The importance of family firms for the development of capitalism, both past and present, has in recent years become widely recognized. Today there is a fast increasing body of literature about forms of family business and variations in family capitalism.
Despite this new interest, few of these studies have made the family itself the focus of enquiry – and how different types of family structures and cultural traditions may influence the strategies and development of the family firm. Such connections are explored by comparing and discussing two cases of family firms and their history, set in Norway and Italy, respectively. It is argued that these two cases may be seen as examples of quite different ‘modes of familism’, with different implications for the running of an economic enterprise. These differences concern, first and foremost, cultural conceptions of gender, forms of inheritance, and the role of marriage in constituting the family firm.