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Family Theory

Level Or Scope Of Family Theories

Theories about the family differ in terms of their breadth of vision, level of analysis, and scope. Microscopic theories tend to focus on the internal workings of families, viewed as small groups of people in fairly intense relationships.

Mesoscopic theories focus on the transactions between families and people in the near environment who represent other groups and organizations. At this level, family theories are concerned with such things as friendships between members of different families, and the linkages between families and schools, churches, places of employment, the mass media, retail firms, and other public or private facilities and organizations.

Macroscopic theories concentrate on how the family as a social institution is embedded in society at large or in the nonhuman environment. They may, for instance, address how contemporary ways of family living emerged from significant changes in the economy, in national politics, or in technological developments. Structural and functional theories tend toward the macroscopic end of the spectrum, while symbolic and interactional theories tend toward the microscopic end.

Scope is a relative matter. For theorists of the human family, the social unit called family is roughly at the center of the spectrum, so that moving outward makes a particular theory more macro and moving inward makes it more micro.

Some family theorists focus on a fairly narrow range of the spectrum and formulate all of their ideas at one level or another. Other family theorists deliberately bridge levels, creating a transcopic theory. These multilevel theories often argue that phenomena at one level are the causes of phenomena at another level. Among such theories, the most common is a top-down approach. Societies affect families, and families in turn affect the individual persons in them. Increasingly popular are bottom-up theories that simply reverse the direction of causation, and reciprocating transcopic theories that emphasize mutual causation between levels in either alternating or simultaneous patterns. Family theories based on ecological principles currently are popular among those that are transcopic (Bubolz and Sontag 1993).

The scope of a theory helps scientists see the amount of causal agency attributed to families, as opposed to other factors outside or inside the family. Some theorists argue that families are primary causal agents. What they do has important consequences, and what makes them act may be important but is not addressed in the theory. Other theorists take exactly the opposite approach. Phenomena at the family level are to be explained by forces external or internal to them. If a theory remains entirely at the family level, it will explain something about family life in terms of causes elsewhere at the family level. A causal theory must have at least some cause or some effect at the family level to really be a theory about families. Some theories are called family theories even if they deal with only parts of a family, such as a theory about divorce or about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Theory - Philosophies Of Family Science, Purposes Of Family Theory, Meaning Of Family, Level Or Scope Of Family Theories