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Incest, the Child, and the Despotic Father

Author(s): Borneman, John

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Abstract: Based on ethnographic research in Berlin, this paper examines two paradigmatic cases in which real incest is brought into the penumbra of law and subsumed into an imaginary complex superimposed on sexual abuse. It uses them to theorize at a higher level of abstraction about the deployment of myth by the unconscious, the relation between taboo and law, male and female attachments to the child, gender conflict, and changes in the position of the father in the symbolic order of the West. One case focuses on how a child victim translates what had happened into the therapeutic and legal languages of sexual abuse, the other on the father's evolving apprehension of his deed in the course of therapy. I argue that (1) the incest taboo increasingly regulates lineal rather than lateral relations between kin; (2) the imaginary complex construes male sexuality as a security threat to children, resulting in a negative identification with and of male difference, with serious consequences for the family, the heterosexual couple, and the mother-child bond; and (3) the erosion of the incest taboo, and of the authority of the father who was its guarantor, opens up alternative modalities to regulate relations between generations and genders. © 2012 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Publication Date: 1-Apr-2012
Citation: Borneman, J. (2012). Incest, the Child, and the despotic Father. Current Anthropology, 53 (2), 181 - 203. doi:10.1086/664629
DOI: doi:10.1086/664629
ISSN: 0011-3204
Pages: 181 - 203
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Current Anthropology
Version: Final published version. Article is made available in OAR by the publisher's permission or policy.

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