In earlier chapters, the topic of world views has been discussed. The basic idea, according to the rules of science, is that a theory is a valid theory only when it ascribes to a set of consistent background assumptions. Remember that assumptions are taken at face value, if we are to find a theory plausible. Further, assumptions have to agree with each other (at least not violate each others ideas), and they have to be absolutes. A theory about the nature of dogs, for example, would have to include assumptions about the canine genus:
All dogs have hair \
-- Assumptions violate each other
Some dogs are hairless /
All dogs bark \
-- Assumptions violate each other
Some dogs don't bark /
And so on ...
The amended assumptions would be:
Most dogs have hair, bark at strangers & chase things, although some dogs are hairless, some don't bark or chase things.
This illustrates the problem of ordering assumptions to fit with real
experience and possibilities.
The theories of human social behavior are prone to the same kind of assumptive dilemmas, often leading us to eclecticticism.
Our experience tells us that people interact with others:
sometimes for personal gain only (All dogs have hair), sometimes for altruistic reasons (All dogs are hairless).
Which is it? This is, fortunately, an empirical questions that can be tested in research.
The logic of science would have us choose one or the other even though we are absolutely sure that both are true. I submit, then, that the very eclectic nature of social theory is its most attractive and exciting element. A theory can enjoy fruitful hypothesis testing while failing to give the researcher the entire Big Picture of Human Social Interaction. To be correct and precise, the theorist/researcher must pay close attention to the assumptions he/she is making. The theorist would do well to remember that while no social theory has proven capable of including the entire scope of human behavior and intentions, any given theoretical position may prove useful at some time and on some theoretical level.
There has been a raging controversy in the family theory groups around
the country centering on the question:
"Does eclecticism (the mixing of world views) violate the prescriptions for a valid theory."
Before we consider the integration of the five Big Pictures in family studies, we ought to review the "eclecticism" question, beginning with a review of the basic elements of theory.
World Views Revisited - Assumptive Dimensions
-Lower Level to Higher Level of Abstraction
-Realism (materialistic) to Idealistic Extremes
-Objective to Subjective approaches
-Introspective to Extraspective approaches
-Informally to Formally Stated Theory
Abstractions, from lesser to greater abstractness is the first. Abstractions at some level must be made, though always selective and incomplete, in order that a vocabulary of terms and concepts be provided for the discussion of the phenomena of interest. Constructs made at increasingly higher levels of abstraction, from global to local levels, have different meanings and cannot inform higher or lower order theories. What is meant here, in everyday language, is this:
Suppose you were being considered for an award of some kind. The committee appointed to make selections from the pool of award seekers needs a list of attributes that would help them make their final decision. If the committee members were tired old university professors, they might decide that the best person for the award should be the one with the highest grade point average. THIS IS A LOWER LEVEL ABSTRACTION. Here, grades are an abstraction of the concept of "best one for the award". All they really describe is "best test taker we have in the pool".
Now, suppose the committee was made up of high school students, themselves tired of the grades game. They may want to interview the candidates, ask the candidates questions about morality, and mercy to those less fortunate, and loyalty to Uncle Sammy. After interviews and committee deliberation, each member would make a recommendation. The four candidates with the most votes would then be selected out in "semi-finalist" fashion. These four would meet in a grueling 12 hour debate, where the winner would finally be chosen. This is a higher level of abstraction.
Concerning realism vs. idealism, the realist position maintains
that the world of perception has existence independent of the perceiver.
This is much like the fundamentalist interpretation of ancient holy scriptures.
If the gods spoke through an individual whose writings made their way into
any number of sacred texts, the words would be taken literally (i.e.,
"Drink this wine, for it is my blood." would mean "Drink this
vessel of my actual blood."). The idealist position holds
that each observer perceives the world idiosyncratically, and is limited
by his or her historical and social environment. It is the expression
of ideas that is imperfect, not the ideas themselves (i.e., the wine is
a symbol for holy blood of the deity.). It is the difference
1) "the bride wore the most beautiful dress ever made", and
2) "the bride stood proud and handsome in her chantilly lace gown. Her sheer Italian veil with Colombian blue overtones, hung delicately over her auburn tresses, which caressed the youthful lines of her face."
