A social dialectical perspective has been employed in understanding a wide range of relationship types, including platonic friendships, polygamous families, abusive families, stepfamilies, friendships among coworkers, marital couples, romantic pairs, couple relationships with their social network, the relationships between parents and their adolescent children, the post-divorce relationship between exspouses, and families who face a dying member.
Dialectical researchers have used a variety of methods studying contradictions. Some scholars have used in-depth interviews in which relationship parties are asked simply to talk about the details of their relationship without explicit attention focused on contradictions; these interviews are subsequently analyzed by the researcher for evidence of contradiction. Other scholars have used in-depth interviewing to probe relationship parties explicitly about their awareness of, and reactions to, contradictions. Sometimes, dialectically oriented researchers have employed narrative analysis of stories of relating told by participants. Other dialectically oriented researchers have employed traditional survey methods to solicit parties' perceptions of the extent to which they experience dialectical tensions. Field-based ethnography has also been employed by dialectically oriented researchers. Finally, some dialectical researchers have coded the communicative behaviors of interacting partners for dialectical oppositions. Clearly, there is no single way to study the contradictions of relating.
Social-dialectics theories are not traditional deductive, axiomatic theories that attempt to explain cause-and-effect relations in the world, nor are they suitable for traditional hypothesis-testing. Social-dialectics theories instead typify what Jonathan Turner calls descriptive/sensitizing theories; that is, "loosely assembled congeries of concepts intended only to sensitize and orient researchers to certain critical processes" (1986, p. 11). Thus, the evaluative question to ask about social-dialectics theories is not whether their explanations are correct but whether they are useful in rendering relationships intelligible.
See also: COMMUNICATION: COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS; CONFLICT: COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS; FAMILY THEORY; NAGGING AND COMPLAINING; RELATIONSHIP INITIATION; RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE; RELATIONSHIP THEORIES: SELF-OTHER RELATIONSHIP; RENEWAL OF WEDDING VOWS; TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD
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LESLIE A. BAXTER