Families, Politics and the Law: Perspectives for East and West Europe

Families, Politics and the Law: Perspectives for East and West Europe

Families, Politics and the Law: Perspectives for East and West Europe

Families, Politics and the Law: Perspectives for East and West Europe


The family has become a political battleground in eastern and western Europe. In both areas, the State seems to have moved away from interventionist policies to a fresh quest for individual freedom from interference. This process of rolling back the influence of the State has been dubbed "privatization" of the family, and its consequences are examined here in considerable detail by a group of experts. In the West, inequality of economic power is now determining decisions such as whether or if at all to seek divorce or abortion in situations where previously the State regulated these decisions by offering economic support. In the East, State withdrawal from the family seems to be accompanied by a new emphasis on fundamental religious roles, which tend to stress differences between gender roles and to limit access to divorce or abortion in order to strengthen the traditional family. The authors of this book examine this evolutionary process of the privatization of the family sphere and the role of law in the family to question the value of the exaggerated collectivism of the former communist regimes.


These essays were written by an interdisciplinary group of Polish and British lawyers, and social scientists who have a common interest in how the law both reflects and regulates the changing relationship between the individual, the family, and the state. The nature of these relationships is thrown into sharp relief at times of rapid change. Here we look closely at the underlying concepts, the developing vocabulary, and the behaviour of individuals in Poland immediately after the transition to democracy, and in the UK, during the long period of Conservative government, the transition to Thatcherism. In both countries 'Privatization' is used as a key political concept and we hear it applied to the family as well as other enterprises. We wish to examine what this means in different contexts, what benefits such a move might offer, and what may be a matter of concern.

The contributors have worked together over a long period, in some cases almost a decade. We do not offer a complete factual guide to the development of family law in Poland and the UK. We aim rather to do what artists do when they hold up their drawing to a mirror in order to see it more clearly, to check perspective and composition. By holding up our own observations of our own country to our European colleagues, we hope to see fresh aspects of the familiar, and to develop a new awareness of both countries from a broader perspective.

As Clifford Geertz declared, 'Like a nation's art, literature, science, production relations, religion or history, its law is part of a distinctive manner of imagining the real.' No branch of law is closer to the 'real' than that which regulates family life.

The editors would like to record their gratitude to the contributors, to Emma Bullard and Julia Barton for their editorial and secretarial assistance, and to the ESRC East West Initiative which supports our empirical work.

M. M. andJ. K.

Wolfson College, Oxford Universiy of Warsaw January 1993 . . .

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