Project Description

This project seeks to reframe the history of welfare and social care in modern Europe by restoring to view the contributions of local actors – primarily families and associations – to shaping welfare systems in three European borderlands: Galicia, the North-eastern Adriatic and the Franco/Belgian/German border regions from the late 19th century to the 1990s. SOCIOBORD will turn our attention to the co-construction of social assistance by public and private actors in three borderland contexts marked by social, cultural, economic, religious or ethnic diversity. Here, the reach of central states often fluctuated and a range of welfare structures, based on national, but also non-national forms of identity/solidarity (e.g., occupation or religion) flourished. By exploring social care in eastern, southeastern and northwestern European borderlands over an extended period of time we intend to examine similarities and divergences across a long 20th century, bringing the histories of welfare in east and west, socialist/post-socialist and liberal democratic regimes into dialogue with one another.

SOCIOBORD will realize its objectives by deploying a highly innovative triadic approach that emphasizes the dynamic relationships among three distinct actors – voluntary associations, families and states – who interact at different levels and in multiple ways in the construction of social protection. Inasmuch as it gives primary attention to local actors, the triadic approach assumes a bottom-up perspective. Yet it does so without ever losing sight of the state in its local manifestations. In this way, SOCIOBORD will recover the contributions of families and associations in developing new forms of social care as well as the forms of local knowledge that these civil society actors brought to their work.

The key to managing the extended geographical scope and long chronology lies in the project’s precise, carefully-chosen case studies, which allow for comparison across distant contexts while simultaneously tracing the transfer of ideas, institutions and practices of social action among the three regions. We have chosen to organize the research around a series of studies involving mobilizations of local actors on behalf of three groups of beneficiaries – children, working-class women and veterans. By combining the bottom up perspective of the triadic approach with the focus on three objects of social action, the project creates a clear grid that will enable transversal and comparative analysis across the three borderlands.

Europe’s borderland regions are particularly revealing laboratories for studying the development of social protection, thanks to a dense variety of actors competing for influence over their putative objects of assistance and for access to funding. The focus on local, often parallel structures of social provision – at times cooperating, at times competing – will allow me and my team to examine the interplays between inclusion and exclusion that have long shaped European welfare provision by homing in on those contexts where such developments were particularly visible. The project thus recasts borderland regions not as outliers in welfare histories, but rather as micro-histories that open up onto larger transnational concerns and developments. Indeed, it is our conviction that these regions offer a wide-angle, long – distance lens that illuminates the contested history of Europe’s linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. Ultimately, this will allow us to rethink the development of European social provision as uneven and dynamic; challenging conventional state-centered narratives that have assumed a larger coherence in the evolution of social welfare, rooted in those political, cultural and ideological trajectories that are presumed to underpin various welfare regime types.


  1. Identify, map and analyse the contributions of families and voluntary associations in conceptualizing welfare politics and creating local welfare systems in borderland contexts.
  2. Trace the emergence of particular actors (e.g. working-class organizations, employers’ associations, international organizations, religious associations) and specific forms of social action in our three borderlands.
  3. Explore the relationship between the various borderland “state formations” and the patterns of social mobilization that these different formations enabled or constrained.
  4. Analyse how the context-informed perspectives of these social actors – those perceptions of religious, ethnic, gender, class or national difference that shaped local structures of social provision – informed processes of inclusion and exclusion, which may then have become embedded in larger regional and state structures.
  5. Examine the impact of shifting economic and political contexts on the evolution of social politics in our three borderlands.
  6. Trace the presence and evaluate the impact of transnational actors on the development of local forms of social provision in European borderlands.