7400.362 - Family Life Management
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Topic 2 - History and Theories of Management

This chapter explores the nature of theory and its application to management, as well as the history of resource management, and of the evolution of the concept of American home and family.


  • Though records of management can be found even in ancient Western Europe, Greece and Rome, in America, management first emerged as a formal subject of study in the late 19th century (185-s).
  • First book that mentioned household management was by Maria Parloa (1879): “First Principles of Household Management and Cookery”
  • Home Economics founded at the Lake Placid Conferences in New York: 1899 – 1908. The conference served to move emphasis from individual family welfar to that of the community with families all contributing to the good of the group in which they lived. Ellen Richards, an MIT Microbiologist wrote the mission statement charaterizing their intention to "reduce needless suffering" and improve community health through the development of healthy, daily management instruction. This was a shift in emphases and terminology about family life which was, until the turn of the century, the purview of religious teachers.
  • Management was taken as the foundational concept of home economics by the early 20th century, with Home Economics departments created in every land grant school in every state to operate as companion programs for schools of Agriculture. The girls learned to keep the family safe and health, the boys learned to be farmers and ranchers.
  • From the outset "efficient home management and household production" were the guiding principles and the goals of Home Economics.
  • Most Home Ed. departments housed a "home management model house" with experimental kitchens and college residential labs. Each major would spend a semester living and working in the house before graduation.
  • Around 1960, with the change in academic emphasis on professionalism, Home Economics became Family and Consumer Sciences and began changing their curriculum to reflect Life and Resource management. Divisions of child and family development, nutrition and dietetics, food science, clothing and textiles, interior design, and fashion retailing were added specifically to meet the demand for professional training in these fields. Thus, most Home Economics departments became mini-univiersities offering degree programs often confused with Business, Finance, Consumerism, Child Psychology, Sociology of the Family, and Family Counseling. However, the fundamental concept tying all these divisions together would be the emphasis on management of resources. From the individual to the family to the small business to the large corporation - the FCS understanding of management could be easily incorporated - as it has been by our graduates finding employment in these fields.

Stepping back a ways, we should being with the idea F. W. Taylor's idea of Scientific Management and Work Simplification. Taylor's idea was to bring about efficient production in factory settings, and some of his methods were quite ridiculous in hindsight, also the idea behind his methods was fairly sound. Some of his principles have influenced our field as well. Basically disciples of Taylor's were offended by wasted movement, and the loss of a worker's valuable production time. Rather than having highly skilled (and thus highly paid) workers who could produce uniquely crafted items, the notion of interchangeable parts made it possible to place a worker at each and every stage of production.  The result, known as the factory model, has it that no one in the factory actually produced anything all by themselves. Collectively, like many bees building a hive, all the workers and parts would come together through the assembly line to create the gizmo, thing or product. This is the reality of production today, although significant amounts of production occurs outside the U.S., with robots or automated "workers" replacing human beings at the workstation.

It is a little interesting that a guy named Taylor would be the proponent of an idea that would produce things that are anything but "tailor-made".  Also known as "efficiency experts" Taylor's ideas spawned a new employment niche, where such an "expert" would be hired by a business to observe the workplace process and take notes.  After some analysis, all designed to reduce the number of steps in the normal production of things, reports, stuff, the Expert would make his recommendation. There were even articles written in women's magazines of the day, explaining in great detail, how to efficiently shave their legs or do the wash, or prepare a chicken for two or three meals while wasting none of it - even advising that the bones would be retained to make a soup. Interestingly - while taking a debilitating toll on factory workers, this idea of simplifying work was incorporated into the Domestic Science Movement, which was the earliest beginnings of Home Economics.

As more appliances and the capability of adding such gizmos to daily household management (i.e., electricity, indoor plumbing, efficient cooking and laundry equipment) and as the production of new and labor saving devices emerged (vacuum cleaners, automatic dishwashers, even new telephone equipment), simplification was sort of turned on its ear and became ever increasingly complex.  The "modern home" was invented, as the economy needed (and found) more customers for its advanced goods. Who would have needed a wireless router for their home internet connection 20 years ago? You could find a telephone modem 15 years ago for a price of $80. Today nobody needs a modem - people want high speed internet access at $40 a month plus the equipment. The modern homes being built today have wirelessness built right into the floor plans.

