Bruno Perreau

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 ten books and about thirty articles and book chapters. He is currently completing a new book manuscript: Spheres of Injustice. A Defense of Minority Democracy.

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

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.

I am currently working on a new book that offers a theoretical alternative to multiculturalism. I show that minorities, which experience both exclusion and conditional assimilation (“passing”), question the idea of voice on which modern representative systems are built. Instead, minorities promote what Derrida called “the present of presence.” To excavate this form of being, I analyze police violence against black people, affirmative action programs, and the relations between decolonial and LGBT groups, both in France and the US. I advocate for a new democratic model that would not replace majority rule by minority rule, but rather would recognize –in the wake of Condorcet– the minority presence existing in all of us.

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.

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 Ve République, Paris, Librio, 2007, 96 pp.
Homosexualité: dix clés pour comprendre, vingt textes à découvrir, Paris, Librio, 2006, 96 pp.

Edited Books
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
• “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, 2020, 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, 306-340.
• “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.

Subjects taught the current academic year

  • 21G.325 New Culture of Gender: Queer France (Fall 2021)
  • 21G.347 Social and Literary Trends in Contemporary Short French Fiction (Fall 2021)
  • 21G.353 Understanding Contemporary French Politics (Spring 2022)

Subjects taught in recent years

  • 21G.344 French Feminist Literature, Yesterday and Today
  • 21G.068 The Invention of French Theory: A History of Transatlantic Intellectual Life since 1945
  • 21G.342 French Pop Music
  • 21G.321 Childhood and Youth in French and Francophone Cultures
  • 21G.312 Basic Themes in French Literature and Culture: North America through French Eyes
  • 21G.346 Topics in Modern French Literature: Freedom of Expression in Contemporary Europe