EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Family and kinship in contemporary Southern Europe: transformations, convergences and variations in a macro-regional perspective
Location U6-29
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Javier Gonzalez Diez (University of Turin) email
  • Pier Paolo Viazzo (Università di Torino) email
  • Francesca Nicola (Università Milano Bicocca) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Pier Paolo Viazzo, Francesca Nicola
Discussant Javier Gonzalez Diez, Rossana Di Silvio

Short Abstract

The panel will focus on new forms of families and kinship (adoptions, fictive kinship, new forms of relatedness, new parenting styles) in Southern Europe, while also exploring cultural convergences and divergences with respect to both northern Europe and the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Long Abstract

The panel will investigate new forms of family and kinship (adoptions, fictive kinship, new forms of relatedness, new parenting styles) in Southern Europe. While focused on Mediterranean Europe, discussion will keep a comparative eye on neighbouring macro-regions: Northern Europe and the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Southern Europe lays in the middle not only from a geographical point of view, as it displays a number of cultural features which may alternately converge and diverge with respect to Northern Europe and Southern Mediterranean societies. In the realm of kinship, Southern Europe is now sharing with the countries to the North some significant socio-demographic trends (e.g. the loss of centrality of marriage and the increase of cohabitation). At the same time some persistent features of Mediterranean Europe (e.g. strong kinship ties) point to long-lasting commonalities with the societies on the southern shore, which are themselves undergoing socio-demographic changes that are exerting a major impact on kinship and family relations and deserve attention by anthropologists. One such change is population ageing, which is posing unprecedented problems to societies that are simultaneously experiencing a decline in fertility and the "nuclearization" of households. Another change is a tendency towards delayed marriages (hence the spreading of so-called "waithood"), and the increasing number of people who do not marry at all.

We ask participants to reflect on both continuities and changes in kinship in Southern Europe as well as on the usefulness and/or the drawbacks of macro-regional comparisons.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Blood ties and strong ties: a two-way linkage

Authors: Giuseppe A. Micheli (Univ. MIlano-Bicocca)  email
Patrizia Farina (University of Milan Bicocca)  email
Livia Elisa Ortensi (University of Milan Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

The pay-care market, relying on a strong asymmetry of bargaining power, can be the entry port of a not commodified relation. Arguing on this shift to equal partnership, we explore the role of catalyst of “intense” relations played by family oriented cultures, bringing East & South Europe closer.

Long Abstract

As a rule, the Southern European families managed all critical issues placing them, temporarily or permanently, on the shoulders of some relatives. These spillover processes tend to hinge upon the adult daughters, who carry the burden of their elders, and challenged to reconcile the care with their paid job usually relying on a pay-care market. Since this pay-care market relies on a strong asymmetry of bargaining power to the detriment of care-workers, few studies consider that the contract can also be the entry port of a paid relationship not to be treated as a mere commodity. The distance between employers and care-workers can be overwhelmed by a sort of 'chemical' catalyst, turning market relationships into inclusive partnerships. Aiming to argue on the shift from relations driven by market rules to ties based on inclusion and equal partnership, the a. explore the existence, the relevance and the nature of "catalysts" of high-intensity affective relations. Two specific issues emerge. The first concerns the nature of relationship established in crucial situations where life or death, or identity or the human body are at stake. The other issue regards the peculiarities of the Southern European family models characterized by warm family ties and a patient maternal love of children. The a. explore common cultural patterns in different quadrants of Europe, and hypothesize the existence of variants of "family oriented cultures" that move closer East and South Europe and give reason to the specialization of East European migrants in care-work sector instead of homework.

Centripetal families, centrifugal kinships: young adults’ perceptions of “strong ties” in Central Italy

Author: Daniela Salvucci (Free University of Bolzano-Bozen)  email

Short Abstract

How do young adult Italians perceive their family and kinship ties? How “strong” do they consider and practice such relations? Based on ethnographic data, the paper focuses on the concepts of kinship and family and their logics.

Long Abstract

Scholars involved in historical demography, demography, sociology and anthropology of kinship and family state, on the one hand, “strong ties” still exist in Central Italy as a cultural heritage from the traditional peasant joint family structure. On the other one, they remark, strong solidarity between relatives, above all between parents and adult children, depends on the weakness of the Italian welfare state: family and kinship would provide such a material support that public system does not, for instance taking care of babies and aged, making available a house to dwell, providing economic and social resources etc.

Based on ethnographic qualitative data, collected in southern Tuscany, as interviews to young adults and graphical reconstructions of their kinship networks and household structures, this proposal aims to investigate the young adults’ perceptions and concepts of “family” and “kinship” in order to discuss “strong ties” further. Many of the young adult interviewees are not “interested in kinship”, they are not aware of their wide kinship network and do not have relations with relatives beyond their family. While “kinship” is widespread and unknown, according to a centrifugal logic, “family” is a centripetal concept. It entails an intimate sphere of love and solidarity, based on living together and growing up together, which could include the partner, some of the closer relatives and friends.

