Remaking "Family" Communicatively

by Leslie A. Baxter (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs VIII, 316 Pages
Series: Lifespan Communication, Volume 1


Demographers have repeatedly confirmed that the nuclear family is on the decline. Yet when Americans are asked about their ideal family, the nuclear family emerges as the most valued kind of family. Members of families that do not match this cultural ideal face a discursive burden to legitimate their identity as a «family.»
This volume gathers together communication scholars who are working on the many kinds of alternative family forms, from, among others, grandfamilies, diasporic immigrant families, and military families to in (voluntarily) childless families and stepfamilies.
The organizing question for the volume focuses on resistance, reconstruction, and resilience: how is it that alternatives to the traditional family are constructed and sustained through communicative practices? Several chapters adopt a global perspective, thereby framing the issue of legitimation of «family» in a broader cultural context.
None of the family forms described in this volume meets the ideological «gold standard” of the nuclear family, and in this sense they all represent a remaking of the family in profound ways.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Series Editor Preface
  • Part One: Introductory Framings
  • Chapter One: Introduction to the Volume
  • The Contested Nature of “Family”
  • “Family” as a Communicative Accomplishment
  • The Present Volume
  • Chapter Two: Blood, Law, and Discourse: Constructing and Managing Family Identity
  • A Brief Historical Overview
  • Status of the Family
  • The Status of Marriage
  • U.S. Population Trends
  • International and Intercultural Differences
  • Discursive Construction of Family Identity
  • The Role of Implicit Discursive Construction of Family Identity
  • Family Communication Contributions
  • The Role of Strategic Discourse in Family Identity Construction
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: Theorizing the Communicative Construction of “Family”: The Three R’s
  • The Three R’s of Theorizing the Communicative Construction of “Family”
  • The First R: Remaking
  • The Second R: Resistance
  • The Third R: Resilience
  • Conclusion
  • Part Two: Remaking “Family” beyond Traditional Marriage
  • Chapter Four: Families Centered upon a Same-Sex Relationship: Identity Construction and Maintenance in the Context of Legally Recognized Same-Sex Marriage
  • Same-Sex Marriage as a New Context
  • Getting Married (or Not) and Communication about Family Legitimacy
  • Same-Sex Marriage and Communication about Family Legitimacy with Families-of-Origin
  • Same-Sex Marriage and the Communication of Family Legitimacy for Families with Children
  • Same-Sex Marriage and Communication about Family Legitimacy with Friends
  • Same-Sex Marriage Restrictions and Communication about Family Legitimacy
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • Chapter Five: Single-Parent Families: Creating a Sense of Family from Within
  • Obstacles of Single-Parent Families
  • Research on Single Parenthood
  • Research on Societal Attitudes about Single Parenthood
  • Creating and Communicating a Sense of Family in the Face of Stigma
  • Emphasizing the Quality of Parenting Rather Than Family Structure
  • Valuing a Sense of Family and Building Resilience
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Chapter Six: “I’m the parent and the grandparent”: Constructing the Grandfamily
  • The Discourse Dependency of Grandfamilies
  • “Doing Grandfamily”: Narratives and Storytelling
  • Narrative Challenges in Grandfamilies
  • Definitional Challenges Facing Grandfamilies
  • Developmental Dissonance and Disruptions of the Grandfamily
  • Navigating the Stigma of Perceived Parental Failure
  • Competing Family Loyalties and Painful Narrative Inheritance
  • Communicating Resilience in Grandfamilies
  • Note
  • Chapter Seven: Remaking Hindu Arranged Marriages in the Narrative Performances of Urban Indian Women
  • Traditional Hindu Marriage and Family
  • Social Scientific Research on Arranged Marriages: A Brief Review
  • Theoretical Framing and Research Practices
  • Performative Reframings
  • Marriage as Comfort
  • Playing Wife
  • Romance
  • Egalitarian Friendship
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Part Three: Remaking “Family” beyond Biological Ties
  • Chapter Eight: Life without Kids: In(Voluntarily) Childless Families
  • Composition of Childless Families
  • Expectations for Parenthood
  • Childless by Choice Families
  • “It’s selfish”
  • “You’ll regret it later”
  • “You’re incomplete”
  • Infertile Couples
  • “You waited too long”
  • “You’re not trying hard enough”
  • “You’re trying too hard! Just relax!”
  • “You want kids, right?”
  • Implications and Future Directions
  • Men and Childlessness
  • Singles and Childlessness
  • Loss of a Child
  • Long-Term Outcomes
  • Positive Interactions about Childlessness
  • Revelations about Surrogacy and Donors
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Nine: The Adopted Family
  • Internal Boundary Management
  • Naming
  • Discussing
  • Ritualizing
  • External Boundary Management
  • Outsider Remarks
  • Parental Responses
  • Adoptee Perspective
  • Call for Future Research on External Boundary Management
  • Narrative
  • Narrative as Internal Boundary Management Process
  • Narrative as External Boundary Management Process
  • Narrative as Border Work Process
  • Call for Future Research on Narratives
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Ten: Discourse Dependence, Relational Ambivalence, and the Social Construction of Stepfamily Relationships
  • Sources of Discourse Dependence in Stepfamilies
  • Developmental Changes and Adaptation in Stepfamilies
  • Dialectical Tensions in Stepfamily Relationships
  • Feeling Caught in Stepfamilies
  • Sites of Discourse Dependence in Stepfamilies
  • Family Rituals and Narratives in Stepfamilies
  • Roles and Labels in Stepfamily Relationships
  • Coparenting Relationships in Stepfamilies
  • A Discourse-Dependent Conclusion
  • Chapter Eleven: “He became like my other son”: Discursively Constructing Voluntary Kin
  • Boundaries of Voluntary Kin
  • Developing and Legitimizing Voluntary Kin
  • Labeling Voluntary Kin
  • Understanding the Diversity of Voluntary Kin
  • Voluntary Kin among African Americans
  • Voluntary Kin among Latinos
  • Voluntary Kin among LGBT Persons
  • Voluntary Kin among Elderly Persons
  • Navigating Internal and External Challenges to Voluntary Kin
  • Conclusions and Future Directions
  • Part Four: Remaking “Family” beyond Shared Households
  • Chapter Twelve: Military Families: Remaking Shared Residence, Traditional Marriage, and Future Communication Research
  • Remaking Shared (and Stable) Residence: The Unique Context of the Military Family
  • Remaking Military Families: Beyond Traditional, Heterosexual Forms and Biological Ties
  • Who Do Military Family Communication Scholars Study?
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Female Service Members’ Families & Dual-Military Marriages
  • Childless Families
  • Single Parents
  • Military Stepfamilies
  • Remaking Approaches to Military Family Communication
  • Chapter Thirteen: Discourse Dependence in the Commuter Family
  • Defining Commuter Marriage
  • Demographics of Commuting Families
  • Foundational Academic Research
  • Commuter Marriage Research in Diverse Disciplines
  • Higher Education
  • Family Studies/Family Counseling
  • Psychology/Organizational Behavior
  • Interpersonal/Family Communication
  • Directions for Future Research
  • U.S. Bias
  • Bias toward Couple-Centric Adults
  • Work-Family Balance
  • Timing and Fluidity of Commuting
  • Building Up the Menu of Discursive Strategies
  • Chapter Fourteen: “Is he my real uncle?”: Re-constructing Family in the Diaspora
  • Forced to Leave the Homeland
  • Post-migration Stressors
  • The Ideal Family
  • Re-configuring Family during Resettlement
  • Afghan Hindus: A Case Study
  • Importance of Family Ties
  • Who Counts as Family?
  • Fragmentation of Family Due to Dispersal
  • Roles, Rules, Privacy, and Conflict
  • Directions for Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • About the Contributors
  • Subject Index
  • Cited Author Index

