Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Unified Diversity in Family and Consumer Sciences: The Historic and Future Significance of Aesthetics

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Unified Diversity in Family and Consumer Sciences: The Historic and Future Significance of Aesthetics

Article excerpt


Defined as the ability to draw multiple elements into reciprocal relationships and dynamic wholes, an aesthetic approach is essential to the vitality offamily and consumer sciences as a whole and to the success of its specializations. This article explores historic writings to demonstrate That inherently aesthetic thinking and action provided a basis for the profession's most compelling philosophic works andfor its practical viability in a changing environment. It proposes that aesthetics should be more fully integrated into professional education, ideals, and practices to help all specialists meet the challenges of the new millennium.

Aesthetic aspects of personal, family, and community life have been acknowledged as relevant to family and consumer sciences since its inception as home economics (e.g., Cooley, 1910; Cox-Bishop, 1989; Hillstrom, 1920; Malone, 1948; True, 1962; Van Dommelen, 1975). Proponents of aesthetics have long argued that foods, apparel, and other household arts enrich personal life, stimulate creativity, promote logical thinking and wise management of resources, and facilitate "finer forms of social discourse" (Bevier, 1922, P. 363). Yet few professionals have explicitly discussed how a broader sense of aesthetics can enrich human experiences ranging from family meals to policy making, from childcare to aging (Dohr, 1984; Williams, 1984).

Defined as the general ability to "see the parts of a whole and how they work together" (Cox-Bishop, 1989, p. 20), a broad aesthetic approach involves the connection of diverse parts to achieve a sense of unity or meaningful and dynamic form (Broudy, 1972; Kupfer, 1983). The founders of home economics aesthetically, albeit implicitly, drew together diverse and previously disconnected parts pertinent to home life into a meaningful new profession. Early leaders expected home economics to enhance understanding about how a variety of parts, such as scientific findings, management principles, and social ideals, could be related in practical ways to achieve a more satisfying and meaningful family life.

Historic efforts to unify diverse elements from family life into a coherent profession should be applauded; however, our early leaders also made aesthetic mistakes pertaining to unity. As East (1980) notes, the early scholars and practitioners actually promoted four different models of the profession: application of science, efficient management, inductive reasoning through manual skills training, and education for traditional womanhood. Because little effort was made either to synthesize competing models or to choose a dominant model, the result has been a continued struggle to clarify and transform the profession (Baldwin, 1995; McGregor, 1997).

The overarching purpose of this article is to argue that broad aesthetic abilities are needed if family and consumer sciences professionals are to continue past patterns of connecting a multiplicity of parts to achieve dynamic wholes and to move toward greater synthesis of competing perspectives. First, a broad view of aesthetics is defined. Second, I demonstrate that inherently aesthetic thinking and action provided the basis for the profession's historically compelling philosophic works and its practical viability in a changing environment. Third, practices to enhance an aesthetic approach and help professionals meet challenges in the next millennium are proposed.


Aesthetics can be defined as the general process by which we appreciate a variety of distinctive parts, order parts into reciprocally enriching relationships, and create meaningful life forms and communities (Rehm, 1993, 1996). Kupfer (1983) defines aesthetics as a broad form-making capacity.

We respond to what is presented to us by discriminating among its constituents so as to integrate them into a unified whole. The whole is formed out of the interaction among its parts. …

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