Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Theory versus the Theories Families Live By

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Theory versus the Theories Families Live By

Article excerpt

I argue that there is significant disjunction between the way that families live their lives and the way that we theorize about families. Using the metaphor of positive and negative spaces from the art world, I argue that there are many negative spaces in our theorizing-everyday family activities that take up considerable time, energy, and attention but that are poorly represented in our theorizing about families. Specifically, there are three negative spaces that call out for more attention, including the realm of spirituality, emotions, and myths; activities related to consumption; and time and space.

Key Words: consumption, culture, emotions, family process, family theory, myths.

This paper is about the disjunction between the theories that scholars create to explain families and the implicit theories that families live by. Implicit theories are the inherited practices, codes, beliefs, and traditions that shape what families do on a daily basis but that are often hidden from view. When we look at any families, including our own, we see that everyday life is shaped by the complex intersection of many forces. These can be material concerns (having to do with work, spending activities, or managing our things); health concerns (having a cold or depression-or worse, a cold and depression); moral and spiritual concerns (raising children to be good, or questions of faith); temporal concerns (being old, being late, scheduling); spatial concerns (commuting, no recreation room for the kids); or relationship concerns (not talking to one's spouse, not having visited one's mother, having fun with one's daughter). Of course there are many other forces, and the way that individual family members experience these interactions with each other makes for complex family processes. Everyday concerns such as these are both mundane and pervasive. In spite of the fact that they are pervasive, however, they are not often apparent in our formal theorizing about families. This has been referred to as the "elusiveness of family life" in family theorizing (Marshall, Matthews, & Rosenthal, 1993).

I use the metaphor of negative spaces (Edwards, 1999) from the field of art as a means of foregrounding these implicit theories. Theorizing and drawing are parallel processes as both are concerned with representation. One of the most important techniques in learning how to draw is to see negative spaces. Most of the time, our eye is drawn to positive forms. These are objects that dominate our attention. Hence if we look at a man with a hand on his hip, we see the positive form of the arm on the hip. We are unaccustomed to seeing the triangular shape, or the negative space, that is formed inside the arm. Negative spaces are the recessive areas that we are unaccustomed to seeing but that are every bit as important for the representation of the reality at hand.

If our theorizing in family sciences is to continue to grow, then it is important that we look more closely at the composition of our formal theories in order to see more clearly both the positive forms and the negative spaces. There are several galleries for family theory that highlight the dominant and positive forms of our family theorizing. The Journal of Marriage and Family, in the 2000 decade review, draws our attention to the theoretical and empirical developments in areas of critical importance for understanding families. Included are papers on domestic violence, gender, fatherhood, and the consequences of divorce for children. These are positive forms in our theorizing activity because we readily see them, they are recognizable in their shape. They are an established part of our research tradition, and as family scientists, we have preconceived, preexisting expectations that enable us to see and comprehend the shapes, edges, data, and models that constitute these theories. I am particularly interested, however, in the negative spaces that are present in these portraits but are not easily perceived. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.