Figure Versus Ground: Micro- and Macroperspectives on the Social Psychology of Personal Relationships
George Levinger University of Massachusetts, Amherst
In this chapter, I examine both micro- and macroaspects of personal relationships, because I believe recent research progress has neglected the influence of broad trends in the sociocultural environment. Social psychological research has usually focused on the figure of pair interaction at the expense of its ground -- on its immediate or proximal influences, rather than on its distal social determinants. Although personal relations researchers tend to focus narrowly on individuals or close pairs, it is evident that broad social forces affect how people relate to each other, as well as how investigators frame their research problems. Thus, traditional society has stifled studies into interpersonal relations, but modern society encourages such inquiry, which helps people answer questions about a world in flux. Therefore, I attend to the wider context that affects both the study of personal relationships and their phenomena.
This chapter has two main parts. In the first part, I examine how the study of personal relationships developed over the past half century, focusing especially on some of my own ideas and research on this topic. In the second part, I consider several recent microanalytic analyses of dyadic interaction and relationship, and then contrast their emphases with macroanalytic appraisals of social structural influences on relationships in our culture, after which I discuss some interconnections between micro- and macroapproaches.