The objective vs. subjective is a dimension similar to the realism/idealism dichotomy. The degree of objectivity of an abstraction defines the ability of all who observe it to grasp its meaning. Objective theories transcend the observer and may be logically arrived at by any careful thinker. The logic of the scientific method is a good example. Subjective theories are private, and not generalizable beyond the individual observer. The "black-box" approach of Skinnerian operant conditioning sidesteps the subjectivity issue, holding that it is impossible to know the real meaning of individual cognitive actions. For the completely objective theorist, science is methodology. For the completely subjective theorist, science is finesse.
The issue of introspection vs. extraspection further defines a theory's world view. Introspective theories are formulated from the object of study's point of view. This is an organismic approach in that meaning lies with the individual. Extraspective theories are defined from the observer's point of view, as if there does exist a set of identifiable laws uniformly applicable to all elements of nature (whew!). One more time - introspective theories take the unit of analysis' (the subject's) point of view, while extraspective theories take the analyst's (the researcher's) point of view.
Finally, there is informal vs. formal theory. Informal theory amounts to a loosely collected set of independent observations, while formal theory is stated as specifically and uniformly as possible and written to bring together all loosely joined tenets into an interdependent unity. Formal theory, while tedious, is precise and actually easier to understand. Often it is simplistic, as is the case of social exchange theory (profit = rewards - costs), and behavioral psychology (stimulus - response). Informal theory takes more room to explain, is sometimes illogical, and is often quite confusing. Psychoanalytic theory is one such theory.
Functions of Theory and World View
The descriptive function encompasses explanation (defining the
conditions under which behavior varies) and the reduction of concepts,
or abstracted behaviors, to operational definitions. The reductionistic
argument does not always hold (i.e., attempting to describe social behavior
in terms of physic, chemistry, or molecular interaction); however, in order
to implement research methodology, the scientist must find ways to operationalize
concepts for empirical testing. The delimiting function means
that theory has boundaries, selects limits, and fixes bounds to its cope.
In so doing, theory has an imposed structure on a universe of social
interaction. In a given universe our theory is trying to explain
just this stuff here, no more, no less.
The generative function of theory implies its theoretical inventiveness, speculation, and creativity. Here, theory is heuristic in that it stimulates investigation and furthers exploration. Theory is analogical in that it explores the relationships of its tenets to those of other constructs. It has an applicative and innovative quality. Theory is metaphorical in that it provides models to serve as representatives of the behaviors under study. Finally, the integrative function is the process of theory formalization where constructs are unified and propositions are made.
The scientific method dictates that theory is also cumulative, parsimonious, systematic, and that it must offer generalizations from operationalized concepts to higher order propositions across content areas. Theory imparts knowledge in a unified way by sorting observations and tying together empirical findings.
General Systems Theory as the Candidate for Integration of the Big Five
First, it does not explain anything new in any original manner. Almost every conceptual aspect of systems theory is accounted for in other theories that are older and better researched. Second, systems theory does not meet the definitional requirements of a theory - no hypotheses have been generated, its element of multifinality disallows predictive principles, and it fails to consider simultaneously the several levels of abstraction that structural-functional, social exchange, symbolic interaction, and developmental theories cover. Third, systems as a theory violates the demand of science for parsimony and continuity by attempting, in its implementation to include a variety of behaviors at several levels of abstraction without making appropriate and explicit conceptual shifts. One need only compare the systems theorists (Broderick and Smith, 1979; Bates and Harvey, 1975; Kantor and Lehr, 1975) to realize than no agreement on the substance of systems theory exists in family studies.
Systems theory does offer potential as the guiding general framework by which the theorist might view the family at any level - from the broad perspective of structural-functionalism to the micro-level perspective of symbolic-interactional personality development. As the systems approach stands, it does appear to mix world views. However, with some major adjustments and more extreme eclectic borrowing from other theories, many of these criticisms can be turned into positive traits. In order to evaluate systems theory, two prior tasks must be accomplished. A quick synthesis of the world view argument is necessary, and a brief review of general systems theory tenets is in order.
