Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Book Reviews -- Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach Edited by Pauline G. Boss, William J. Doherty, Ralph LaRossa, Walter R. Schumm and Suzanne K. Steinmetz

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Book Reviews -- Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach Edited by Pauline G. Boss, William J. Doherty, Ralph LaRossa, Walter R. Schumm and Suzanne K. Steinmetz

Article excerpt

The Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach is described as "a perspective on the past and a map for the future" (p. xi), an effort on the part of "family studies to take stock of itself' (p. xi). This massive undertaking represents the work of five editors and 155 authors and reviewers. The volume contains 27 chapters, some devoted mostly to theory, some mostly to research methods, and some to applications of theory and methods. Because of its scope, I asked three well-known scholars to review sections of the book. This was a suggestion made by Jetse Sprey, and I thought it was an excellent idea. Advantages of having multiple reviewers include the more manageable number of pages each must read, as well as a more narrow focus to their reading. Also, the volume received a more thorough examination by multiple reviewers who represent a range of skills and diverse disciplinary backgrounds. The danger of reviewing in sections, of course, is that the whole of the volume may get lost. I thought the potential advantages outweighed the possible disadvantages, so the Sourcebook is reviewed below by three scholars: Jetse Sprey reviews the theory chapters, Maxine Atkinson reviews the methods chapters, and Mark Fine reviews the applications chapters.

Lawrence Ganong

Over the past decades, handbooks and/or sourcebooks have become "milestones" along the road toward knowledge in the realm of family studies. They aspire to confront their readers with the field's progression and, wherever feasible, indicate its future course. The edited tome under review here is no exception and does offer a marker worthy of serious consideration. Its 19 theory-oriented chapters are the focus of this review. On the whole, they present thoughtful, well-documented accounts of the manner in which explanation in our field feels its way ahead. The overall quality of the chapters clearly benefits from a set of carefully designed editorial guidelines and the conscientious collaboration among authors, chapter readers, and the editors. The final product will be useful to graduate students and their teachers, to researchers, practitioners, and others concerned with the state of scholarship in our field.

Detailed discussion of the chapters in the Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods assigned to me would require far more space than is available. As a compromise, therefore, I reflect on how I would use this book. How would I deal with the broad range of its coverage? Which chapters can be contrasted? Which ones complement each other? And, finally, what is to be learned about the current state of our collective scholarship as displayed throughout this volume? Of course, my judgement is "subjective," even biased, and thus open to dispute.

To organize my comments, the chapters covered are grouped into four broad categories. First, there are three introductory essays (chapters 1, 2, and 3). They set the tone for what is to follow and do it well. The first one, jointly authored by the five editors, presents a "post-positivist" point of view and provides a clear rationale for the book's design. It is a bit lengthy. The detailed reference to Jonathan Turner's explanatory scheme, for example, seems unnecessary. The authors do quite well on their own. The following introduction of "metatheorizing" into discourse on the family is timely and I hope that this form of theoretical "reflection" will gain a foothold in our field. The third essay places our theoretical and methodological reasoning in a relevant historical perspective and, as such, adds a vital dimension to the book's contextual approach.

The second and largest of my categories (chapters 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 19, and 25) contains a set of approaches of a more or less sociological focus. A third category consists of three clearly psychological and/or social-psychological efforts (12, 21, and 22). These eleven chapters, and their carefully matched "applications," make up the bulk of the book. …

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