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Definition of Family

Inclusive Definitions

Inclusive definitions are those that are so broad that no one's perception of family will be excluded. For example, James Holstein and Jaber Gubrium (1995) illustrate an inclusive definition of the family by utilizing a phenomenological and ethnomethodological theoretical perspective in an attempt to understand how individuals experience reality. Family, based on this perspective, is each individual's interpretation of who their kin are. The basic argument is that meanings and interpretations have no connection to rules, norms, or culture. Thus, the definition of family is based on the individual's local subculture and is his or her own reality. For example, Barbara Rothberg and Dan Weinstein illustrate an inclusive definition that can encompass all local subcultures by stating that: "the constellation of family is limited only by the limits of participants' creativity" (1966, p. 57).

Inclusive definitions are reasoned and scholarly attempts to deal with the increasing diversity of primary or close relationships in postmodern societies. According to David Cheal (1993), the 1980s and 1990s have brought a shift from defining the family as the modern family to defining it as the postmodern family. The family is no longer a fixed form; it is now more free form. The term family has been replaced by families and has become the embodiment of whatever the individual perceives to be family.

Based on this type of definition, the family becomes whatever the individual wants it to be. The definition of family is thus dependent on every feature of an individual's life, including beliefs, culture, ethnicity, and even situational experiences. Although this definition type is extremely universal, it is also very nebulous, thus making research on the family difficult. The researcher is confronted with the problem of no longer being able to define what family is, as it can become anything the individual wants it to be. For this reason, other researchers have proposed definitions of the family that focus on similarities among families and thus allow for theoretical as well as applied research.


Additional topics

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