From Causes to Consequences: A Critical History of Divorce as a Study Object and the Main Orientations of French Research

By Anne Lambert, Harriet Coleman


The article presents a critical history of divorce as an object of sociological study and describes the main directions of current research in France on the subject. Sensitive to the political context in which it developed, the sociology of divorce was for many years influenced by ideological considerations, as evidenced by Durkheim’s opposition to the reintroduction of divorce by mutual consent. The sociological study of divorce came into its own with the reform of the Civil Code in the late 1960s; an interdisciplinary research team was formed under Jean Carbonnier to advance knowledge of divorce in France. At that stage, the main research focus was quantitative demography. In the 1980s, with divorce becoming commonplace in French society, along with consensual unions and separation without divorce, the sociology of the couple took a new theoretical, methodological and epistemological direction. Since then it has focused almost exclusively on life after divorce, leaving aside the question of the causes and processes of marital breakdown. A brief international comparison shows that the causal and statistical analysis of divorce is still very much on the agenda in other countries.

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