II. Three Eras of the Changing American Home
  1. Pre-Modern American Home (1900s) had no indoor plumbing, food storage was limited to a small "ice box", limited markets sold only staple items such as flour, sugar, beans, some fresh meats. families prepared all their meals from scratch, mothers made clothing for their family members. The turn of the centure was a time of major transformations however, ushering in massive innovations, building factories to produce consumer goods from canned food to the automobile.
  2. Modern American Home (around 1950) – electricity available in most houses except for rural areas, supermarkets replaced small dry goods stores, the introduction of fast food entered family meal time since mothers began working for pay outside the home. Television and electric lighting forced bed time to start later each decade. Think about the problems all these modern conveniences brought - sleep disorders, obesity, dietary disease.
  3. Post-Modern American Family (1990-2010) – today the home is almost completely reliant on outside resources from heating and cooling to food acquisition. Most of our garbage (which has increased over a thousand percent since 1900) comes from packaging discarded after shopping trips. We rely on computers and other technology, fast food restaurants, and are prone to use ‘ready to use’ things and services. And we pay for the conveniences in terms of lost family communication, unified goals among family members and so on.
    III. Four Eras of Family/Home Management - According to one classification (Carole Vickers, 1986), Family/Home Management has passed through these four principal eras:
  1. 1900-1930s: Health, sanitation, hygiene; household production as economic production
  2. 1940s-early 1950s: Simplification, standardization and efficiency. the rise of Household Equipment (sold door to door because women were home and not at "work". “This is the Suckomatic 1200 - the most powerful electric sweeper on the market today.”
  3. 1950s-1960s: valuing family goals, standards, resources etc. more than work performance at home
  4. 1970s-1980s: Development of a systems framework, relating family, home and society
  5. And today there could be added a Post-Modern Era of Solitary Individualism, where family members are more loosely connected to their familys over their lifetimes.

THEORY - More important that we might think.
There is a famous quote from those books of insults: “They call him theory, because he never works!!” While this may bring a smile to most faces, the fact is, by the very nature of our field being an applied social science, we have to rely on research and theory. And we are fortunate to have strong theories at our disposal. As Kurt Lewin put it, there may be nothing as practical as a good theory, so lets dwell a little on what theory is.

Theories are the means by which science realizes its goals, which are to classify and organize (describe) events so that they make sense, to explain the past and predict the future, and to offer an "intuitively pleasing sense of understanding why and how events should occur. (Turner, 1974: 2). In other words, the goals of science are to describe, explain and predict events and phenomena regarding the family. In this definition, the three main goals of any theory are present.

  • Conceptual principles comprise the descriptive function of theory.
  • Hypothetical principles comprise the explanatory function of theory.
  • Pragmatic principles form the basis for the predictive function of theory.

That is what theory does - it describes, explains, and predicts everything human beings do to survive and thrive. Theories attempt to make order out of chaos by organizing seemingly disparate parts of things (the universe, reality, everyday life) into logical, coherent, understandable sets of relationships. Jonathan Turner (1978) terms this the problem of order, which is also known as the Hobbesian Question:

How is order possible in a world where everyone competes at once for scarce resources in order to survive?

Sociologists tend to agree that order is possible because of each person's dependency, or connectedness, to the social world in which they exist. While we may not be completely aware of it, we somehow know that we need the police, the truck driver who brings goods to the stores we frequent, and so on. Think for a moment about any family as it begins its day.

The sun is coming up, an alarm clock awakens the designated early riser - for our purposes, let us use a mother. Mom gets out of bed, nudges a snoozing father awake and pushes him toward the shower, shakes sleepy children awake, then goes downstairs to prepare the morning 1-2 meal (the most important meal of the day!). She flips the radio or television on (media dependency) so that the predicted temperature and weather patterns for the day can determine the clothing everyone will use. Sensitive to the absence of movement noises upstairs, and knowing the other members of the family as she does, she stands at the foot of the stairwell and hurls a few threats up the steps - "Don't make me have to come up there!", then waits a beat to gauge the effect. Children start to rustle out of bed, go into the bathroom, then down to breakfast, except for Tiffany who is massively worried about her attire for the day. One by one, each family member us ushered out on her day.

