Gender and society

The Gender and society research group has a double ambition: to bring together the growing number of historians in France and elsewhere interested in the themes of gender and social identity, and to encourage a greater sensitivity to the gendered dimension of human activity and thought in the past within the broader research work of the LARHRA research centre.



The Gender and society research group starts from the premise that gender is “a useful category of historical analysis” (Scott, 1988), and more generally for multidisciplinary research. The work of this research group situates itself in the context of epistemological developments in the field since the birth of women’s history in the late 1960s, and focuses on the how sexual differentiation has been constructed historically. The concept of gender allows “the male” and “the female” with their corresponding attributes to be studied as shifting, historically-constructed entities, and for the relations between the sexes and the resulting hierarchies and power relations to be analysed in this light.


The Gender and society research group aims then to bring together researchers whose work focuses on the concept of gender, and to encourage a more systematic use of the concept within the broader work of the LARHRA research centre. As a “system of dual categorisation between the sexes (men and women) and between the values and representations associated with each” (Bereni, 2011), the concept of gender is anchored in the study of relations of power, which are in turn linked to unequal social relationships according to such criteria as age, social class and “race”. These multiple relationships of power, inequality and hierarchy are grouped together under the term “intersectionality”. This concept, a relatively recent arrival on the French academic scene, is at the heart of the group’s work.


The Gender and society research group brings together researchers working in the field of French social history, including its colonial and post-colonial dimensions. Among the areas of speciality of its members are the history of education and professional training; the history of work; the history of social movements; the history of citizenship and political and social activism. The objects of study include not only those territories colonised by France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also migrant populations. The group is particularly interested in the methodological challenges of using oral sources for gender history, starting from the premise that such sources are of vital importance for gaining access to the lived experience of women and men in the past.


The current work of the group seeks to extend the foregoing areas of interest to new themes and new geographical areas. The political dimension is at the heart of the group’s current work, which can be seen in the focus on public policy (in the fields of education and the family for example) and on social and welfare policy in the broadest sense (the gendered role of different actors and the objects and modalities of their actions; concerning both the actions of the State at different levels, and also the voluntary sector, churches and trade unions). The role of churches and religious belief is one of the key areas of research; a topic already studied previously by the group in a project entitled “Women, gender and Catholicism”. New work on Franco-era Spain and Canada by members of the group is adding an international dimension to this project. In addition, research is continuing on the early modern period, with a study of the role of women in networks of information and knowledge, popular and elite, formal and informal, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (in collaboration with LARHRA’s “Circulation and transmission of knowledge” and “Public Policy and urban life” research groups).


In the context of the research programme for the period 2016-2020, the work of the Gender and society research group will be structured around two major, interlocking themes:

  • “Education, professional training and work”
  • “Citizenship and activism”


Research projects


1. Education, professional training and work

This first project brings together researchers interested in the role of gender in public policy. Among the policy fields studied are those of educational institutions, juvenile offending, professional training, migration and welfare. The main geographical focus of attention is France, but the broader Mediterranean area is also relevant, particularly in the context of the importance of migratory flows between and within the countries of the region. Four sub-themes will be examined from this perspective:


  • The management of juvenile offending in the Mediterranean region in the twentieth century (a comparative study of the forms of social and intergenerational control over female and male youth, taking as its starting point the case of Franco-era Spain).
  • Professional training policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (the role of female educators in the creation and development of commercial education, 1850-1920; gender, public policy and professional training, 1919-1970).
  • Welfare policy (the application of public policy with regard to the disabled and the dependant, and the role of carers; occupational structure and organisational practice in the French welfare system since the 1970s).
  • Migration patterns and immigration policy since the nineteenth century (education of immigrant children; female migration patterns; gender, migration and the job market).


2. Citizenship and activism

This second project concerns those researchers interested in the role of women in politics in the broadest sense of the term (political parties, trade unions, voluntary organisations, etc.), and the study of the relationship between gender and political activism:


  • A connected history of citizenship. This involves taking into account the colonial and imperial context of the development of citizenship (the arrival of universal suffrage for French women in 1944; the history of the political mobilisation of women at different levels in the French colonies, and the links between the latter and French women and feminist organisations).
  • Women, gender and Catholic activism in Europe, North America and beyond in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Gender and political and trade union activism in the Lyon region in the late 1960s (the personal histories of women activists in the French Parti socialiste unifié (PSU)).