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Definition of Family

Related Constructs

Researchers have attempted to define the family based on constructs that are larger than the family. For example, the family has been viewed as a close relationship or a social group. Difficulty and theoretical problems related to defining family or families have led some to seek these broader constructs that transcend the definition of the family, from their view leading to a higher level of understanding (Goode 1959; Kelley et al., 1983; Scanzoni et al. 1989).

For example, a close relationship defined as "strong, frequent, and diverse, interdependence that lasts over a considerable period of time" (Kelley 1983, p. 38) is a broader construct than family. This has been viewed as an encompassing term that would define most families. However, this generalizing concept, although applicable to most families, does not apply to all families—for example, the family where a parent is absent and does not want to be present. It also includes others who are not part of the family such as friends and co-workers.

The family has also been viewed as a form of social group, a group held together by a common purpose. Although the family is indeed a social group, it is a social group that is very distinct when compared to other social groups. Distinctions between a family and a group have been discussed by researchers (Day, Gilbert, Settles, and Burr 1995) and include the following: (1) family membership may be involuntary, and the connection may be more permanent; (2) actions of family members can be hidden and thus there is a safe environment provided for openness and honesty but also an environment for dark activities such as abuse, addictions, and neglect; (3) family members may be more intensely bonded through emotional ties; (4) there is often a shared family paradigm or world view; and (5) there is frequently a biological connectedness that is not present in other social groups.

The review of these two encompassing constructs makes it evident that although larger constructs are useful in understanding the family, they do not specifically define family. These broad constructs allow for the inclusion of those not part of the family and the exclusion those who are part of the family. To address the problem of excluding family members, some researchers have attempted to develop definitions of the family by accounting for any type of family.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesDefinition of Family - Related Constructs, Inclusive Definitions, Theoretical Definitions, Situational Definitions, Normative Definitions, Conclusion