Mixing World Views
In contrast, some social thinkers maintain that the idea of normal science, based on old ideas, leads to petrified metaphysics - stagnated knowledge. The alternative, pluralism, is seen as more productive. Instead of a monothetic science, these folk advocate the maturation of multiple theories in an unmolested fashion, without having to contend with the proliferation of a single paradigm. Sooner or later, multiple theories will infringe on each other's "territory", making integration inevitable. Eclecticism is an eventuality, and probably the goal of theory building. Hopefully, it will occur within world views, for the sake of logic.
The main criticism I find with the hard line of normal science and stagnation is that it doesn't seem to occur very often. Take Kuhn's described socialization process for young scientists as an example. Out of normal science comes paradigmatic thought, from which fledgling scientists are professionalized. Do they maintain their paradigm throughout their professional career? Or do they tend to drift from theory to attractive theory, collecting bits of each along the way? Obviously, it is the latter that is the case.
While Freudian psychoanalytic theory and behaviorism enjoyed theoretical advantages for a while (on different continents of the globe, I might add, and during two distinct economic eras in world history), and structural functionalism did well in sociology and anthropology for the first 150 years of the two disciplines (in both capitalistic and communistic societies). No paradigm has ever been unanimously hailed as the ultimate puzzle solver and predictor of human behavior only to be thrown aside for catch-phrase pop science theories. Although we take great pleasure in poking the corpses of Freud, Comte, Durkheim, Parsons, and other seminal thinkers for their hopes of defining the physics that govern human behavior, we cannot point to a petrified social science, any more that we can produce a stagnant physics or calcified chemistry and say it is the result of poor epistimological competition or the domination of the disciplines by a ruling theory. Beginners in any discipline, by necessity, must start their training in one school of thought or another. As they learn to see the world through their paradigm (i.e., through their teachers' eyes), they begin to realize that there are cracks in the main idea of their science. Theory doesn't explain everything. As the student matures, he or she begins to seek new explanations to these anomalies. Thus, normally professionalized scientists become dabblers in eclecticism.
There is a story in the history of biology surrounding the discovery of the DNA Double Helix. It seems that Watson and Cricks were post doctoral students in England, each studying different aspects of human biology. In conversations with each other, they found that they both had an enormous curiosity about DNA and what it really looks like. They were severely admonished by their teachers for spending time on DNA when they both had more important things to do, like finishing the work they were contracted to do for their respective academic sponsors. When asked why they continued to work on the double helix idea in spite of threats of dismissal, they said the strangest thing. They said (paraphrased), "It's like love. No one can tell you you must love this woman and not that one. It is the same for the pursuit of ideas. No one can dictate what I must think."
Science and the scientific method took them so far, and would have ultimately discouraged them, but love motivated them to continue.
I think about the shift in medicine from symptom treatment to holistic treatment of patients as a mixture of world views. The formerly symptom oriented medical model is being amended to include consideration of psychological, spiritual, phenomenological, and economic aspects of healing, all in a social context that includes the patient, his or her friends and family. While mixing world views may seem to undermine the advancement science and theory, it also seems to expand the scope of science and theory, and improve the human condition. And that can't be a bad thing.
Review of General Systems Theory
However, should a crisis emerge during everyday information processing, higher order mechanisms for the control of interaction operate to mediate the reactive nature of simple feedback. Depending on the system's requisite variety (breadth of experience, intelligence, rule making capacity), these cybernetic controls serve to offer more thoughtful, rational processing of the meaning and consequences of family responses to outside input. Information of this magnitude demands special attention and is, thus, processed through system meta-rules.