Is the family system in Romania similar to those of southern European countries?

Authors: Maria Castiglioni (University of Padova)  email
Cristina Faludi (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

We explore whether Romania, in Eastern Europe, can be characterised as having a strong family system. We observe a number of similarities between Romania and Southern Europe in terms of behaviours associated with “strong family ties”, opinions on family care and mutual intergenerational support.

Long Abstract

In his influential 1998 study, David S. Reher discusses historical differences between countries with strong and weak family ties. He focuses on the "Western World", comparing Italy and the Iberian Peninsula with Scandinavia, the British Isles, the Low Countries, Germany and Austria, together with North America. In this paper, we explore whether Romania, in Eastern Europe, can be characterised as having a strong family system, given the increasingly important role family has played for individual well-being following the end of the socialist regime. More specifically, we compare Romania with Southern Europe as well as with other eastern and western European countries, highlighting similarities and differences. We observe a number of similarities between Romania and Southern European countries in terms of behaviours associated with "strong family ties" - such as marriage, cohabitation, departure from the parental home, living arrangements of the young and elderly, opinions on family care and mutual intergenerational support. Differences can be explained in light of Romania's economic and housing crisis. Overall, it is likely that the importance of family ties in Romania increased after the end of the socialist regime.

Home, the best place to die: family strong ties and end-of-life care

Author: Alessandro Gusman (University of Turin)  email

Short Abstract

Most people in Italy die in a hospital, and yet “home” is the first choice for the dying. The paper addresses the question: why is home the best place to die? and explores home as the space of intimate relations and of familiar obligations, and tensions concerning end-of-life decisions.

Long Abstract

Despite statistical evidence that most of the people (around 65%) in Italy die in a hospital or in another medical setting – a common trend for the European countries – several studies show that “dying at home” still figures as the first choice for terminally ill patients. Why is home the best place to die, although being cared for in the domestic setting has become increasingly difficult following the social transformations of the last decades?

Based on a two years research on terminal illness and palliative care in Piedmont (Northwest Italy), the paper starts from the above question and explores the moral dimensions of “home” as the space of intimate relations and of familiar obligations. The house is the space where the person realised autonomy towards society, developing at the same time reciprocity towards other members of the family. This in part explains why informal caregivers often feel guilty when they decide to move the dying person to the hospital or to the hospice.

In the second half, the paper focuses on family tensions concerning end-of-life decisions, on the contrasts between the will of the patient and the ability/possibility of the family to take care of him/her and on the restructuring of familiar networks in these situations. These topics will be explored in relation to the specific context of the Italian familiar system, characterized by the presence of strong ties and of a relevant role of kins in the caregiving of terminally ill people.

Waiting for a law: narratives of negotiation and dissent in contemporary Italy

Authors: Marina Franchi (London School of Economics)  email
Giulia Selmi (University of Verona)  email

Short Abstract

A heated debate on the legal recognition of same-sex couples is occupying once again the Italian public sphere. Drawing on interviews to Italian LGB the paper investigates how individuals frame the impact of the law (or lack thereof) on their organisation of intimacy and kinship.

Long Abstract

In the context of Southern Europe Italy represents a peculiar situation in relation to the legal recognition of non-heterosexual relational claims (Santos 2013). Since 2015 a heated political debate is occupying once again the public sphere, at the dawn of a parliamentary vote of a bill on the recognition of relationships outside the heterosexual marriage. Public and political discourses are occupied by a notion of the natural family fostered by Catholic ideology and defended by political parties across the spectrum. At the same time, Italy is also characterised by profound changes of public attitudes with regard to same-sex couples and homoparentality. Mainstream LGBT groups have campaigned since the early 2000s for the recognition of de facto unions while queer and radical groups began to question the centrality of marriage in the claims for recognitions. The aim of this paper is to investigate how LGBT and queer individuals frame the impact of the law (or lack thereof) on their organisation of intimacy, kinship, as well as the ways in which they navigate the constraints of the law in their daily life experiences. In particular, first it explores how different political affiliations (i.e. belonging to mainstream LGBT movement vs. radical queer groups), age, and parenthood intersect and impact on individual narratives of kinship formation, and affect intimate practices. Second, it questions how these narratives negotiate the public debate on sexual citizenship. It draws on 30 in-depth interviews carried out with 30 gay, lesbian, and queer in 5 urban centers in Italy

Until court do us part: co-parenting and heteronormative filiation after divorce

Author: Paloma Fernandez-Rasines (Public University of Navarre)  email

Short Abstract

Ensuring shared parenting after a family break up seems to be the regular trend in court decisions nowadays. This contribution problematizes the most recent politics on co-parenting after divorce by asking how far it truly responds to a social demand for gender equality between mother and father.

