A brief history of the COST network “Who Cares in Europe?”

Our COST project “Who Cares in Europe?” emerged from the international network, “European Trajectories in the Quest for Welfare and Democracy: Voluntary associations, families and the state, 1880s to the present,” which was first organized by Laura Downs at the European University Institute in Florence in 2014-15. The organization of this vibrant and expansive network was made possible by a generous three-year grant from the Institute’s Research Council, which we won thanks to the close collaboration of Clarisse Berthezène, Paul Ginsborg, Sally Alexander, Pat Thane and Axelle Brodiez-Dolino in developing our initial grant proposal. This proposal presented our nascent network in the following terms:    

“We are a network of researchers 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. By examining 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, we propose to broaden our understanding of European social welfare both historically and socially, looking back before 1945 while plunging deeper into the fabric of civil society organizations, where so much of Europe’s social protection has taken place – and still does.

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.

The project is urgent because the welfare role of the state is currently being questioned in many European countries and greater prominence proposed for the voluntary and private sectors. But historical analyses reveal that what is often proposed as an innovative solution to current problems – greater recourse to the voluntary sector – has been intrinsic to what we call welfare states since their inception. Our project offers a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the nature of welfare states and of what is at stake in current debates in order to make a constructive contribution to those debates.”

The QUEST network provided a stimulating and, as it turned out, much-needed platform for academic debate about social politics and social protection across the continent. And so it grew, expanding rapidly from an initial core of 6 scholars from three countries to 53 scholars from 17 different European states, the USA and Canada. Crucial to this expansion were the seven workshops and the EUI-wide research seminar that the QUEST project organized, bringing in new faces and new ideas from an ever-expanding circle of countries, disciplines and institutions. In the early spring of 2018, a group of about 15 members from the expanded network met in Florence to develop a proposal for the COST program for European Cooperation in Science and Technology, which proposal was granted funding in November 2018. For more information on the QUEST network, please consult the following link to the QUEST website: