Wealth and the Family

Conference, June 1–3, 2022

In all countries large private fortunes are highly concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. While large fortunes may be created by individuals and administered by organizations, private wealth is ultimately owned and passed on in families. Historians have a long tradition of investigating the trajectory of wealthy and powerful families. It is only more recently that wealth research in sociology turns to the family as a unit of investigation. Stratification research has become interested in long term immobility at the top.

Sociologists and anthropologists with varying specializations – the economy, the family, politics or religion – are focusing more strongly on super-rich families and the practices, mechanisms and institutions through which they aim at preserving their fortunes. Understanding the extended and dynastic family as a crucial element of social organization at the top of the stratification order and of capitalist reproduction allows for many insights that reach from the microlevel of family interaction to the macro effects of wealth accumulation in the financial system.

Organized jointly by Jens Beckert (MPIfG) and Rachel Sherman (New School of Social Research), the conference aims at bringing together scholars from sociology, anthropology and related fields focusing on the connection between wealth and the family. Realms of investigation are the legal institutions allowing for the long term perpetuation of large fortunes, such as inheritance and trust law as well as family offices and philanthropic foundations, and the social practices being used by super-wealthy families to preserve their wealth long term. Though practices aim at the preservation of wealth in the family, the flip side of this is that the family can also be and often is a conflictual force that can ultimately destroy great fortunes.

Go to Editor View