This out-of-bed-into-the-bathroom ritual implies the family's adaptation to changing social demands. Only a few decades ago, we, as a culture, washed the day's labor off our bodies at night before supper, especially when we earned a living with our muscles. As we retired, or reallocated, our muscles to tennis and racquetball courts and the running trail, and began to work in less physical occupations in offices, only then we discovered the need to start the day fresh and clean.

Interestingly, this ritual is played out in millions of American homes every single weekday morning during the school year. The extent of such order exists in so many households that rarely is there a serious disagreement. In fact, there is very little talk at all.

  • How is order possible with so much potential for conflict or error?
  • How are patterns of family organization created, maintained, and changed?
To answer these questions, theory must classify and organize the events in everyday life, explain causes of past events and predict when, where and under what conditions future events will occur, and offer a sense of understanding of why and how things happen the way they do. Theory accomplishes all of this in its own orderly, systematic fashion, beginning with the isolation and definition of concepts, and the forming of hypothetical relationships between concepts. These are the building blocks of  theory.

The Four Functions of Theory

1. A Descriptive Function
2. A Delimiting Function
3. An Explanatory Function
4. A Predictive Function
These are, with the addition of "delimiting", identical with the goals of science. They are also the same functions required of social research (Touliatos and Compton, 1988). Let me reiterate, the functions of theory and those of research are exactly the same.  In other words, theory and research are two sides of the same coin.
  • -Theory describes situations and events, as nearly as possible, as they occur in reality. Theoretical statements about some aspect of family life should paint a meaningful and accurate picture of the events in question. When reading scholarly literature about the differences between girls and boys as they develop through adolescence, for example, one should be able to imagine the reality of two typical teenagers as the he or and the she normally mature.
  • -Theory delimits the picture of family life it creates by cropping reality to exclude portions of social organization not covered by the theory. Social and psychological theories should specifically state to which groups, to what portions of the population, or to whom the theory applies. This feature allows social scientists to generalize theory in specific ways. Adolescent development will obviously be different for boys versus girls, for Koreans compared to Canadians, and for rich and poor teens. Thus, a theory of adolescent development would necessarily specify appropriate delimiting factors, as well as note the conditions when the rule might apply to all.
  • -Theory explains, or provides the "why" of, various aspects of individual experience and social events. For example, theories dealing with teenage pregnancy should explain why so many teens find themselves pregnant even though information about contraception is readily available. A good theory will explain events using "relational" statements (i.e., as self-esteem increases among teenage girls, their risk of premarital pregnancy decreases).
  • -Finally, theory predicts behavior or events. Often the prediction is inherent in the explanation. Given the statement about self-esteem and pregnancy, we could theoretically predict outcome (i.e., if parents, teachers, and others increase the number of self-esteem building messages aimed at teenage girls, this will effectively reduce the number of pregnant teenagers over time).

These are some of the rules that guide the generation of social theories. However, social theory is constantly evolving as more and more theory-based research is initiated and completed.
A System is an integrated set of parts that function together for some end purpose or result, processing information and transforming energy. Systems Theory is a view of things as systems that are interconnected and interdependent in a feedback loop, with certain characteristics that are applicable to almost everything, from biological systems, to stock markets and organizations, and of course, families. A Morphogenic system is one that is adaptive and open to change. A Morphostatic system: System is resistant to change. Subsystems are little systems that reside inside larger systems.

A review of the systems model shows its general applicability to human social behavior.  Normal operation of human systems depends on that system's ability to process information.  Simple feedback allows the system a mode of processing by which non-crisis type information may be processed without the investment of large amounts of energy. 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. Information of this magnitude demands special attention and is, thus, processed through system meta-rules.