In short, human systems, such as the family, are self-regulating. Cybernetic control accounts for the limitations placed on subsystem, or intrafamilial interaction. Even when meta-rules fail to resolve threatening or disparate information (crises), the system allows for the incorporation of new rules by which to guide member behavior and insure its survival. This facility is a description of adaptation, also known as morphogenic change. It occurs as a response to the system's own inadequate structure. In the case of quite severe crisis, the system's response might be to totally or partially restructure itself. Reorientation of this type results in new directions for system values, goals, and/or outlooks.
The stages of family development, from premarital relationships, through courting and marriage, to the rearing and launching of children and on into late life family interaction, require several morphogenic loops and reorientations. Individual family member boundaries change in terms of responsibility, autonomy, dependency and openness. Like all human social systems, the family increasingly evolves in complexity of organization and in adaptability.
Integration of the Big Five into a System's Approach
Parsonian functionalism (SF theory) is often misinterpreted as a static model of social structure. At least in part, the view that it is a grand theoretical tautology accounts for some of the misdirected criticisms. If such charges are of substance, then the general systems model is more the culprit. In fact, while scientific propositions cannot be tautological in nature, the reader is challenged to name a single social theory that is not a circular argument. Whether beginning with social structure and revealing its consequences (Parsons, 1949), or starting with social needs and demonstrating the emergent structure that evolves (Merton, 1949), functionalist approaches rely on nearly the same assumptions as does general systems theory. For example, in the functionalist view, the first building blocks recognizable as "social" in nature are "groups". This "tinker toy" model has statuses (positions existing in space) that are linked together by roles (expected behavior of the person occupying specific positions). At least some systems theorists also take a status/role orientation in uncovering structure (Broderick and Smith, 1979; Kantor and Lehr, 1975). Simply, when two or more positions are linked together by reciprocal roles, we have a system with structure.
Interaction with the environment is an initial assumption of structural models, as it is in systems models. A system is said to be functional if it is able to resolve problems using environmental inputs and offer the benefit of its adaptation to other systems. Parsons (1949, 1951) outlined four vital characteristics for all social systems:
Merton further outlined the functional nature of social systems by offering the manifest/latent function/dysfunction typology. For our purposes, Merton's work distinguishes between the intended and unintended helpful and harmful outcomes of family action. Summing up to this point, we have systems theory action as an umbrella perspective, under which further (and finer) distinctions about specific intersystem interaction (or interface) might be made. The addition of symbolic interaction theory will carry our integrative effort to a more microscopic level of analysis.
In order for any social system to evaluate its progress toward goals and to maintain stylistic continuity, it must have a reflexive component - a self-consciousness. The pragmatist philosophers, such as Wm. James, Bergson, and Dewey, were concerned with the question of the origin of the self (another term for personality) and were a great influence on the originators of symbolic interaction theory (Coser, 1971: 321, 335-337). These seminal thinkers were quite systemic in their views.
Cooley (1930) saw society as a whole consisting of individual parts. He asserted that no part could exist in isolation and that the smallest component, the individual, was but a microcosm of the larger society. Developmentally, for each individual, the self and society are twin born _ there is no self-concept ("I") without correlative "others". Cooley's looking glass self is an ideal typical description of the development of self-consciousness consisting of three elements:
The work of George Herbert Mead reformulated some of Cooley's notions and still serves as the guiding influence in interaction theory. Concerning the place of the individual in society:
The distinction made between the components, "I" and "me" of the self serves Mead's notion that the social foundation of the self is more than the mere organization of social attitudes. Reflexivity occurs between the two parts. An explanation of their function illustrates the dialectic. The "I" is the response (the change in self-image), of the individual to the attitudes and actions of others. The "me" houses generalized social attitudes and expectations, manifested as behaviors. When the self initiates action in response to given expectations, the "I" chooses the "me" performance - the role to be exhibited. After each action, the self reflects on its response retaining other's level of acceptance of the action sequence. Whatever the behavior's reception by others, good or bad, is used to modify or restructure future behavior patterns.
In learning various role behaviors through the generalized other process, the individual in society comes to acquire a repertoire of roles - a role set. The way in which we come to interact with others is through perceived sets of significant symbols. These meaningful elements help us select the role behavior required for any particular interaction with which we have had experience. That is, successful interaction is contingent on our level of social experience and is situationally determined, although uniquely performed in concert with others.
