Interdisciplinary research seminar

Interdisciplinary Research Seminar (EHESS, Paris)

Conceal, confide, reveal

The secret, from private to public

The link to connect to each videoconference session is placed in the calendar of the corresponding session 3 days before the scheduled date

The seminar will be held on Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Location: EHESS, 105 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, 75006

Room: 8

Victims’ testimonies, anthropological and historical work, reports from judicial and child welfare professionals all testify to it: stories of incest, understood as sexual relations engaged with a child within the family, are stories of secrecy. Hidden, more or less deliberately or consciously guarded, the secret is difficult, if not impossible, to reveal or discover. Linked to taboo, the secret of incest results from the “injunction to silence, the true golden rule of the incestuous family” (D. Dussy and L. Le Caisne), sealing the dominating relationship between the victim and their aggressor, confirming the prohibition of incest while allowing the transgression. To effectively understand how incestuous violence—although publicly denounced as an absolute evil—remains in the fabric of everyday life and has difficulty gaining visibility and being brought to justice, requires taking into account the prevailing secrecy, its role and function in families affected by incest, even in their entourage, and, more widely, in society.

How is the incestuous relationship constituted in secret and how is the secret enforced and transmitted? How does it “seep” (S. Tisseron), through doubts, suspicion, gossip, or public rumor? The notion of secrecy makes it possible to think of the trap of incest for the victims, but also questions the ordinariness of sexual violence suffered by children when it is suspected, known, but kept quiet, even tolerated. When, by whom, to whom, how, under what conditions and with what consequences is the secret revealed. How can what is separate, isolated, and withdrawn (secretus), be brought to the field of enunciation, of denunciation, memory, and institutional responsibility?

In order to illuminate incest, to better understand what impedes or allows us to tell, to hear and to report it today, the seminars, led by anthropologists and historians from the ANR DERVI project (“Telling, Hearing, and Reporting Incestuous”), invite reflection on the theme of secrecy from a variety of perspectives. Secrecy has, in effect, multiple domains of application (myth, law, politics, psychology, etc.) and offers each an extensive range of possibilities, some of which are evident: state secrecy, medial secrecy, professional secrecy, investigative secrecy, corporate secrecy, banking secrecy, secrecy of origins, secrecy of childbirth, etc. However, current requirements of transparency, as well as the growing idea of the “right to truth,” tend to devalue social practices related to secrecy. The secret separates and distinguishes; it is shared by a group of “insiders” and is considered inegalitarian. Not only does the institution of secrecy refer to a selective principle of inclusion and exclusion, but it is also part of the structuring of links (familial, professional, political, and so on) threatened by its revelation. In this sense, secrecy may also be considered as constituting certain forms of social and state organization (G. Simmel). By inviting researchers, practitioners, and authors to present their professional experience, the seminars intend to explore a multiplicity of terrains in which the question of secrecy is posed, as well as diverse modalities of the secret’s revealing by individuals (“victims,” social workers, psychologies, investigators, lawyers, authors, journalists, etc.) or institutions (states, religions, administrations, etc.) in the public domain.

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Program (2020–2021)

Session 1. Thursday, January 6, 2021: Family secret(s), traces and transmission

Charlie DUPERRON (sociologist, CEMS, EHESS): “‘What is worth saying.’ Reflections on the place of secrets in searching for persons designated as missing”

Muriel KATZ (psycho-clinician, Université de Lausanne: “A well-kept secret often hides another: Testifying after a genocide to give voice to the absent as well as to their own history”

Session 2. Thursday, April 8, 2021: Origin(s) of secret(s): adoption

Marie-Christine LE BOURSICOT (magistrate, Honorary adviser to the Court of Cassation, former general secretary of CNAOP-National Council for Access to Personal Origins): “Adoptees’ access to their personal origins”

Yves DENÉCHÈRE (historian, TEMOS-CNRS FRE 2015, Université d’Angers): “Secret(s) of adoption: A contemporary historical approach”

Session 3. Thursday, May 6, 2021: Secret(s) of the confessional and the Church

Paola DIAZ (sociologist, ICSO-UDP-COES/CEMS, EHESS): “Ecclesiastical abuse: From global silence to a transnational public problem (Chile /United States)”

Anne-Françoise PRAZ (historian, Université de Fribourg): “The walls of silence: Concealment and revelation of sexual abuse on children in a Catholic school in Switzerland”

Session 4. Thursday, May 20, 2021: Secret(s) and social work

Sylvaine CAMELIN (anthropologist, Université de Paris-Nanterre, LESC): “Between secrecy and caution: Managing the personal information of children in the care of ASE”

Véronique BLANCHARD (ENPJJ): “Secrecy or not listening? Justice for children experiencing sexual violence against minors (1950–1960)”

Session 5. Thursday, June 3, 2021: Secret(s) and crimes against humanity

To attend this video session : click HERE

Marie-Jeanne SARDACHTI (trial lawyer, International Criminal Court, The Hague): “Revealing sexual crimes: The case of Timbuktu in 2012” (subject to change)

Elisabeth CLAVERIE (anthropologist, ISP Nanterre): « Around war crimes: the cases of the former Yugoslavia and the Congo »

Session 6. Thursday, June 24, 2021: State, right(s) to secrets, identities

Sévane GARIBIAN (lawyer, Swiss National Science Foundation, University of Geneva): “(Dis)affiliated: Disappearances and forced reappearances of the truth in Argentina”

Dominique MEHL (sociologist, CEMS, EHESS-CNRS): “Donor children: Secrecy and anonymity”

Archives from 2019-2020 seminar (link to audio) :

Session. Thursday November 28, 2019: Secret(s) and fiction

Christopher LUCKEN (medieval literature, Université Paris 8): “Story and silence: Philomela (Ovid) and Seven Wise Masters (12th century)”

Chistopher Lucken_mp3

Julie WOLKENSTEIN (comparative literature, Université de Caen): “How fiction deals with incestuous rape, and vice versa: Two cases—Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934) and Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski (1974)”

Julie Wolkenstein_mp3