A keynote at Lingnan University’s postgraduate conference stressed an interdisciplinary approach to research into family

Dr Antonios Roumpakis, deputy director of the Graduate School at the University of York in the UK, gave a keynote called “Family as a socio-economic actor: insights from a new research agenda” at Lingnan University’s Postgraduate Conference on Interdisciplinary Learning. The conference took place March 29 and 30 at the university’s Leung Fong Oi Wan art gallery and was supported by the University Grants Committee.


Dr Roumpakis’ presentation reviewed research literature that reconceptualised the idea of family as a socio-economic actor. His research draws on a wide range of work, including economic anthropology, historical institutionalism, development studies, law and governance analysis, and mainly feminist political economy, and highlights the intersection of these disciplines with comparative social policy.


At the event, faculty members from different departments at Lingnan University met with students and discussed new perspectives on their research. Students learned about interdisciplinary research, comparative research perspectives, and gained international perspective on the nature of research. The focus was on social sciences, arts and humanities, and business, Lingnan University’s three core faculties.



Dr Antonios Roumpakis


Keynote speakers included Professor M. Ramesh, the UNESCO chair on social policy design in Asia at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the National University of Singapore, and Dr. Lisa Lucas, co-director of the Centre for Knowledge, Culture and Society, at University of Bristol in the UK. Professor Ramesh talked about governance tools in healthcare, and Dr Lucas addressed rankings, research assessment and researchers in a global context.  Dr Antonios Roumpakis, deputy director of the Graduate School the University of York, delivered a keynote on the topic of family as a socio-economic actor.


The presentation first explored the idea of family as a welfare provider, then analysed the theoretical work of economic historian Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) , who developed a schema which showed how a family can mobilise its financial and emotional resources to protect its members. The third part of Dr Roumpakis’ presentation put forward the idea of a new research agenda which analyses the collective agency of a family.


Dr Roumpakis said that his research aims to generate thinking about family from the perspective of an interdisciplinary approach. It’s always possible to learn from taking an interdisciplinary approach, and it’s important to facilitate that type of research, he said. The aim is to set a new research agenda around family which encourages synergies with work in the disciplines mentioned above. Family offers a huge and diverse area of study, and this means that whatever you are studying, family has a role to play in it, Dr Roumpakis noted.




Dr Roumpakis said that “family” is a very contested concept, and there are many definitions of it. The most popular definition references the hierarchies that exist within the family – the division of labour, especially those divisions which pertain to care. The concept must also define who is a member of the family. Dr Roumpakis noted that, especially in economics, there is always some confusion between “household” and “family”, and said he was keen to use  “family” as a unit of analysis it can be extended to more than just mum, dad and kids – it can take in an extended network of people.


One area of interest for Dr Roumpakis, whose PhD examined pension reform, is intergenerational relationships, in terms of whether the generations care for each other, and whether conflict results from this care. “I always had a big fear that different generations don’t actually support each other, but I don’t think it’s the case. I think that it’s very likely that generations within the family do support each other,” he said. Dr Roumpakis said that the degree of conflict and the degree of constructive relationship is subject to empirical analysis. There has been a lot of theorising to capture this, as well as analytical approaches, he notes.


Dr Roumpakis shared some insights from comparative social policy, citing research into family as a welfare recipient“How much money and support do families receive, especially if you compare different welfare states?” he asked. Dr Roumpakis noted the pioneering work carried out by Jonathan Bradshaw, professor of social policy at the University of York, who developed child benefits packages for different family types.




The idea of the “care diamond”, a mixed approach to welfare, was also discussed. Family policy, gender, and care are big themes in the literature on the subject, and the idea that family, along with, or instead of, the state, is one of the welfare providers is a salient topic. When we need childcare, or when we need elderly care, family can act as provider. “We all need care sometimes, so it is important. Somebody else has to provide the care, and this could be shared between state, community and family. There is a lot of debate about who is delivering the care, and lot of debate about the genderisation of care,” he said. At the same time, there is talk of the “care diamond” being extended in some countries.


Family also acts as a social absorber, said Dr Roumpakis. If something goes wrong in your life, you might live with your family for a while. Or your family might support you by giving you the deposit for buying a home, or renting your home, or some useful emotional support. Family plays a big role, he said.  


This is especially true in Asia and Southeast Asia, said Dr Roumpakis. In the absence of a substantial welfare state in these regions, the family takes a lot of responsibility when it comes to absorbing risks. Welfare is expanding quite quickly in many East Asian and South East Asian states, but established culture plays a big role. “But at the same time, the importance of family is not going away, it’s not being replaced,” said Dr Roumpakis. “Scholars like to think that all countries can be like the Nordic countries – that is, everyone can rely on a well-organised and efficient modern state bureaucracy and state delivery of welfare goods. But I think that is the exception. I think they have managed to do it because of unique historical reasons. I didn’t think everyone can replicate the Swedish welfare institutions, for instance.” Dr Roumpakis said.