Both systems and social exchange appear to be "economic" models of human behavior. In systems, change in the environment is responded to by the system, with reciprocal responses made by elements in the environment to the system's input. Both seem to abide by homeostatic-type laws. In exchange theory, the profit motive is calculated by each actor in a relationship. Further, each actor judges the rewards and costs of maintaining a relationship while setting comparative levels of dissatisfaction. When the relationship is not profitable, the actor will seek a "better deal". These alternative comparison levels (Nye, 1979) are somewhat equivalent to GST's use of the concepts of morphogenesis, reorientation and conversion. In systems, when situations escalate to unbearable degrees, family members seek resolution to their problems either by resorting to "meta-rule making" or by going outside the family system for assistance and information. When the rules fail the system, the similarities to comparison levels of exchange theory are the greatest. In both instances the actors are seeking reward/relief outside the family or the relationship.
The eclecticism of developmental theories (Hill and Rodgers, 1964) is attributed to their conceptual adolescence. However, developmental theories tend to take a systemic approach to explaining maturation and personality change. Hill and Rodgers mention the use of role set development, just as Broderick and Smith (1979) and others recommend the conceptual use of roles to identify family positions. To demonstrate the developmental aspects of GST requires some examples. Each stage of family development--courtship, early marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood, widowhood--require different rules of transformation and different talents for making new rules. As the relationship between two people matures, normal systems evolve new rules through the processes of morphogenesis and reorientation. Environmental input is processed, new information stored, and appropriate action is taken by the system. Part of the need for new rules lies in the addition of new people (children) to the family, as well as the addition of new role demands from those already in the system (i.e., Mom, Dad, siblings).
Thus, as the relationship develops, boyfriend becomes husband, father, grandfather, widower over time. Each new role entails developmental tasks, acceptance of new responsibilities, as continuous family changes take place. Additionally, concepts of goals, direction and purpose mentioned in developmental theory are part of GST, as well as the same meanings implied by the use of boundaries, structure and role relatedness.
Conflict models are really functional models (Gelles and Straus, 1979). They deal in social structure, interaction with that structure (conflict) and the material/emotional effects of that interaction. It is possible to detail at least four conflict theories - with one basic set of ideas. Turner (1974) has derived assumptions from the conflict school of thought. Marxian conflict theory has evolved from the writings of Karl Marx, with departures from Georg Simmel. Marx was the materialist thinker, Simmel was the functionalist. The assumptions for both are:
4. Husband is a workaholic
2. Parenting issues and children 5. Quality and frequency of sex
3. Lack of affection 6. Infidelity of sex and confidence
Coser, out of Simmel rather than Marx, views conflict as inevitable in close relationships. However, contrary to Marx, who saw conflict as positively destructive to social systems (i.e., positive in that old, unfair systems are undermined and replaced by new just systems), Coser feels conflict to be a positive aspect of relationships, and one that strengthens the bond after resolving differences. Conflict also aids in defining goals and clarifying interests. GST does incorporate the notion of healthy dissent through its change processes. A reoriented family may be a stronger one for the experience. The interaction of the family system with other institutions is considered by both conflict and systems.
Social learning theory (Bandura, 1978) is already an integration of behaviorism, symbolic-interaction, and GST. Although not always explicitly so, we see elements of each approach in his work. The behavior/environment/personality factors triad evidences this. By placing the individual within a family setting, the immediate environment becomes the other members of the family. The actor's personal beliefs, and so on are allowed to develop through processes similar to those described by Mead, Cooley, and other SI theorists. Systemically, the Self is described as a self-regulating system (remember the development of the Generalized Other, and the I-me dialectic?). Finally, the notion of reciprocal determinism is similar to system's concept of positive and negative feedback. Depending on the family's rules of transformation (a combination of pooled personal factors and environmental factors) behaviors can be reacted against in deviance producing or deviance dampening ways by family members.
