critical theory, politics, and contemporary French literature and culture. His research focuses more specifically on gender in translation, queer theory in France and the US, kinship, adoption and bioethics, minority politics in a global context, narratives of class, race and sexuality, legal hermeneutics, and social theories of justice.

Perreau received his PhD in political science from the University of Paris 1, and taught for ten years at Sciences Po. He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the University of Cambridge (Jesus College), Stanford Humanities Center, UC Berkeley, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He received awards from the British Academy, the European Commission, the European University Institute, the French government (academic palms), and the American Council of Learned Societies. Since 2012, he has been affiliated with the Center for European Studies, Harvard.

Perreau is the author of eleven books and about thirty articles and book chapters. His most recent book (Sphères d’injustice. Pour un universalisme minoritaire, La Découverte, October 2023) proposes a new theory of justice based on a cross-cultural study of minority politics and anti-discrimination law in France and the US.

Perreau is the founding chair of the MIT Global France Seminar, and founder of the French+ Initiative @ MIT.


Subjects taught the current academic year:

21L.620[J] Introduction to French Literature (Spring 2024)

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.620[J] Introduction to French Literature (Spring 2023)

21L.621[J] French Feminist Literature: Yesterday and Today (Fall 2022)

Other subjects taught in Global Languages:
21G.068. The Invention of French Theory: A History of Transatlantic Intellectual Life since 1945
21G.321. Childhood and Youth in French and Francophone Cultures
21G.325. New Culture of Gender: Queer France
21G.342. French Pop Music
21G.346. Topics in Modern French Literature and Culture: North America through French Eyes
21G.347. Social and Literary Trends in Contemporary Short French Fiction
21G.353. Understanding Contemporary French Politics

Research Interests
I started my career in France investigating how juridical categories are instituted and why they do seem so obvious once they are. I showed that “nature” is one of the main registers undergirding the manufacture of law in France. Today “French culture” is conceived as if it were a “second nature.” This process is only possible because law functions as a textual totem, which connects “nature” and “second nature.” I demonstrate this in The Politics of Adoption, where I investigate judicial and administrative performativity and analyze adoption as a metaphor of belonging. I study international adoptions and the racialization of French nationality, the gendered discourse of candidates for adoption, and, more generally, how childhood is at the heart of contemporary governmentality.

My work has primarily been transatlantic in scope since I moved to the US. In 2010, I started to study the way theories of gender and sexuality circulate on both sides of the Atlantic. The bill legalizing gay marriage in France was a good example since its opponents denounced a conspiracy of American queer theory against the traditional French family. My book, Queer Theory: The French Response, shows how queer theory challenges the dominant relationship to the nation in France by arguing that group bonding entails disaffiliation as much as affiliation. I study activist groups, seminars, queer media and texts, and the politics of translation.

My new book, Spheres of Injustice. A Defense of Minority Universalism, explores how analogous thinking can form the basis of a new theory of justice. The murders of George Floyd in the US and Adama Traoré in France are the starting point for this work. Why did the French government claim that France, unlike the US, does not experience structural racism? To occupy a minority position is not to experience the same thing as other minorities, nor even to share the same thing (commonality is always illusory given class and other differences within the same group). It is a relationship of substitutability that is played out on the body. Every black person knows they could have been in Floyd’s and Traoré’s place. But, to whom does this kind of minority relationship extend? To all minorities? To anyone who might have had a minority experience without it being linked to structural discrimination and grounding an identity? In thinking about what connects minorities and minority experiences, Spheres of Injustice studies police violence against minorities, affirmative action programs, algorithmic governance, and anti-discrimination law in France and the US. It also offers a rereading of Michael Walzer’s classic book, Spheres of Justice. Responsibility to others and protecting the planet require a conception of justice based on the concrete experience of injustice: Spheres of Injustice defends a minority ethics of learning rather than a morality of interest (classical liberal theories), recognition (multiculturalist theories), or empathy (care theories).

I am also working on a new project that questions the meaning of “community” in contemporary France, a country that conceives of itself as the enemy of “communitarianism.” Several philosophers—notably Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy—have striven to rethink the notion of “common.” Drawing on Marguerite Duras’s novel The Malady of Death, they argue that a community always escapes attempts to grasp it since death is the only thing we truly have in common. I suggest that “community” is not a constantly receding horizon but a critical return to an experienced event. To do so, I offer new insights on writers—such as Annie Ernaux, Mathieu Riboulet, Rachid O., Nina Bouraoui, or Édouard Louis—who rethink, across cultural and social borders, what a community is.

– Sphères d’injustice. Pour un universalisme minoritaire, Paris, La Découverte, October 2023.
Qui a peur de la théorie queer?, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2018, 318 pp.
Queer Theory: The French Response, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2016, 288 pp.
The Politics of Adoption. Gender and the Making of French Citizenship, Cambridge, The MIT
Press, 2014, 208 pp.
Penser l’adoption. La gouvernance pastorale du genre, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France,
2012, 218 pp.
Le Président des États-Unis, co-authored with Christine Ockrent, Paris, Dalloz, 2018, 206 pp.
Cinquante ans de vie politique française. Le débat sur la fin de la V e République, Paris, Librio,
2007, 96 pp.
Homosexualité: dix clés pour comprendre, vingt textes à découvrir, Paris, Librio, 2006, 96 pp.

