This article discusses the ‘Mediterranean model’ of household formation proposed by Laslett and others in the early 1980s and argues that the notion of a Mediterranean culture area has been used in significantly different ways by family historians and social anthropologists. Drawing its materials mainly from research conducted on Italy, it examines the changing relationships through time between nuptiality and household composition, the extent and structural characteristics of servanthood, and the functions of the family as a welfare agency. It is suggested that some concepts that recent generations of Mediterraneanist anthropologists have tended to question or utterly reject (including female honour) might still prove useful to shed light on a number of perplexing features of family life in Italy and the rest of southern Europe.
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