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Understanding the Family as a System. . .

and Other Theories
HPER F258 Marriage and Family Interaction Kathleen R. Gilbert, Ph.D.

Family as a system
• “The map is not the territory . . . The name is not the thing named." __ Korzybski (1942)
• What do you think this statement means?

. • Living systems are nonreductionistic.Living Systems and Reductionism • Reductionism ▫ Any organized entity is composed of smaller parts and the entity can be understood by reducing it to its smallest part. • Family systems are living systems.

Definitions of systems • Definition 1: “A system is defined as a whole made up of interacting parts.” • Definition 2: “A family system is a social and/or biological construction made up of a set of people related by blood or intention. You can not add these parts together and get the total system--the system is more than the sum of its parts.” ▫ How comfortable are you with this definition? .

Elements in System • Members interact in reciprocal relationships. ▫ Interaction – the interplay between members ▫ Reciprocity – both parties influence each other as they interact with each other ▫ Roles – a character or function one plays . responding to one another in the context of roles.

it is necessary to look at it in its entirety – not just at one or some parts.Wholeness • To understand the family. .

Boundaries • The "lines of demarcation" that indicate who is in and who is out of a system. • Boundaries can be physical or symbolic (or both) • Permeability • Boundary Ambiguity ▫ Ability to enter and exit the system ▫ Degree to which the system is open ▫ Uncertainty about who is in and who is out of the system ▫ Very common at times of transition .

in every way .Superior/ Inferior ▫ “Captain first mate” ▫ Captain makes decisions and first mate carries them out • Egalitarian ▫ Both partners maintain or attempt to maintain an equal relationship ▫ Difficult to maintain. if focus is on total equality.Hierarchies – power • One Up/ One Down .

• What does this mean? . unpredictable in detail. . . • Families are predictable in general. Stability • Family systems are stable in their chaos and orderly in their disorder .Important concept in understanding how systems work: “Change vs.

Homeostasis • The tendency of a system to return to a state of equilibrium • This is counteracted by the need for change in a living system (or the natural state of change in living system) .

▫ Requires change (addition of energy to system) to occur in order for the system to continue to exist .Entropy vs. Negentropy • Entropy -• Negentropy -▫ The natural tendency of systems to dissipate.

• This is why your early experiences in your family have such an impact on you and why it’s difficult to change long-standing patterns. • Can you think of an example? .Epigenesis • Whatever we do early in our lives and our relationships has a significant impact on what happens later in our lives.

• Equipotentiality -.the same beginnings can result in different outcomes.Equifinality and Equipotentiality • Equifinality -. .Many beginnings can lead to the same outcome.

you have multiple identities in the system • Examples? .Subsystems • Smaller units in the larger system which share the characteristics of the larger system • Because of subsystems.

▫ An example– the “Grand” alliance .Alliances – • Weaker elements in a system join with stronger (or combine with other weak ones) to counter a stronger element.

In small groups. negentropy • Epigenesis • Equifinality – equipotentiality • Subsystems • Alliances . define and provide examples of: • Reductionism • System elements ▫ Interaction ▫ Reciprocity ▫ Roles • Wholeness • Boundaries ▫ Permeability ▫ Ambiguity • Hierarchies • Homeostasis • Entropy vs.

Other Theories in the Text .

Rational Choice/ Social Exchange Theory • Self interest theories ▫ People maximize self interest by making rational choices that maximize profit and minimize loss in interactions • Equality in relationships ▫ When partners are more equal. . more likely the relationship will be stronger and that goals of the relationship will be achieved.

Change Theories / Family Life Course • Change assumption ▫ Everything in families changes • The community nature of family life ▫ Family development is affected by the connections in the family • Off-time transitions ▫ Off-time changes are more difficult than ontime ones • Epigenesis principle ▫ What we do earlier in life has significant impact in our lives later on .

▫ Families that are best able to distribute resources are best able to achieve synthesis (i. ▫ Resources are almost never equally distributed.Conflict Theory • Inequity principle ▫ Inequality in resource distribution creates conflict.e. combine elements into a coherent whole) . • Struggle and synthesis principle ▫ Families struggle with distribution of resources..

• Role strain ▫ This occurs when filling one role causes conflict with another role.Symbolic Interaction Theory • Perception as reality ▫ That which is perceived as real is real in its effects. .

you will be discussing reading #32. which addresses a different way of conceptualizing family.Thinking about how we define family – Facilitated Article Discussion • In small group. . • Note: Your discussion leader will demonstrate how to facilitate discussion by distributing a sample summary of the article and will use a set of guide questions he or she has put together for discussion.

Small group: Final Thoughts and Conclusions • In your small group. identify at least one thing from family theories that surprised you or confirmed something you already knew about how families operate. Identify one concept that you believe you can apply to your own family life. .

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