Handbook of Family Communication

Handbook of Family Communication

Handbook of Family Communication

Handbook of Family Communication


The Handbook of Family Communication offers a comprehensive exploration and discussion of current research and theory on family interaction. Integrating the varying perspectives and issues addressed by family researchers, theorists, and practitioners, this volume offers a unique and timely view of family interaction and family relationships. With a synthesis of research on issues key to understanding family interaction, as well as an analysis of many theoretical and methodological choices made by researchers studying family communication, the Handbook serves to advance the field by reframing old questions and stimulating new ones. The contents are comprised of chapters covering: theoretical and methodological issues influencing current conceptions of family; research and theory centering around the family life course; communication occurring in a variety of family forms; individual family members and their relationships; dynamic communication processes taking place in families; and family communication embedded in social, cultural, and physical contexts. The volume concludes with a commentary emphasizing the themes that tie the chapters together. Highlighting the work of scholars across disciplines-communication, social psychology, clinical psychology, sociology, family studies, and others-this volume captures the breadth and depth of research on family communication and family relationships. The internationally-known contributors approach family interaction from a variety of theoretical perspectives and focus on topics ranging from the influence of structural characteristics on family relationships to the importance of specific communication processes. The Handbook of Family Communication serves as a benchmark of the current state of scholarship in this dynamic area, offering new perspectives on extant literature, as well as important theoretical and methodological recommendations for future work. As such, it will be of great value to researchers and theorists studying family interaction and family relationships. It will also serve as a text for graduate-level coursework in family studies, family communication, relational communication, and related areas. Additionally, practitioners who work with families will be well served by this book, and counselors and therapists will find the theory and research presented here extremely relevant to their work with individuals and families.


The word “family” is laden with imagery. For some, it brings to mind warm, supportive thoughts—scenes of chatty dinners, laughter-filled holidays, and comforting embraces. For others, it elicits painful memories—visions of being left alone, feeling unwanted, or being abused at the hands of a loved one. For some, the term “family” suggests a motto or a call to action—family members work hard, they stick together, or they prioritize the well-being of the group over the individual. For yet others, the word “family” embodies a set of values—values that distinguish individuals who are normal from those who are abnormal and people who are right from those who are wrong.

Although the images evoked by the term “family” vary widely, they tend to have one thing in common: They are based on, formed, and maintained through communication. Indeed, our families, and our images of families, are constituted through social interaction (Fitzpatrick, 1988; Noller & Fitzpatrick, 1993). When family members communicate, they enact their relationships. It is through communication that family members create mental models of family life and through communication that those models endure over time and across generations.

The constitutive link between communication and families is one reason that studying family communication is important. If families are created through social interaction, understanding family communication is essential to understanding family members and family relationships. This link, however, is not the only reason that scholars have focused their attention on family communication. The burgeoning literature on family interaction suggests at least three additional reasons that researchers and theorists have turned to this area as a focus of study.

First, family communication is the mechanism for most early socialization experiences. It is by observing and interacting with family members that most people learn to communicate and, perhaps more importantly, where they learn to think about communication (Bruner, 1990). From a very early age—some even argue before birth—infants engage in . . .

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