Phenomenology is a theory we haven't covered, largely because it stems from philosophy, and is largely a therapeutic tool that assumes reality to be different for each individual. If phenomenology has anything legitimate to say, it would be legitimate only to me. One of the assumptions of this view is that all experience has unique meaning only to the observer. The reader would have to step into my "stream of consciousness" in order to understand the importance of the phenomenological approach to me.
The work of psychologist R.D. Laing appears to be a reaction to standard psychiatric practices and an adoption of the phenomenological approach. Much of his work was done in the attempt to explain schizophrenia, which he described as "wild outbursts of freedom." Part of his descriptions pointed out the perversity of the human mind. For example, madness is described as a resource, to be drawn upon in times of great stress. There is some evidence of this in closed family systems. Ontological insecurity, the cause of psychosis, according to Laing, is "a self not at home with itself, total depersonalization." Mental impairment is strongly related to the type of family organization and value systems into which one is born. The phenomenological aspects of Laing lie within his approach to the family, which signifies the first setting the individual encounters in relation to the world. Here, family transformation rules may apply - the type of rules might determine feelings of familial belongingness. To be in a family is to feel the family internally, like the internalization of norms and attitudes of significant others.
Mystification, a major phenomenological concept here, is a transitive process in which mentalistic impositions are made on others. The stronger individual A imposes dependency on the weaker individual B. What is imposed is a definition of self and a structured inner and outer reality. Because phenomenology does not allow a reality apart from discrete intersubjective reality created by the individual, malleable personalities are subject to manipulation by other, more stable, perhaps aggressive ones. Mystification is also a reciprocal process (positive and negative feedback is the GST equivalent).. When A influences B, B must believe A or the process is terminated. In this way, mystification is homeostatic. Evidence of cured psychotics (both of them) who, when returned home, report their family members' dissatisfaction with their new "normal" behavior, clearly applies to the homeostatic nature of interfamilial behavior. This description is close to the findings of recovering alcoholic researchers who use GST to explain the high failure rate. GST suggests that the alcoholic has made progress in therapy while the other family members, accustomed to the old behaviors, are unaware of the changes. Remember, the cases cited by Laing, as well as much of the deviancy literature, is anecdotal and not empirical.
Mystification occurs in three steps or on three levels. Attribution is the process by which a parent may give self-definitions to offspring. These definitions may be positive, supportive and capable of inducing independence in the developing child. They may also have harmful consequences when stronger personalities attribute negative definitions of self. W.I. Thomas' notion of self-fulfilling prophecy, also known as the Situational Hypothesis is particularly applicable here. The idea that when a person defines a situation and believes in her definition, her behavior will be consistent with her beliefs. In other words, if I truly believed that the bright, red devil was following me around to stick me with his pitchfork, I would always watch my backside, always be on guard, and probably blame the devil for accidents as they occur. Situational hypotheses and mystification resemble Kantor and Lehr's (1975) description of the inevitability of certain outcomes, given the degree of openness of the family system, or "crisis chains".
The telling nature of reality external to the individual also falls under the umbrella of attribution. Invalidation is part of the process of mystification in which the individual, when attempting to make independent structuring of reality, has his statements coercively disqualified. The statement "I don't like school", can be invalidated with a parental remark such as, "You really like school, you just think you don't." Once attribution and invalidation become standard procedures within the family, then a final process, induction, completes the total subjugation of family members with malleable personalities. Here, the dominant member will actively rule the thought processes of the individual. For example, an adolescent might state:
Dad, I want to be a ballet dancer and art major in college.
Dad replies, Who knows you better than I do? You really want to be a business major and work
for your Uncle Louie's accounting firm!.
The stronger self instills its own fears and attempts to regulate
the weaker one in order to preserve its own values and beliefs. General
systems theory terms this type of sequencing preserving and maintaining
family goals and values.
Ours is basically a systems model in that component system member interaction is mediated by the same devices as described in GST. The contributions to systems theory are that member interaction is viewed as symbolic in nature on a micro-theoretical level. Institutional interaction is viewed from a structural-functional level. To fully explain the integrative model, let's look at the systems concepts one at a time.