Long Abstract

How legislation reforms are getting along with specific practices in the social realm after divorce? To what extent changes on joint legal responsibility, physical custody, and shared residence are affecting parental patterns?

This paper focuses on the regulatory development of joint physical custody and shared parenting after divorce to see how co-parenting practices may be leading to changes toward gender equality within bi-parental heteronormative family formations.

Beginning with a theoretical framework from anthropology of kinship and relatedness, feminist approaches allow us to analyze gender roles prevalence in family studies when handling contents like motherhood, fatherhood and marriage. A second part introduces the potentiality of law onto the discursive distinction between kinship, as legal realm, and parenting, as the praxis monitoring social practice. Third section focuses on joint physical custody and shared residence after divorce in the Spanish context, taking as reference previous experience in neighboring countries and including results from fieldwork done in Navarra, a Northern region in Spain.

It remains unclear whether the legal concept of joint custody responds to a major demand by a restrained new parenthood. Nor is it plausible to think that alone will serve as a template for new children-parent living arrangements that result more egalitarian in terms of gender. Whether the horizon is equal parental sharing among mother and father, more effective mechanisms should be implemented in order to foster equal participation of men and women in the labor market as well as in the unpaid work for care and childbearing.

Religion for kinning among LGBT families in Spain

Authors: J. Ignacio Pichardo (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)  email
Matías de Stéfano Barbero (Universidad de Buenos Aires)  email

Short Abstract

In Spain, as in other countries of Southern Europe, most family rituals are connected to religion and, thus, under the control of the Catholic Church. Due to the lack of recognition performed by the Catholic hierarchy, LGBT families have to face on one side this rejection and on the other hand the need to create and recreate family rituals.

Long Abstract

Rituals are in a central place for doing families. In Spain, as in other Mediterranean countries with a Catholic tradition, most family rituals are connected to religion and, thus, under the control of the Catholic Church. The relation between religion and homosexuality is complicated. Although many Spanish LGBT people feel not recognized by the Catholic Church, the hegemonic conceptions of family rituals are already imprinted by religious conceptions. Thus, families created by LGBT people have to face on one side this rejection and on the other hand the need to create and recreate family rituals. Through interview with 23 LGBT people, we explored this issue. In the case of marriages, the legalization of same­sex marriage has allowed the access to same­sex couples to this ritual. Anyway, marriage is still influenced by catholic conceptions for some LGBT Spaniards. This influence will be discussed in this paper. Baptism is a ritual for welcoming a new member in the family. The Spanish Catholic Church is facing a dilemma when asked to baptize children of LGBT families. Some of them are baptizing these children and other do not. The paper will review how this ritual creates a debate among members of LGBT families and with other relatives, namely grandparents. Grandparents are playing a crucial role for the reproduction of some religious rituals and practices (such as learning how to pray) for children living in LGBT families, creating potential conflicts with LGBT parents. Other rituals, i.e. funerals, are also still under the monopoly of the Catholic Church in Spain, with no secular alternative.

Between structure and conjuncture: family and kinship responses to economic crises in urban Italy

Authors: Javier Gonzalez Diez (University of Turin)  email
Pier Paolo Viazzo (Università di Torino)  email
Paola Sacchi (University of Turin)  email

Short Abstract

How do families and kinship networks respond to economic crises? This paper, drawing on ethnographic evidence from urban Italy, assesses the extent to which such responses are affected by the supposedly distinctive social and cultural features of Southern Europe.

Long Abstract

The impact of the ongoing economic crisis coupled with the withdrawal of the welfare state is causing concern all over Europe. However, it is likely to have severe effects especially in the southern European countries, characterized by a fragile 'familistic' welfare regime. In general terms, it may be surmised that economic crises generate a dialectic between two divergent tendencies: on the one side, the feeling of insecurity strengthens family and kinship ties as sources of moral and practical help; on the other, such unsettling effects of the crisis as unemployment or the reduction of public welfare entitlements put these same ties under stress and enhance the risks of dissolution. The aim of this paper is to assess how this 'conjunctural' responses are interacting in Italy with the effects of 'structural' forces that are entailing a demographic and institutional weakening of family structures and kinship networks and imposing a passage from ascribed kinship roles to more negotiated and 'flexible' but still ill-defined forms of relatedness. We will draw both on the existing anthropological literature and on the first results of ethnographic researches conducted in an urban area affected both by the current crisis and by longer-term processes of post-Fordist transformations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.