Edited Books
– Oxford Encyclopedia of LGBT Politics and Policy, editor in Chief Donald P. Haidel-Marker, associate editor with Carlos Ball, Gary Mucciaroni, Craig A. Rimmerman, and Jami K. Taylor, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2 volumes, 2021, 1408pp.
Les Défis de la République: Genre, territoires, citoyenneté, co-edited with Joan W. Scott, Paris,
Presses de Sciences Po, 2017, 217 pp.
Le Choix de l’homosexualité. Recherches inédites sur la question gay et lesbienne, Paris, Éditions
de l’École Lacanienne, 2007, 277 pp.
Homoparentalités: approches scientifiques et politiques, co-edited with Anne Cadoret, Martine
Gross and Caroline Mécary, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2006, 444 pp.

Selection of journal articles and book chapters
– “Reflections on a New Ethnonational Counterrevolution,” in Joshua Branciforte, and Ramsey McGlazer (eds.), On the Subject of Ethnonationalism, New York, Fordham University Press, 2023, pp. 263-296.
– “L’écriture sans exclusive,” Raison présente, 221, 2022, pp. 63-74.
– “Les analogies du genre : différance, intrasectionnalité et droit,” in Charles Bosvieux-Onyekwelu,
and Véronique Mottier (eds.), Genre, droit et politique, Paris: LGDJ, 2022, pp. 191-214.
– “Old Thinking about New Families. Reproductive and Sexual Politics in a Technological Age,” in
Alistair Cole and Helen Drake (eds.), Developments in French Politics, London, Palgrave,
McMillan, 2021, 111-126.
– “Politique de la frustration,” Analyse Opinion Critique, April 16, 2018.
– “The Power of Theory. Same-Sex Marriage, Education, and Gender Panic in France,” in Carlos A.
Ball (ed.), After Same-Sex Marriage: What is Next for LGBT Rights?, New York, NYU Press, 2016,
– “The Queer Mind Through the Transatlantic Looking-Glass,” Contemporary French and
Francophone Studies, 18 (1), 2014, 75-85.
– “La inversión de lo universal. Una epistemología de los estudios gays y lésbicos en Francia,”
deSignis: Publicación de la Federación Latinoamericana de Semiótica, 19, 2013, 15-24.
– “L’ombre de la loi. Blanchot, Duras, Foucault,” Multitudes, 44, 2011, 95-98.
– “Rachid O.’s Inner Exile. Homosexuality and Postcolonial Textuality,” in Edith B. Vandervoort (ed.),
Masculinities in Twentieth- and Twenty-first Century French and Francophone Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, 155-172.
– “Le Je/Nous hétérosexué de Simone de Beauvoir,” Travail, Genre et Sociétés, 2008,166-172.
– “Charles Fourier ou l’analyse sérielle du genre,” Marché du Travail et Genre, 2006, 31-38.
– “L’invention républicaine. Éléments d’une herméneutique minoritaire,” Pouvoirs 111, 2004, 41-53.
– “L’égalité inavouable. Homosexualité et adoption en France. Une politique jurisprudentielle,”
Nouvelles Questions Féministes, 22 (3), 2003, 32-46.

2019 Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Faculty, American Council of Learned Societies (fellowship held at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University)

2016 Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight in the Order of Academic Palms by decree of the French Prime Minister, July 12, 2016).

2014 External Fellowship, Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University

2011 Newton International Fellowship, British Academy / Royal Society (fellowship held at the University of Cambridge)

2007 Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

October 2023, “Spheres of Injustice. Minority Experiences and Complex Equality,” 40th anniversary of Spheres of Justice, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ.

April 2023, “ ‘On se lève et on se barre?’ The Desire for Desertion, from Genet to Despentes,” 20th and 21st-Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, Tucson, AZ.

February 2023, “Penser l’injustice avec Michael Walzer,” Conference “Walzer, notre contemporain. 40 ans de Sphères de justice,” Paris X Nanterre University, Nanterre, France.

October 2021 “Beyond Intersectionality: Sexual Politics in Contemporary France,” talk delivered to the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Cincinnati

June 2021 “L’ombre de la famille: sur les architectures d’Isabelle Boccon-Gibod,” talk delivered to the Salon H, Paris, France.

March 2021 “Minority Democracy: A View from France,” talk delivered to the French Department, University of Texas at Austin

March 2021 “La société intersectionnelle: défis sociaux et juridiques,” presentation delivered to the Gender Research seminar, Doctoral Program, Sciences Po Paris, France.

November 2020 “Minorités et contre-minorités,” talk delivered to the online seminar “Inégalités sociales et rapports sociaux de genre”, École Centrale-Supelec, Paris, France

October 2020 “Theorizing Injustices,” talk delivered to the online seminar “The Politics of Values”, Sciences Po Paris, France

October 2020 “Temporalités minoritaires” with Natacha Chetcuti-Osorovitz, webinar “Penser l’Après”, Sciences Po Paris, France

September 2020 “Intersectionality Challenged”, talk delivered to the online seminar “Is Gender Equality Possible?”, Sciences Po Paris, France

March 2020 “Minority Democracy,” talk delivered to the weekly research seminar, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

June 2019 “Du mariage à la PMA : repenser le débat,” talk delivered to the PRESAGE Program, Sciences Po Paris, France