Social Integration in 20th Century Europe: Evidences from Hungarian Family Development

By Tomka, Bela | Journal of Social History, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Social Integration in 20th Century Europe: Evidences from Hungarian Family Development


Tomka, Bela, Journal of Social History


In the historical research of the past few decades, it was the German social historian, Hartmut Kaelble, who stood most profoundly for the view that the societal developments of Western European countries (including Scandinavia and, in several respects, even the South European countries) have converged in significant areas of social life during the 20th century. As a result, it is almost justifiable to talk about an integrated--or, at least, an integrating--specific Western European society, as compared to the societies of the USA, Japan or Australia. (1) Kaelble bases his analyses of Western European social integration, among others, on the examination of specific characteristics of family development. (2) Quite understandably, he excluded Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries from the scope of his research because he was primarily interested in the developments of the Western half of the continent. Adopting Kaelble's approach to European social integration, the present work examines how f amily changes in Hungary relate to the Western European processes in the course of the "short 20th century" (1918-1990).

It is increasingly acknowledged in social sciences that reaching a full understanding of social developments in any particular country is only possible if its experience is set in the context of wider changes. This is reflected in the continuously expanding body of comparative historical literature, too. In spite of this, no systematic comparative study of 20th century Hungarian family development has been carried out yet. Moreover, it is not only comparative studies that are lacking on several areas of 20th century Hungarian family history. Research seems to be sporadic in several other respects as well with the important exceptions of investigations in demography and family sociology. Demographic research in Hungary has been conducted on a high level throughout the century, and several processes relevant to family changes have been analysed. May be due to the very character of their profession, however, demographers have grasped only some aspects of family changes, and even in these cases the historical per spective was usually but of secondary importance. Historical demography in Hungary has focused only on the 17-19th centuries. (3) In the field of family sociology, several remarkable studies have been published since the 60s; but, quite understandably, these have focused only on the past few decades. Similarly, even demographic comparisons of the widest scale have only concentrated on the changes in fertility and mortality in recent decades, (4) and comparative family sociology regarding Hungary has been limited to a relatively narrow domain and to a narrow group of countries. (5)

Beside the comparative study of Hungarian family history, which might offer us a better insight into the characteristics of the 20th century Hungarian family development, an interest in the problem of European social integration as described by Kaelble will constitute the basis of the present investigation. At the same time, our perspective differs from his in that we mainly concentrate on the relation of certain important areas of 20th century Hungarian family changes to Western European trends, whereas he examined the evolution of West European societies and their specific features as compared to other industrial countries. We will primarily endeavour to answer the following questions: Have 20th century family changes in Hungary converged to or diverged from Western European trends? In which periods and in which areas of development can convergence and divergence be observed?

At this point, it is necessary to address the methods applied in the study. (6) The development of Hungarian family life will be examined in comparison to Western European ones (i.e. the presence of divergence and convergence) through simple statistical procedures as well, though there are obvious difficulties in the comparability of available data, and formal (measurable) similarities/differences may often be misleading with regard to functionality. …

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