Family, Kinship, and Historical Data: An International Workshop on Recent Developments in East-Central and Southeast Europe

Organizer: Centre for Population Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania

25th – 26th of August, 2017

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

This event is related to the ongoing research project: Rhythms and Patterns: The Quantitative Dimension of Family Life in Transylvania, 1850-1918, project code PN II-RU-TE-2014-4-2208, project director Luminița Dumănescu.

Open workshop program

During the recent decades, historical and social-anthropological scholarship have witnessed the emergence of several grand debates, that have the potential to shift the paradigms in these fields irrevocably. One of the major coordinates, flowing throughout many discussions, and often remaining inexplicit, is that of the qualitatively different roles played by kinship ties in the institutional, cultural, and political evolution of societies from pre-modern to modern.

At the same time, the spatial turn and the subsequent flourishing of area studies as a self-standing field of enquiry in many centres have led to the coalescence of an increasingly coherent body of scholars dealing with East-Central and Southeast Europe. Fruitful engagement with these historically-different areas, alternatively regarded as ‘fractals’, ‘kaleidoscopes’, and ‘mosaics’, has resulted in a flurry of scholarly publications, panels at major conferences, and exchanges of knowledge in a comparatively-driven setting. This focus on ‘area’ has, however unwittingly, also contributed to the maintenance of the same disciplinary rifts that have been plaguing the field since its conceptualization.

A final development that guides our current efforts is perhaps the most significant, but the least visible of all: we have begun to face an increasing ‘embarrassment of riches’ in terms of the available historical information stemming from East-Central and Southeast Europe, which have been translated into data that can undergo statistical analyses. While we are not yet dealing with ‘Big Data’ in its stark sense, we will soon be able to provide counter-narratives to the grand stories historians and social-anthropologists have been telling themselves for the past decades. The type of information which can be extracted, especially in terms of kinship ties (natural or spiritual) and their intersection with social-professional status in various confessional and ethnical milieus, is however strongly dependant on the regional character of sources. It is therefore also necessary to delve into the biases and specificities of sources, how these biases might be overcome, and to what extent recording practices and milieus of registration influenced the content and forms of records that are currently being systematized.

This three-pronged process of accumulation and exchange rarely finds common ground. Area studies specialists – historians and social-anthropologists – remain mired in theory or case studies, rarely engaging in conscious self-reflection and quantitative enquiry. Family historians and historical demographers suffer from ‘path dependency’ and are sometimes guilty of transferring models and concepts developed in other areas uncritically. Finally, scholars dealing with kinship and its interactions with the society in which it is embedded often cast their nets in shallow water, scooping up only what is visible on the discursive surface. What should be done, and what can be done to overcome these epistemic rifts?

We propose to organize a workshop gathering specialists in one (or more) of these three areas (social anthropology, history, and historical demography) for precisely this purpose: to assess what we know, what we have (in terms of data), and what we can and should do further (in terms of productive enquiry).

We aim to ask questions and see whether we can provide some provisional answers relating to the following issues:

  • Whether kinship ties played a qualitatively and quantitatively different role in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe in the transition from pre-modernity to modernity?
  • How kinship interacted with other individual and societal-level traits, such as occupational status, urban/rural residence, political cultures and institutional frameworks?
  • Whether kinship ties reflected a ‘traditional’ way of socializing, that was gradually overcome and became obsolete with the emergence of the plurality of civil societies in the area?
  • Whether the individual-level data that is currently being collected from a variety of sources (starting with parish records, censuses, various schematisms, lists of members of associations and clubs, taxpayers’ lists, etc.) can help in answering these and other questions, and if so, how?
  • Whether meso-level phenomena characterizing broad geographical and temporal sweeps can be identified in this interaction of kinship, community, society and state?

We have envisaged a common meeting ground for scholars wishing to provide answers and, more importantly, ask questions related to the future of this conglomerate field, at the intersection of family history, demography, and area studies. This will take the form of a concentrated series of round-table discussions, focusing on the common themes announced above. It will involve several presentations from recent projects developed in the fields of historical demography and social history at the Centre for Population Studies, which have dealt with these issues. Attendees need not hold formal presentations, but are merely expected to contribute fruitfully to the discussion, in order to establish a common ground from which future research endeavours can emerge.

We therefore invite applications from all these disciplines, from candidates interested in engaging critically with these issues, containing a 2-page CV and a brief letter of intent, conveying to what extent their own research pathways overlap with our own. Applications or further enquiries should be sent to and by the 15th of June 2017. Decisions will be announced by the end of June. The organizers will cover two nights of accommodation (Friday the 25th of August to Saturday the 26th, respectively Saturday to Sunday the 27th) as well as meals. A limited number of travel grants will be available upon enquiry.