Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy
Globalization and Welfare series
Edited by Pauli Kettunen and Klaus Petersen
Chapter 7: Moving targets: towards a framework for studying family policies and welfare states
Sonya Michel The task of studying the relationship between family policies and welfare states is challenging for several reasons, not least the fact that the literature on family policy is vast, particularly if we begin, as I think we should, in the ‘long nineteenth century’ (1789–1914), and include (again, as I think we must) policies involving children, women, sexuality and several other subfields, which I discuss below. Another reason is that the topic itself is unstable. What is family policy? The term itself presupposes that there is something we can identify as ‘family’. Yet, as historians have shown, what constitutes a family changes over time. Is a family defined by relations between adults, or the fact that children and adults – in whatever relationship – live together and the adults care for the children (Hagemann 2008)? Does it consist of individuals bound by blood, by contract or simply by consent (Weston 1997)? The variations are of course endless. Moreover, what is understood as ‘family’ is in large part subjective or intersubjective, determined by those who believe themselves to constitute one (Passerini 2007). At the same time it is partly cultural and partly political, shaped to a great extent by various laws, policies and provisions, both state and voluntary, that are designed to construct families in certain ways or include certain types of families while excluding others. In other words, family policies produce their own objects, which may or may not match subjectively determined families (notice that I do not say ‘actual’)...
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