David Bell, adviser
Judith Surkis, Rutgers University
230 Dickinson and Zoom
The dissertation explores the fraught debates about inheritance that took place in France from the abolition of primogeniture in 1789 through the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. It demonstrates how the dynamics of the Revolution and its aftermath transformed inheritance into the social-scientific category that could be studied and manipulated based on the needs of the state. The dissertation shows that for revolutionaries, the issue of inheritance was central to questions about how society should be ordered, how property should be regulated, and how families should live and prosper. Consequently, each revolutionary period offered different conclusions about the ideal relationship between the state, society, and the family, which in turn influenced the normative inheritance practices legislators wished to implement.
Recently, economists have reoriented attention to the significant role of inherited wealth in the formation of modern social inequalities. My dissertation adds a new dimension to this discussion by reconstructing the legal infrastructure, scientific methodologies, and epistemological premises that underpin today's disputes. At the center of the dissertation stands the triangular relationship between the legal sphere, the social sciences, and ordinary families. First, the dissertation traces the interdependency that was formed between the legal sphere and the new class of social scientists. Subsequently, it explores petitions made by ordinary people to the state legislature in response to the laws. The dialogue between ordinary families and administrators became a principal means for data collection by legislators.
The central role ascribed to inheritance in post-revolutionary France drove the government to develop more ways to monitor familial capital. The data about inheritance amassed by the state, however, did not lead Napoleon to support more egalitarian forms of wealth redistribution in the form of inheritance tax. On the contrary, expert-backed state policies after 1800 primarily benefited wealthy families by allowing elite families to accumulate unequal sums of wealth. This decision ultimately helped redistribute wealth among affluent families, while increasingly separating them from the rest of the population.
A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Questions? Please contact Lee Horinko.
All are welcome and encouraged to attend.