Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Understanding Family Process: Basics of Family Systems Theory by Carlfred B. Broderick

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Understanding Family Process: Basics of Family Systems Theory by Carlfred B. Broderick

Article excerpt

BRODERICK, Carlfred B, Understanding Family Process: Basics of Family Systems Theory. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993, 269 pp., $48.00 hardcover, $23.95 softcover.

JAMES M. WHITE*

The intellectual inheritance for family process theory is indeed diverse. Listed among the progenitors would be Shannon and Weaver's mathematical theory of communication, Weiner's cybernetics, the influence of Gregory Bateson, the writings of the Palo Alto group such as Jackson and Watzlawick, and David Olson's Circumplex model. Broderick's book attempts to "congeal" these rather amorphous strains of thinking into one systematic perspective. This is a most ambitious book and, for the most part, it is successful.

Broderick occupies a unique 'niche' in the academic world. He is a Professor in n large Sociology department, chairs a family and marriage therapy program, and is one of the past presidents of the multidisciplinary National Council on Family Relations. His academic training was multidisciplinary having attended Social Relations at Harvard and child and family studies at Cornell. His coauthored chapter (with Smith) on Systems theory in volume two of Contemporary Theories About the Family (1979), remains one of the clearest and most precise statements of this approach.

This book has many strong points to recommend it. The writing style is clear and maintains the readers' interest. I was astounded at how readable this book is. The author keeps from getting mired in detail and continually keeps the reader focused on the larger picture. Another strength is the breadth and scope of the book. Indeed, this is an ambitious attempt to apply systems thinking to most of the major areas of discourse in family life. A third strength is that the author unites empirical research, theory and therapeutic insight. The "marriage" of empirical data, theory and therapeutic insight will undoubtedly be met with enthusiasm by undergraduate readers. However, such ambition is not without its pitfalls and risks.

One pitfall which plagues the book throughout is the mixing of scientific or theoretical concepts with therapeutic sensitizing metaphors. I believe this might be appealing to the therapeutic community but that the academic community might tend to reject this approach. Systems theory and its concepts (eg. …

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