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  • Pas d'enfant. La volonté de ne pas engendrer [No children: the will not to procreate] by Anne Gotman
  • Laurent Toulemon
Gotman Anne, 2017, Pas d'enfant. La volonté de ne pas engendrer [No children: the will not to procreate], Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 246 p.

Drawing on interviews she conducted with other sociologists (Pascale Donati and Charlotte Debest in France) and a considerable body of literature, Anne Gotman analyses the discourses of people who "desire not to procreate". The presentation of the sociological context provides the backdrop for an analysis that takes into account two conflicting perspectives: political discourse, arguments and justifications of individuals without children; and the psychoanalytic approach, which holds that childlessness necessarily implies a lack or renunciation. The work is devoted primarily to analysing personal discourses, a process that reveals a broad diversity of situations, histories and attitudes toward childlessness.

Gotman recalls that after hitting historically low levels among men and women born in the 1940s in most developed countries (the childlessness figures for France were 10% of men and 12% of women), childlessness, chosen and not chosen, is now rising again, moderately in France and more sharply in Northern countries and Western Europe. Childless people are an extremely heterogeneous group. Numerous typologies have been put forward in France, ranging from hostile (in 1936 Paul Popenoe found childless people to be self-centred couples, two-income couples, and neurotic individuals) to strongly empathetic (in 1975 Jean Veevers distinguished two groups: the proactives, and people who ultimately give up on having children). Gotman adopts the second distinction between people who decide early in life that they do not want to have children and people who postpone becoming parents because the right conditions are not in place and then realize it is too late. In the current context, being deliberately childless has assumed a new dimension. Thanks to birth control, young people bent on attaining set educational and occupational outcomes are less likely to have children, and the question of whether or not to do so is asked later in life. This results in the postponement of first births and higher male and female infertility, modulated nonetheless by social policy, economic conditions and how individuals go about reconciling family and work life.

The question of childlessness concerns women first and foremost, especially in the current context. Medical contraception methods and access to abortion have enabled women to choose childlessness, while the task of reconciling occupational life and raising children still rests primarily on their shoulders. The stakes are lower for men, and it is not really up to them to decide. The normative pressures that women experience are therefore quite different from those affecting men.

Having established this general overview of the situation, Gotman proceeds to distinguish between two types of positive discourse. The first emphasizes respect for individual choices; in this case the choice of personal freedom, the decision to escape work-related discrimination, which often targets women as potential child-bearers, etc. The second type of argument is environmentalist [End Page 153] and cites the excessive growth of the world's population and the planet's limited resources as reasons for behaving in a way that runs counter to the prevailing pro-birth attitude in France. The accusation of selfishness or self-centredness can therefore be turned around: whereas being childless is a way of caring about the future of the planet, parents are blinded by the importance they attach to their children–and having them. Gotman does not take either of these types of arguments–which are in fact inconsistent with each other–very seriously. The first, she explains, reveals the (condemnable) liberal values behind individualist positions while the second is fuelled by "dirigiste", "soft eugenics" impulses with no scientific basis, despite the fact that it is important that the population stop growing. These discourses, she explains, are first and foremost rationalizations of resistance and of a demand for freedom to behave in a way that is still perceived in France as outside the norm, particularly for women.

According to the psychoanalytic perspective, meanwhile, which can readily prove normative and conservative, not having children is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1958-9190
Print ISSN
1634-2941
Pages
pp. 153-156
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-28
Open Access
No
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