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Remaking “Family” Communicatively


Remaking “Family” Communicatively represents a signficant development in the history of ideas about family communication. Since the early days of family communication studies in the 1980s, family communication scholars have labored to develop inclusive ways to think about and conceptualize “families.” Most writers of family communication textbooks, for example, have created definitions of “family” using inclusive language and often lengthy prose to create a big tent. Similarly, those who follow the family communication research literature have also seen sincere efforts towards inclusivity, but, to date, mostly have been reading about communication in human systems populated by people cast in roles using familiar historic language.This volume offers a clarion call to all those who study, teach, and live family communication: “families” are discursively dynamic and evolve. That is, borrowing a line from an old TV commercial, today’s families both are, and are not, like our “fathers’” Oldsmobiles. Professor Leslie Baxter and her authors collectively paint a wonderful portrait of the current state of conceptualizing the “family” in “family” communication that not only will inform contemporary societal discursive struggles with meanings of familial terms, but will become a much-cited work in the future.

Like this volume, the book series, Lifespan Communication: Children, Families and Aging, invites communication scholars to view communication through a panoramic lens—from first words to final conversations—a comprehensive communication ← vii | viii → vista that brings children, adolescents, adults, and those in later life as well as lifespan groups such as the family into focus. By viewing communication panoramically it is also my hope that communication scholars and educators will incorporate into their work the widely accepted idea that communication develops, that is, it has a starting point and a developmental arc; changing as we change over time. And further, that developmental communication arcs are historically contextualized. As infants we begin our communication education in unique historical contexts that shape our early communication learning as well as the foundations of our communication values. Children born in 2014, for example, will begin their communication learning in a time where humans are seeking to remake themselves to fit a rapidly changing and increasingly digitally mediated landscape. Of course adults caring for children—circa-2014—who, following this volume, could have been born anytime between the 1930’s to the late 1990’s—have experienced vastly different developmental communication arcs, but yet must discursively span the generations, pass along their communciation knowledge and values, as well as teach children how to communicate effectively within the current historical context. Historically contextualized lifespan thinking also raises important new questions such as what is to be passed along from one generation to the next as “timeless” communciation knowledge and practices? Or in contemporary digital parlance, what is to become memetic, that is, analogous to genetic information, what survives to become the communication inheritance of future generations?

