7400.362 - Family Life
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Topic 2 - History and Theories
This chapter explores the nature of theory and its application to
as well as the history of resource management, and of the evolution of
the concept of American home
I. EARLY YEARS OF MANAGEMENT
- Though records of management can be found even in ancient
Greece and Rome, in America, management first emerged as a formal
study in the late 19th century (185-s).
- First book that mentioned household management was by Maria
“First Principles of Household Management and Cookery”
- Home Economics founded at the Lake Placid Conferences in
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
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
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
- 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
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
it possible to place a worker at each and every stage of
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,
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
proponent of an idea that
would produce things that are anything but "tailor-made". Also
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
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
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
as the economy needed (and found) more customers for its advanced
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
III. Four Eras of Family/Home Management -
one classification (Carole Vickers, 1986), Family/Home Management has
these four principal eras:
- Pre-Modern American Home (1900s) had no indoor plumbing,
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.
- Modern American Home (around 1950) – electricity available
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.
- Post-Modern American Family (1990-2010) – today the home
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.
- 1900-1930s: Health, sanitation, hygiene; household
production as economic
- 1940s-early 1950s: Simplification, standardization and
rise of Household Equipment (sold door to door because women were home
and not at "work". “This is the Suckomatic 1200 - the most powerful
sweeper on the market today.”
- 1950s-1960s: valuing family goals, standards, resources
etc. more than
work performance at home
- 1970s-1980s: Development of a systems framework, relating
- And today there could be added a Post-Modern Era of
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
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
so lets dwell a little on what theory is.
Theories are the means by which science realizes its goals,
to classify and organize (describe) events so that they make sense, to
explain the past and predict the future, and to offer an "intuitively
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
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
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
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
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.
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
understanding of why and how things happen the way they do. Theory
all of this in its own orderly, systematic fashion, beginning with the
isolation and definition of concepts, and the forming of hypothetical
between concepts. These are the building blocks of theory.
- How is order possible with so much potential for conflict
- How are patterns of family organization created,
maintained, and changed?
The Four Functions of Theory
1. A Descriptive Function
These are, with the addition of "delimiting", identical with the goals
of science. They are also the same functions required of social
(Touliatos and Compton, 1988). Let me reiterate, the functions of
and those of research are exactly the same. In other words,
and research are two sides of the same coin.
2. A Delimiting Function
3. An Explanatory Function
4. A Predictive Function
- -Theory describes situations and events, as nearly as
possible, as they
occur in reality. Theoretical statements about some aspect of family
should paint a meaningful and accurate picture of the events in
When reading scholarly literature about the differences between girls
boys as they develop through adolescence, for example, one should be
to imagine the reality of two typical teenagers as the he or and the
- -Theory delimits the picture of family life it creates by
to exclude portions of social organization not covered by the theory.
and psychological theories should specifically state to which groups,
what portions of the population, or to whom the theory applies. This
allows social scientists to generalize theory in specific ways.
development will obviously be different for boys versus girls, for
compared to Canadians, and for rich and poor teens. Thus, a theory of
development would necessarily specify appropriate delimiting factors,
well as note the conditions when the rule might apply to all.
- -Theory explains, or provides the "why" of, various aspects
experience and social events. For example, theories dealing with
pregnancy should explain why so many teens find themselves pregnant
though information about contraception is readily available. A good
will explain events using "relational" statements (i.e., as self-esteem
increases among teenage girls, their risk of premarital pregnancy
- -Finally, theory predicts behavior or events. Often the
prediction is inherent
in the explanation. Given the statement about self-esteem and
we could theoretically predict outcome (i.e., if parents, teachers, and
others increase the number of self-esteem building messages aimed at
girls, this will effectively reduce the number of pregnant teenagers
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.
IV. SYSTEMS THEORY
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
(crises), the system allows for the incorporation of new rules by which
to guide member behavior and insure its survival. This facility
a description of adaptation or morphogenic change. It occurs as a
to the system's own inadequate structure. In the case of quite
crisis, the system's response might be to totally or partially
itself. Reorientation of this type results in new directions for
system values, goals, and/or outlooks.
- Cycle: Inputs (eg. Ideas, info) are brought into the
in the throughput stage, and result in outcomes or outputs, which are
translated into further inputs
- Feedback: this cycle is closed in a feedback loop, since
outputs, which become inputs for another subsystem, and so on. Negative
feedback occurs when an imbalance is detected and must be corrected,
positive feedback is a proactive action designed to start a cycle.
- Negative Entropy: is the goal of systems. It refers to the
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
is expended than is being inputted, it dies, or results in entropy.
negative entropy is a good thing!)
- Homeostasis: is the tendency to maintain balance. It’s like
moment an imbalance is detected, the system kicks into action to
it and maintain homeostasis.
- Equifinality: refers to the phenomenon in which different
and opportunities lead to similar out comes.
- Multifinality: refers to the phenomenon in which the same
or conditions may lead to different outcomes.
The family may be considered a good example of a system, since
the following characteristics:
According, McCubbin (1997), families are very resilient because:
- Families are dynamic and ever-changing.
- Family systems regulate themselves to maintain HOMEOSTATIS
or stability) - a state of consistency and resist change.
- Families operate according to the principle of EQUIFINALITY
that almost all families arrive at the same point over
The beginnings are different but the outcome is the same.
- All behavior in a family system is functional - every
behavior serves a
function (not always a positive function).
- The concept of wholeness means the family is greater than
the sum of it's
parts (the members of the family)
- There is no cause-and-effect regarding families. The really
have no discernable
beginning or ending.
Human Ecology = The
study of humans interacting with their environment* and its resources
social, physical and biological beings. Thus the Family Ecosystem which
is a subsystem of Human Ecology. It discusses the interaction between
and their environment. Paolucci, Hall and Axinn (1977) view the family
ecosystem as having three elements:
- 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., -
V. ECONOMIC THEORY
- Organisms – in this case, family members
- 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,
- Family Organization – this transforms energy (ideas,
family decisions, activity and functioning.
Optimization means obtaining the best possible result, given
restraints and opportunities; i.e. making use of resources to the best
satisfaction of those concerned. An important skill needed for
is Information Seeking and Decision Making. The theory of optimization
may be ‘optimal’ for short-term, straightforward questions or
For instance, Gary Becker questions its applicability in a decision
mate selection – is marriage strictly an economic choice? Maybe the
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
However, applying it to certain aspects of resource management like
consumption may be tricky. As Hanna (1989) mentions, “values other than
efficiency are important for many people, including satisfaction
from the process rather than the end-product, and creation of unique
not available from the market.” He further provides examples of how
organizations and households are definitely NOT efficient, though they
can and should be.
We try to maximize our satisfaction through avoiding risk. The
basis of many decisions is risk aversion. Risk is the possibility of
harm, suffering, danger, or loss, and there are different types of
Risk Aversion - the avoidance of risk - depends on our
and environment. In management, the theory of maximization
of satisfaction through avoidance of risk answers many questions and
- functional (performance) risk - a choice may not turn out
- financial risk - money may be lost
- physical risk - bungee jumping
- social risk - others may disapprove of one's decision or
- time risk - ability to satisfy wants declines over time.