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We are a network of researches who use historical and contemporary analysis to explore the relationship between voluntary and state action in the development of welfare states and democracy in Europe. We examines the manifold ways in which families, churches, trade unions, municipalities and other private or semi-public associations have interacted with each other and with the state in the identification of social problems and the creation of solutions and therefore We combine fine-grained local studies and multi-scalar analysis with a resolutely comparative and transnational scope in order to broaden our understanding of European social welfare both historically and socially.

By placing the question of welfare’s complex and uneven relationship to democracy at the heart of our inquiry, and remaining mindful of the very different trajectories this relationship has traced across the past 150 years, we have created a broad intellectual framework capable of placing in dialogue the very different experiences of Europe’s various regions: north versus south, east versus west. Crucial to this project is the outside-the-state perspective, which allows us to identify across regional and national boundaries common kinds of actors and strategies that are, quite simply, invisible from the within-the-state perspective from which stories of European welfare states are so often told.

Our approach is grounded in the diverse yet complementary research projects of individual members of the network; projects, which, rather than being conducted in isolation from one another, are developed and pursued within the dialogic context of a network whose common themes and questions enrich the individual projects, enlarging the comparative and transnational scope within which each is conceptualised and developed.