It is my hope that Remaking “Family” Communicatively, and all of the books published in the Lifespan Communication: Children, Families, and Aging series will offer the communication field new understandings and deeper appreciation of the complexities of all forms of communciation as it develops across the lifespan as well as raise important questions about communication for current and future generations to study.

—Thomas J. Socha

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Introductory Framings

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Introduction to the Volume


The goal … should be to recognize the variety within which households can come—the diversity of domestic relations, the inventiveness of human connection, and not the singling out of one form of relation … over all others.


The demographic data speak loudly: the modern family—the nuclear family form consisting of a husband-wife pair who raise their biological offspring in a shared household—is not the numerical norm among households. The 2010 U.S. Census was the first in the history of the census to report that households headed by a husband-wife pair dipped below the 50% point (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, April). Households in which a husband-and-wife pair lived with their “own children” dropped to 20.2%, whereas all other household forms showed percentage increases from the 2000 Census: heterosexual couples without their own children, single-parent households, single householders living with relatives other than their own children, same-sex partner households, cohabiting opposite-sex partner households, and households headed by an adult living either alone or with non-related others. Actually, the number of husband-wife households with their own biological children is lower than this percentage. The U.S. Census Report includes as “own children” “biological, adopted, and stepchildren of the householder who are under 18” (p. 4). Of the approximately 74 million children under age 18, about 29% live with a single parent, 2.1% are adopted, 3.8% are stepchildren, 7.9% live with a ← 3 | 4 → grandparent, 2.2% live with another relative (usually an aunt or uncle), and 1.8% live with a nonrelative. These demographic data document a myriad of family forms that collectively are referred to as post-nuclear families, nontraditional families, alternative families, or postmodern families, and they enact what Stacey (1990) describes as the “unpredictable, often incongruous, and contested character of contemporary family practices” (p. 5) of the contemporary American family.

The Contested Nature of “Family”

To some, the demographic portrait is reason for alarm: a nostalgic mourning for the decline in “family.” However, as family historian Stephanie Coontz (1992), among others, has observed, this call to return to what is viewed as the “natural” nuclear family structure is based more on myth than on evidence of what family structure actually was like in pre-industrial America. More broadly, scholars of the history of the European family have concurred, observing that a view of the nuclear family as the natural family form is more myth than reality (e.g., Kertzer, 1991; Shorter, 1975).

The mourning of some imagined “natural” family of the historic past documents the omnipresence of a dominant ideology of “family” in which the nuclear family is valued as the natural family form. But, as the cultural critic Pierre Bourdieu (1996) has observed,

The dominant, legitimate definition of the normal family (which may be explicit, as it is in law, or implicit, in for example, the family questionnaires used by the state statistical agencies) is based on a constellation of words … which, while seeming to describe social reality, in fact construct it. … A number of the groups that are called “families” in the present-day USA have absolutely no resemblance to [the] dominant definition, and … in most modern societies the nuclear family is a minority experience. … The new forms of family bonds that are being invented before our eyes remind us that this family, which we are led to regard as natural because it presents itself with the self-evidence of what “has always been that way,” is a recent invention, and is perhaps fast disappearing. (p. 19)

“Family,” in other words, is not a natural state of social bonding but a cultural creation. Unfortunately, what is commonly accepted as “natural” becomes a standard against which alternatives are judged as “unnatural,” a deviation from what is “normal,” and thus subject to a judgment of inferiority or illegitimacy. As Bourdieu continued,

Every time we use a classificatory concept like “family,” we are making both a description and a prescription, which is not perceived as such because it is (more or less) universally accepted and goes without saying. We tacitly admit that the reality to ← 4 | 5 → which we give the name “family,” and which we place in the category of “real” families, is a family in reality. (p. 20)

Familial arrangements that depart from the ideological “gold standard” of the nuclear family face a burden of legitimation, or what Kathleen Galvin refers to in the next chapter as the burden of discourse dependence.


VIII, 316
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
nuclear family cultural ideal identity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 316 pp.

Biographical notes

Leslie A. Baxter (Volume editor)

Leslie A. Baxter (PhD, University of Oregon), is Collegiate Fellow and Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. She received the 2007 Bernard J. Brommel Award for outstanding scholarship in family communication from the National Communication Association (NCA) as well as the 2011 Family Communication Division Outstanding Book Award, among others. In 2008 she was given NCA’s highest honor by being named an NCA Distinguished Scholar.


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