The Family as a System - Indiana University Bloomington

The Family as a System - Indiana University Bloomington

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 and Reductionism Reductionism Any organized entity is composed of smaller parts and the entity can be understood by reducing it to its smallest part.

Living systems are nonreductionistic. Family systems are living systems. Definitions of systems Definition 1: A system is defined as a whole made up of interacting parts. You can not add these parts together and get the total system--the system is more than the sum of its 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. How comfortable are you with this definition? Elements in System Members interact in reciprocal relationships, responding to one another in the context of roles. Interaction the interplay between members Reciprocity both parties influence

each other as they interact with each other Roles a character or function one plays Wholeness To understand the family, it is necessary to look at it in its entirety not just at one or some parts. 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 Ability to enter and exit the system Degree to which the system is open Boundary Ambiguity Uncertainty about who is in and who is out of

the system Very common at times of transition Hierarchies power One Up/ One Down - 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, in every way Important concept in understanding how systems work: Change vs. Stability Family systems are stable in their chaos and orderly in their disorder . . .

Families are predictable in general, unpredictable in detail. What does this mean? 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)

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

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

Equifinality and Equipotentiality Equifinality -- Many beginnings can lead to the same outcome. Equipotentiality -- the same beginnings can result in different outcomes. Subsystems Smaller units in the larger system

which share the characteristics of the larger system Because of subsystems, you have multiple identities in the system Examples? Alliances Weaker elements in a system join with stronger (or combine with other weak ones) to counter a stronger element. An example the Grand alliance

In small groups, define and provide examples of: Reductionism System elements Interaction Reciprocity Roles Wholeness Boundaries Permeability

Ambiguity Hierarchies Homeostasis Entropy vs. negentropy Epigenesis Equifinality equipotentiality Subsystems Alliances

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 on-time ones Epigenesis principle

What we do earlier in life has significant impact in our lives later on Conflict Theory Inequity principle Inequality in resource distribution creates conflict. Resources are almost never equally distributed. Struggle and synthesis principle

Families struggle with distribution of resources. Families that are best able to distribute resources are best able to achieve synthesis (i.e., combine elements into a coherent whole) Symbolic Interaction Theory Perception as reality That which is perceived as real is real in its effects.

Role strain This occurs when filling one role causes conflict with another role. Thinking about how we define family Facilitated Article Discussion In small group, you will be discussing reading #32, which addresses a different way of conceptualizing family.

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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