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The Contemporary American Family

The Contemporary American Family
A Dialectical Perspective on Communication and Relationships

April 2003 | 160 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Written to expand the definition of the contemporary American family to be more inclusive, this book approaches diversity as the norm and does not assume conventional family values. The theoretical position is the dialectical approach, which assumes paradox and relational tension as normal, rather than a systems approach, which is a form of psychological cause and effect. Chapter One defines `dialectics' in the context of family communication and family relations. Chapter Two addresses the question, `What is a real family?' Chapters Three to Six examine four types of family diversity: structural, cultural, developmental, and functional. Chapter Seven takes a bold step by examining the meaning and effects of family spirituality, a topic rarely considered in academic circles but one that has enormous impact on the communication behaviors and relationships within the family.
Chapter 1: A Dialectical Approach to Family
Conceptual tools

Basic concepts

Dialectical management patterns

Interface of culture patterns

Dialectical classifications

Chapter 2: Defining the Contemporary Family
Defining family

Criteria for defining family

Chapter 3: Structural Diversity
Contemporary family structures

Nuclear family

Single parent family

Blended family

Chapter 4: Cultural Diversity
Cultural diversity in the family

Religion and family culture

Diversity in sexual orientation

Racial and ethnic diversity

Chapter 5: Developmental Diversity
Approaches to development

The family life cycle approach

The learning approach

A dialectical approach

Chapter 6: Functional Diversity
Functional diversity and the family

The impact of alcoholism on the family

Domestic violence

The dark side of divorce

Chapter 7: Family Spirituality
Bringing light into darkness

A spiritual approach

12-Step programs


I find the book extremely attractive. The dialectical perspective provides a consistent avenue from which to address the diversity (structural, cultural, developmental, and functional) in Contemporary American Families. Whereas this perspective does not claim to solve the tensions in families, it offers marvelous insights into the nature and changing diversities in families. I believe this text is particularly well suited for reasonable discussion of serious issues and provides valuable insights into the nature of families and their functioning.

Vince Bloom
California State University, Fresno

"Teresa Chandler Sabourin invites students to appreciate the mystery, complexity, and diversity of the contemporary American family. Resisting simplistic descriptions and normative descriptions, Sabourin challenges us to open our minds and hearts to the rich, humane variety of family connections as we search for ways to accommodate the competing demands and conflicting pressures experienced in our most cherished relationships. Starting from the source of her own experience, Sabourin addresses both the darker, abusive side of family relationships, as well as the lighter, spiritual side of intimacy and love. The Contemporary American Family successfully addresses the need for an accessible and teachable treatment of the dialectical perspective on close relationships. This is a book that will encourage students of family communication to respect diversity, question taken-for-granted assumptions, and share the pain and joy and of their own family experiences."

Art Bochner
University of South Florida

Teresa C. Sabourin

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