Eurasian Family Systems

Eurasian family systems as ‘geo-cultures’, 1500-2000

(in collaboration with Georg Fertig, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany)

This interdisciplinary project is concerned with major variations in human domestic groups and individual living arrangements in historical Europe and Asia, addressing the questions of what these variations are, what causes them, and what difference they make. The project will rely on an unprecedented data infrastructure (for which external funding will be sought in due course) based on historical census microdata, expanding large existing western and east-central European datasets to include territories across continental Europe and Asia. Using the research methodologies of both the social sciences and the humanities, the project will make it possible to develop a fine-tuned, comparative perspective of familial co-residence patterns and their correlates over space and time across a wide range of societies between the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and of the varying roles historical patterns of domestic organization played in the development and persistence of demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural disparities within Eurasia.
The project will be organized into three successive modules. First, historical census and census-like microdata from various parts of Eurasia will be analyzed using a demographic life course perspective in an effort to disentangle the spatial and the temporal patterns of life course transitions, including home-leaving, marriage, household membership patterns, attainment of headship, and retirement. In pursuing contrasts and comparisons across different geographical and temporal frameworks of Eurasia, five broad topic complexes pertaining to crucial domains of family systems will be analyzed:
- leaving home and the age structuring of the transition to adulthood;
- marriage patterns, household formation, and postmarital residence;
- domestic group structure, the composition of a co-resident kin group, and age patterns of household co-residence and living arrangements;
- individual living arrangements, with special paid attention to the residential patterns of the aged; and - the household organization of labor and care.
The patterns to be uncovered in this step will be mapped in minute detail across the Eurasian landmass with the use of the Geographic Information System (GIS).
Second, these patterns will be contextualized, investigating how regional differences in family patterns emerged, and linking the census microdata to environmental, cultural-geographic, and political-economic information. The primary analytical task will be to explore how variations in other parts of the social and ecological systems affected different aspects of the regional family organization patterns across multiple settings, using the broad conceptual framework based on considerations stemming from anthropology, sociology, history, and demography, and from other disciplines, such as cultural ecology or even socio-biology. To accomplish this goal, ecological, socioeconomic, political, ethnographic, and other potentially relevant information will be utilized to establish relationships between the household and family phenomena revealed in earlier stages of the project, and their possible structural correlates across Eurasia.
In the third step, the socioeconomic consequences of the regional differentiation in family patterns will be studied, and attempt to link the perspectives of family history and development economics and comparative anthropology will be made. Using data on family systems together with existing cross-societal datasets in development economics, global-level hypotheses on how different family types contribute to inequalities between the societies of Eurasia in terms of their economic conditions and developmental capacities will be tested.

See also the current project of Mikołaj Szołtysek.

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