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The aim of KASS was to investigate the role of family networks as sources of security and mutual assistance. The state and the family (including the whole network of relatives) are the two largest providers of social security in modern Europe.
Like the state, the family provides care, education, financial support, and help in finding employment. It also influences (and occasionally
controls) choices involving career and marriage. However, the role of the family is not constant over time and space. We know, from statistical
sources and sociological and ethnographic studies, that it varies greatly between different parts of contemporary Europe. Changing patterns of
marriage, cohabitation and divorce, declining fertility and aging populations also have implications for the family’s role in social security.|
Although the role of kinship in social security has important implications for state and EU policies on social security, gender discrimination and social exclusion, it remains relatively little understood - despite challenging contributions in recent decades from anthropology, economics, and evolutionary theory. One reason is that conventional data sources such as censuses and surveys do not collect the full range of data needed to evaluate these theoretical developments. The only sort of data that is capable of capturing enough factual details about kinship networks, while also investigating the way these relationships are actually experienced, is ethnographic fieldwork. A central idea of this project was to use ethnographic methods, followed by both interpretative and mathematical analyses of the resulting data, to illuminate the questions above. Another central idea was that current trends need to be understood in their historical context. The fieldwork studies were carried out in eight European countries and placed in context by historical reviews of the development of family systems and state social security.
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