Modern Marriages. European Perspectives on Policies, Discourses, Economies and Emotions in the long 20th century

Lisa Dittrich's picture
Call for Papers
January 31, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, Eastern Europe History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies



CfP: Modern Marriages. European Perspectives on Policies, Discourses, Economies and Emotions in the long 20th century

Date: 16-17th September 2021

Place: LMU München (the workshop is planned in a hybrid format due to the pandemical situation. For those who can and want to participate in person, travel and accommodation costs will be covered)

Organizers: Dr. Lisa Dittrich, LMU München, JProf. Dr. Maren Röger, University of Augsburg

Deadline: 31rd January 2021


The institution of marriage had been astonishingly stable in central aspects throughout centuries. However, marriage was always discussed, reshaped and differently lived. We observe the most thorough changes in Europe since the end of the 19th century – many of them being labelled as a modernization of marriage. The modern states imposed their paradigm of civil administration over church rules, the changing working environment led to changes in private couples and family economies. Political debates sparked around the legal position of women. Moreover, marriage was increasingly thought of and lived as an emotional based relationship between two persons not a contract or a sacrament.

The planned conference will ask how marriage as an institution and as a way of life has changed in Europe in the long 20th century, in the context and under the influence of different legal and state systems as well as economic and civil society conditions. In doing so, we are especially interested in comparative approaches to identify joint legal and societal developments in Europe on the one hand, such as the facilitation of divorces or the tendency towards gender equality.[1] On the other hand, we want to discuss differences and long-term cultural influences. Anthropologists, for example, characterize different models in Europe and distinguish between a Northern and Western European model focused on nuclear families and the Eastern and Southern model embedded in the larger intergenerational family context.[2] These simplified models, however, obscure the historical development, which was a complex process of exchange between state, society and individuals.

Bringing together experts for different European regions, we want to request the typical division in research regarding Eastern and Western Europe. The conference will ask how the relationship between state, society and individuals can be written in general in the long 20th century in Europe,[3] since the question of the connection between the different levels and the influence of the state and social conditions on the individual espouses is still underexposed.[4] We invite contributions that focus on the following topics and approaches:

1) Law: The institution marriage was transformed by the standardization of state law and its enforcement against church provisions in the different national and imperial contexts as well as by common legal historical tendencies in Europe. The 20th century also saw radical attempts to legally restructure marriages in its dictatorships. How are these ruptures to be assessed? Did denominational or legal cultural influences continue to determine the culture of marriage? What role did transnational networking play in reform processes, for example in the international women's movement or private international law? Studies that consider legal practice as well as its effects on everyday life are particularly welcome.

2) Emotionalization and psychologization: How the social establishment of love marriage took place has not yet been sufficiently researched. When did the idea of love marriage spread in the different national and imperial contexts? Which ideas of love were decisive? What role did the establishment of the psy-sciences and their experts play in this process? Was transnational circulation of knowledge or the influence of mass media decisive here? At the same time, the question arises if this development represents a liberation of the individual from social norms or if this was accompanied by new constraints, which are gender-specific, as sociologist Eva Illouz has emphasized?[5]

3) Economies: During the long 20th century, the European countries experienced severe changes of their social and economic structures. This modernization processes influenced the division of labour within marriages. Who, when and how was the economic side of marriage addressed? Which debates about a monetarization of care work took place from the early to late 20th century – in national and transnational contexts? Which political measures offered nation-states to the threat of poverty, especially after divorce? And how did individuals describe the economic dimensions of their marriages – in different times and different political systems?

4) Conceptual histories: Wording usually plays a significant role in public discourses. How, in which words, was when spoken about marriage? What concepts of love or guilt in divorce processes can be traced, for example? Who claimed when to lead a modern marriage, what did the public describe as modern in marriage?

We welcome contributions from different historical disciplines (history of law, historical sociology, history of sciences, gender history etc.). Papers investigating only one national case from Europe are invited as well as comparative or transnational approaches.

Please send us a short biography (ca. 150 words) and an abstract of your paper (400 words) for a 20-minute presentation in English until 31rst of January 2021 to Lisa Dittrich ( and Maren Röger (

A publication of selected results of the workshop is planned.



[1] See Ronfani, Paola. “Family Law in Europe.” In The History of the European Family: Family Life in the Twentieth Century. Edited by David I. Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli, 113–151. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

[2] See the project KASS at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropolgy, (last accessed 16th of November 2020).

[3] See Runciman, David. “A Theoretical Overview.” In Families and States in Western Europe. Edited by Quentin Skinner, 1–17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.; Föllmer, Moritz. Individuality and Modernity in Berlin: Self and Society from Weimar to the Wall. Cambridge, 2013.

[4] See Ginsborg, Paul. Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900–1950. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.; Skinner, Quentin, ed. Families and States in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[5] See Illouz, Eva. Warum Liebe weh tut: Eine soziologische Erklärung. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011.




Contact Info: 

Dr. Lisa Dittrich, LMU München, JProf. Dr. Maren Röger, University of Augsburg


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