Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Conscious and Inclusive Family Studies

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Conscious and Inclusive Family Studies

Article excerpt

I argue that family scholars must take bolder steps to engage the tensions between our heritage of positivist science and its postmodern challenges. I also argue that constructing theories, utilizing research methods, and examining substantive issues should be relevant to the diversity of the families we study and to ourselves as members of families. I offer examples of developing an informed reflexive consciousness to broaden the rationalist foundation that dominates family scholarship. For a more inclusive, balanced, and invigorated family studies, our subjective experiences and commitments as researchers should be acknowledged, confronted, and integrated. A family studies that is responsible to our readers, students, selves, and the people whose lives we study requires that we engage the critical intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and age as they define family diversity.

Key Words: critical consciousness, diversity, family science, feminism, inclusivity, reflection, subjectivity.

Recently, I noticed that I have two pictures of my father in a tuxedo. The first was taken in 1951, when he was 18 years old, the month his own beloved father died, and days before he and my mother realized they would have to get married. My father's arms are draped around my mother in a pose for his senior prom-a picture of innocence, demonstrating their love for each other. There would be no tuxedo at their hurried wedding a few months later. Five children and five grandchildren later, I have a new picture of my father in a tuxedo. At 63, he was the best man in my 40-year-old cousin's first wedding-to a younger woman of a different race who has a child from a previous relationship. Reflecting on the temporal space between these two photographs, I picture a process that intrigues me as a scholar: the demographic, economic, and social changes that have affected family life in the 20th century. I can literally see who is standing by my father's side, then and now. The comparison of these photographs evokes the complexities of both personal relationships and structural transformations in adult life. The pictures in my living room are linked to larger images of how families are changing in a postmodern world. The pictures are a touchstone reminding me about ways my experiences are similar to and different from others with whom I live, work, or study.

In addition to the hypotheses I generate about family change by examining these photographs, I am aware of something deeply emotional, tapping into my private, subjective experience and offering opportunities for a fuller understanding of social change. The pictures are charged with powerful feelings about my life history, my relationship with my family of origin, my desire to be a good daughter, and, at the same time, my struggle to be honest about what family life has been like for me-a sometimes confusing mix of loss and pain, but more often than not, a celebration of forgiveness and renewal. These two ways of looking at the pictures, experientially and analytically, inform my passionate commitment to understanding family structure and process in an historical context. I need both perspectives to make sense of what captures my attention and encourages my imagination as a human being and as a family scholar.

I make two arguments in this essay. First, I argue that the notion of objectivity is too often used as a shield behind which people in positions of power to shape discourse and practice in family studies (e.g., those who publish in mainstream journals, including myself) hide ideologically driven commitments. Consciously reflecting on how our personal life history and values are relevant to a particular inquiry in which we are engaged is a way to improve our ability to critically analyze the knowledge we produce because we make as transparent as we can all the ideas that guide a study. Second, I argue that acknowledging, confronting, and integrating the ambiguities and complexities of our subjective experiences can help us generate a more inclusive family studies that can deal with the family diversity we, as scholars, are trying to understand and represent. …

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