Beginning in the late 19th century, men and women suffering from mental disorders were sent to foster homes in two villages in the Cher and Allier départements, on the initiative of the préfecture of the Seine and as part of a wider reflection on therapeutic alternatives to asylums. This paper relies on the archives of this psychiatric system called colonies familiales d’aliénés and seeks to understand how this unusual hospital system occasioned a unique family setting where very specific links were built. Doctors’ writings, patient records, foster care registers and placement inspection reports shed light on an unprecedented type of family cohabitation and document a family model based on relationships forged on a daily basis between the families and their patients. By mobilising Florence Weber’s work distinguishing everyday and biological kinships, we show that the constant renegotiation of family ties in the colonies ensured the permanence of this institutional arrangement.
Alternative forms of kinshipBy Marie Derrien, Mathilde Rossigneux-Méheust