David W. Sabean
ifk Research Fellow

Duration of fellowship
01. April 2010 bis 31. May 2010

Thoughts on Incest: Shifting Discourses since the Renaissance


Incest discourse is closely related to changes in kinship and the "ecology" of familial alliance and to the historical development of the self: issues of identity, subjectivity, personhood, gender, and body and same and difference and self and other represented directly or indirectly by boundaries constructed through sexual prohibitions, on the one hand, and "shared biogenetic substance", on the other. The approach to kinship and incest through such issues as gender, the body, and personhood connects David Sabean's work to the most recent discussions of kinship in such anthropologists as Janet Carsten and Marilyn Strathern. All the way through the discourses from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century runs a concern with "shared biogenetic substance", which links Baroque representations of blood with modern scientific and cultural concerns with genes. In what ways are our current concerns with genetic heritability influenced by deep-seated Western concerns with blood? In many ways, a concern with how incest has been constructed over time offers a prism through which a large set of issues can be refracted.


David Warren Sabean is Henry J. Bruman Professor of German History at the University of California at Los Angeles. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he studied under George Mosse, Sabean has taught at the University of East Anglia, University of Pittsburgh, and Cornell University. He has been a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen, the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the American Academy in Berlin, and the National Humanities Center, and he is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


(among others): Co-editor with Simon Teuscher and Jon Mathieu, Kinship in Europe: Approaches to Long-Term Development (1300-1900), New York, Oxford 2007; Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, Cambridge 1998; Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, Cambridge 1990; Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany, Cambridge 1984.