|Temporary Deflections or Persistent Contrasts? Assessing the Role of Family and Kinship Structures on the Two Shores of the Mediterranean|
|Since the late 1990s the realisation that in Europe both family forms and reproductive patterns were apparently failing to converge, as predicted by modernization theory, has led many to suspect that differences in kinship patterns and household formation systems must have existed in the past, persist in the present and are likely to dictate, or at least strongly influence, future developments. This has stimulated an interest in the history of marriage and the family from an increasing number of scholars – sociologists, anthropologists and demographers in the first place, but also geographers, economists and political scientists – who are looking for continuities, re-connections and ‘path-dependencies’ lurking behind seemingly unprecedented changes (e.g. Grenstad 1999; Mamadouh 1999; Reher 1998). The results of a spate of broad comparative cross-national studies carried out in the past decade (Viazzo 2010) has reinforced this suspicion by pointing to macro-regional differences in contemporary Europe, whose spatial distribution bears an impressive resemblance to the geography of ‘pre-industrial’ family and kinship systems outlined by demographic and family historians (Hajnal 1965; Laslett 1983). These ultimately cultural maps are characterized by long-term fault lines which are in some significant ways reminiscent of the contrasts highlighted by Huntington (1993, 1996) to buttress his theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’.
In the very last years, however, this perspective has been challenged from two sides. On the one hand, doubts have been attracted by the close correspondence between the boundaries of these macro-regions and some political boundaries, past and present: the most notable example is the uncanny similarity between the ‘iron curtain’ and Hajnal’s (1965) famous ‘imaginary line’ running between St. Petersburg and Trieste, which is now under close historical-demographic scrutiny. On the other hand, recent work by Courbage and Todd has proposed a new version of modernization theory, where family and kinship structures are given a crucial – albeit, they suggest, only temporary – role in differentially ‘deflecting’ change according to their specific anthropological properties (Courbage 2011; Courbage & Todd 2007, 2011). The aim of this paper is to assess the merits of these rival positions, to reveal what they have in common and what instead differentiates them, and to test their predictions with reference to current social and political changes and on two shores of the Mediterranean.|