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 or 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.

Some Characteristics of systems.

  1. Cycle: Inputs (eg. Ideas, info) are brought into the system, transformed in the throughput stage, and result in outcomes or outputs, which are somehow translated into further inputs
  2. Feedback: this cycle is closed in a feedback loop, since inputs become outputs, which become inputs for another subsystem, and so on. Negative feedback occurs when an imbalance is detected and must be corrected, while positive feedback is a proactive action designed to start a cycle.
  3. Negative Entropy: is the goal of systems. It refers to the tendency to keep going to defeat entropy or dissolution or destruction. So long as energy is moving in the cycle, the system is alive. As soon as more energy is expended than is being inputted, it dies, or results in entropy. (Remember, negative entropy is a good thing!)
  4. Homeostasis: is the tendency to maintain balance. It’s like a thermostat..the moment an imbalance is detected, the system kicks into action to correct it and maintain homeostasis.
  5. Equifinality: refers to the phenomenon in which different circumstances and opportunities lead to similar out comes.
  6. Multifinality: refers to the phenomenon in which the same initial circumstances or conditions may lead to different outcomes.

The family may be considered a good example of a system, since it displays the following characteristics:

  1. Families are dynamic and ever-changing.
  2. Family systems regulate themselves to maintain HOMEOSTATIS (equilibrium or stability) - a state of consistency and resist change.
  3. Families operate according to the principle of EQUIFINALITY which means that almost all families arrive at the same point over time.   The beginnings are different but the outcome is the same.
  4. All behavior in a family system is functional - every behavior serves a function (not always a positive function).
  5. The concept of wholeness means the family is greater than the sum of it's parts (the members of the family)
  6. There is no cause-and-effect regarding families. The really have no discernable beginning or ending.
According, McCubbin (1997), families are very resilient because:
  • They establish the pattern of functioning after being challenged and confronted by risk factors – elasticity
  • Have the ability to recover quickly from a misfortune, trauma, etc., - buoyancy
Human Ecology = The study of humans interacting with their environment* and its resources as social, physical and biological beings. Thus the Family Ecosystem which is a subsystem of Human Ecology. It discusses the interaction between families and their environment. Paolucci, Hall and Axinn (1977) view the family ecosystem as having three elements:
  1. Organisms – in this case, family members
  2. Environments – this can be divided into micro-environment (the near environment that closely surrounds individuals and families) and macro-environment (surrounds and encompasses the micro-environment, e.g. trees, sky, oceans)
  3. Family Organization – this transforms energy (ideas, information) into family decisions, activity and functioning.

Optimization means obtaining the best possible result, given the many restraints and opportunities; i.e. making use of resources to the best satisfaction of those concerned. An important skill needed for optimization is Information Seeking and Decision Making. The theory of optimization may be ‘optimal’ for short-term, straightforward questions or situations. For instance, Gary Becker questions its applicability in a decision like mate selection – is marriage strictly an economic choice? Maybe the makers of “Who wants to marry a millionaire?” would agree, huh?!

This refers to picking the first good alternative that presents itself (Simon, 1959). This strategy again applies when time and choices are limited. However, applying it to certain aspects of resource management like personal consumption may be tricky. As Hanna (1989) mentions, “values other than efficiency are important for many people, including satisfaction derived from the process rather than the end-product, and creation of unique products not available from the market.” He further provides examples of how often organizations and households are definitely NOT efficient, though they can and should be.

Risk Aversion
We try to maximize our satisfaction through avoiding risk.  The basis of many decisions is risk aversion. Risk is the possibility of experiencing harm, suffering, danger, or loss, and there are different types of risk:

  • functional (performance) risk - a choice may not turn out as desired.
  • financial risk - money may be lost
  • physical risk - bungee jumping
  • social risk - others may disapprove of one's decision or behavior
  • time risk - ability to satisfy wants declines over time.
Risk Aversion - the avoidance of risk - depends on our upbringing and environment. In management, the theory of maximization (optimization) of satisfaction through avoidance of risk answers many questions and explains several decisions/