Elites and Social Change

Family Strategies and Networks of Power 1500–2000


The main objective of the research group is to find new answers to the old questions: Where is the power that directs social change? Where does its origin lie? How does it function? What are the crucial factors in social transformation — actors or structures, economy and business or political, ideological or military power?

The project concentrates on the history of elite power groups. The central question is, how these groups have accumulated their political, cultural and economic capital to hold core positions in the social transformation process.

In order to observe stability in change and change in stability the project will examine a long period of history. The empirical case studies are focussed on Finland as an integral part of the Swedish kingdom (–1809), as a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire (1809–1917) and as an independent nation state. The long period of history helps to see the Finnish elite as a sort of regional, “provincial elite”, which has to look for support from political, military and commercial metropolises abroad or from its own nation state, Finland, in order to maintain and strengthen its positions. This kind of framework also helps to organize the individual case studies and makes possible their mutual as well as international comparison.

The combination of family and business history approaches with the social network perspective constitutes the basic theoretical framework for the project. Family history (when focussing on marriage networks and family strategies) and business history (dealing with family enterprises and large business empires) have independently from each other produced similar conclusions and observations emphasizing the importance of informal and family-based social networks. The research group will test the role and the contents of these networks and thus try to penetrate to grey zones of social power.

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