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Family Science

Historical Background

Prior to the twentieth century, much of the writing about families was characterized by emotion, superstition, speculation, or "revelation." Insights concerning family life were typically gleaned from sources such as family folklore, philosophy, religion, theater, poetry, and the arts. With the rise of Social Darwinism in the second half of the nineteenth century, interest peaked in the social evolution of marriage and family forms. Attempts were made to apply Darwin's concept of biological evolution to social forms and institutions. Harold Christensen (1964) observed that during this period, the occasional scholarship about families became somewhat more systematic. Some of this scholarship was based on assumptions that families pass through natural stages in their evolution, and that this evolutionary trajectory is progressive in nature.

During the first half of the twentieth century, there was a general shift in the academy toward scientific, positivistic modes of inquiry. These approaches employed more rigorous research methodologies, and attempted to maintain a professional, value-free stance. A parallel trend was observed among scholars interested in systematic study of families.

It was during this period that family as a field of inquiry came into its own. Prior to that time, most of the scholarship related to families was imbedded in any number of traditional academic disciplines. Disciplines such as psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, education, and religion contributed valuable insights into family structure and process. However, each conveyed a limited and fragmented vision of the scope and complexity of family life (Schvaneveldt 1971). No single discipline viewed family as its organizing center or core. None described family in holistic terms, or as a coherent, integrated body of knowledge (NCFR Task Force 1988).

One of the early pioneers to study the family holistically was sociologist Ernest R. Groves. In 1922, while chair of the sociology department at Boston University, Groves launched the first college course with family as its focus, "The Family FIGURE 1 and Its Social Functions." In 1931 he published the first college textbook in the field, entitled Social Problems of the Family. Groves taught the first course on parent education at Harvard University, and from 1937 to 1942 served as special lecturer in marriage and family at Duke University (Dail and Jewson 1986). In 1934 he helped co-found what became the Groves Conference on Marriage and the Family. In 1939 he inaugurated the first three-year graduate training program in marriage and family at Duke (Greene 1986).


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Science - Historical Background, The Developing Discipline Of Family Science, Academic Programs In Family Science, Substance Areas Comprising The Discipline