Concerning everyday interaction between family members, the governing elements are the sets of "reciprocal role transformation rules" for each pair of members in the family. Following Mead's generalized other concept, these sets of rules are evolved over the lifespan of the pair relationship. Thus, one comes to expect quite specific behaviors from each of the various roles in the family. Likewise, one learns the behaviors he or she is obligated to perform at different times and different ages. Interaction is temporally specific. That is, in a young family, parents expect appropriate behaviors from children that they will not expect as the child matures. Children also modify their expectations of parents, each other and themselves as they grow up and incorporate an increasingly larger portion of the generalized other.
The notion of boundaries takes on a broader meaning here. Obviously, boundaries are perceived from two perspectives within a pair of reciprocal roles. These may take on added perspectives as observers to interaction are included in family drama. For example, a father-son talk may be possible as long as father's rules (dominant, more experience, caretaker) complement son's (submissive, impulsive, in need of supervision). Not only will the two actors be able to communicate, but observing grandparents, other children, and others will nod their heads approvingly at the homey scene of the two principle actors as they interpret life's incredible journey.
However, as in all families, members soon begin to cultivate additional roles as children initiate friendships outside the family, take on more responsibility for their actions, and have unique experiences. Should one actor or the other deem it necessary to independently expand or restrict her boundary with "others", the relationship becomes asymmetrical (it changes). Boundaries come into conflicting definition, and rules of transformation are differentially perceived. For situations requiring negotiation, such as non-routine crises, meta-rules developed in the Generalized Other process also exist to aid in conflict resolution.
A major distinction is made in this model between family system as primary group and other secondary groups/systems (Cooley, 1930). A conceptualization that is consistent with Cooley's notion is Parson's pattern variables. Generally, and depending on the openness of the system of analysis, primary group interaction is characterized by sentimentality, warmth, particularistic notions, and informal kinds of rules. Secondary group interaction, such as encounters with "institutional" representatives - the police, administrators, others - is guided by rules demanding universality, formal and uniform application. Decision making and crisis resolution are accomplished in the family by applying meta-rules internalized from pooled family member experience. Aberrant family member behavior is more readily excused than would be the case if the individual performed inappropriate behavior outside the family. Behavior sanctions are parcelled out as Generalized meta-rules suggest.
Should crises accelerate to levels destructive to the family system, morphogenic devices may be imported into the family. However, these perceived solutions must necessarily be sought outside the family, in other institutions or in the environment (friendship networks, self-help gurus). Structural-functionalism is particularly helpful in explaining the family's use of information lying within other systems. The global approach to institutional interaction with the grand social system illustrates that the family is truly embedded in a neighborhood within a community, within a society. Although Parsons' rigid explanation of his social system often gets in the way of functionalism's theoretical utility, it is clear that no family system exists in social isolation. On the contrary, emotional needs are sometimes met through the church, intellectual needs through education, subsistence needs through political and economic systems. Morphogenic solutions to family problems may be systematically incorporated into family meta-rules. Witness the existence of referral mechanisms among family service organizations.
Not found in general systems theory of family relationships is the plain fact that often institutions are in conflict with the general maintenance of the family. Latent dysfunctions found in the economic system may act as stressors on family member interaction. Burdened with increasing taxes and shrinking paychecks, the typical middle class husband may come to view his family as an economic albatross. Similarly, the typical middle class housewife, usually the major consumer agent for the family, may be seen as a spendthrift by her spouse, when in actuality she is unable to cover the costs of family material needs with the family income. These objective facts have symbolic, as well as empirical, impact on intrafamily relationships. The national economy does cause changes inside individual families. Likewise, political perceptions of a need for strong military defense may conflict with individual or family meta-rules defining family member welfare and safety as the higher priority. Do we freely send our sons and daughters off to war? Values of all kinds enter into the individual family and allow for perceptions about reality. GST for family relationships has to consider this too.