Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambivalence, Family Ties, and Doing Sociology

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambivalence, Family Ties, and Doing Sociology

Article excerpt

Key Words: agency, diversity, interpretive sociology, social structure.

We are excited and encouraged by the enthusiasm that our work on ambivalence has generated. Considering the comments in confidential reviews and, now, the public responses that you have just read has been intellectually stimulating. We thank all of the reviewers for the time and effort that they spent reviewing and responding to our work, especially Sara Curran for her innovative and challenging feedback. Like our colleagues, we commend Alexis Walker for proposing this opportunity for open debate and exchange. The willingness to publish theoretical work and to foster discussion supports the goal of articles such as ours to move the understanding of family relations forward by building ideas.

Clearly, we are not the first to suggest ambivalence as a useful concept in the study of family relations. However, ours is among very few attempts to develop ambivalence as a distinctly sociological concept connected to strong theoretical traditions in our discipline. Our response addresses four key issues. First, we hope to put to rest the notion that ambivalence can somehow be subsumed within the solidarity model. Then we discuss three interlocking issues related to our thinking about family relationships: assumptions about "science," the distinction between theory and ideology, and views about what constitutes the "stuff" of sociology. We use this approach to highlight fundamental differences (and sometimes, parallels) between our views of theory, society, and doing sociology and those of our commentators. This thematic approach also minimizes repetition and maintains our focus on major points. Before exploring these four issues, we make a summary comment or two about each of the responses.

Vern Bengtson, Roseann Giarrusso, Beth Mabry, and Merril Silverstein have launched a defence of the solidarity model more than a critique of our conception of ambivalence. Nonetheless, their discussion indicates serious misunderstandings about ambivalence and a quite different perspective from ours about family relations, science, and theory. Kurt Luscher is in fundamental agreement with us about the value of ambivalence as a concept for studying intergenerational relations, but he takes exception to some of our interpretations of his work with Pillemer (Lubscher & Pillemer, 1998), espouses some assumptions about science and theory that we do not share, and presents his own typology on ambivalence. His closing outlook suggests the promise and growing relevance of ambivalence to studying ever more diverse family relations. Finally, Sara Curran provides a good example of how attempts to think in new ways, as we have tried to do in presenting a sociological conception of ambivalence, can prompt others to take off with an idea in both expected and unexpected directions. Despite some points of divergence, she shares with us the value of theorizing before empirical evaluation, provides a sound summary of our article, and discusses motivation and accountability as ways of extending our conceptualization of ambivalence.


Rather than rehash the history and shortcomings of solidarity as a concept, we focus on the assertion by Bengtson and his colleagues that ambivalence can somehow be subsumed within the solidarity model. Counter to their claim (Bengston, Giarrusson, Mabry, & Silverstein, 2002, p. 570), we do not suggest that ambivalence is incompatible with solidarity. This is largely because we do not consider them to be on the same plane. We develop a theoretical context for the sensitizing concept of ambivalence as a motivator of action (negotiating relationships). In contrast, solidarity is a set of operational definitions that reduces to six variables that may or may not vary together (in other words, may covary or operate independently).

Theoretical Concepts Versus Measures

The longitudinal, multigenerational data produced by the research projects at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, are among the best in the world. …

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