7400.685-080 - Research Methods in FCS
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Spring Semesters - Tuesday Evenings 5:20-7:55pm in 209 Schrank Hall South
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Human Ecology and FCS Research
By way of background information, you all should read the information at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_ecology  Further,
Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory details levels of social/human organization which direct and inform individual development along a series of systems within systems of organization.
  • the microsystem - such as a family, classroom, etc is the immediate environment in which a person is operating
  • the mesosystem - which is two microsystems interacting, such as the connection between a child’s home and school
  • the exosystem - which is an environment in which an individual is not involved, which is external to his or her experience, but nonetheless affects him or her anyway. An example of an exosystem is the child’s parent’s workplace. Although a child may never have any role in the parent’s workplace, or, in fact, never even go there, the events which occur at the child’s place of employment do affect the child. For example, if the parent has a bad day at work, or is laid off, or promoted, or has to work overtime, all of these events impact the child, and finally,
  • the macrosystem - or the larger cultural context.
These systems are usually represented in these dimensions, much like the unfolding skins of an onion, each larger system wrapping around the previous, smaller system.  In a consistent and general way, each successively larger system of organization informs and determines the preceding, smaller system. Thus, something that occurs on the stage of world events (i.e., killer tidal waves, acts of terrorism, devastating hurricanes, political revolutions, world trade agreements) will filter through the other systems to influence even all the relationships in between, right down to impacts on the developing child.  In the ridiculous extremis, a butterfly flapping its wings might start a series of events that ultimately could develop into that tidal wave. In the main, however, while lacking in precision, this is still a quite heuristic model because it allows the researcher to conceptualize a very wide array of influences and effects at all levels of social and human organization. Additionally, the much of the entire range of social and physical sciences are potentially useful in FCS research and investigation.

For this reason, Human Ecology Theory is the main theoretical orientation of Family and Consumer Sciences. As can be seen by the titles and a casual reading of the kinds of research done by FCS researchers (see FCS Best Article Awards) the theoretical orientation is encompasses elements of the arts, economics, social, physical, and health sciences.  Our purpose is to afford people in families a healthier mode for living.  FCS researchers come from many specific disciplines within universities with one overriding goal - to preserve, enhance, and optimize individual and family development in all areas of living in the environment.  From the figure below (Touliatos and Compton, 1988, p. 19), the theoretical foundation of our profession serves to provide fundamental knowledge base on which to build processes for communication and outlets for for the applications we construct.

The objective of all FCs professionals is to improve the well-being of families through education, research and community service.  Thus, theories from the physical and social sciences, arts, and humanities are put to work by the FCS professional when those theories inform us about the interrelations between people and the environments in which they live.  Five basic areas of concentration, each one with a strong management component, have been identified by AAFCS as those that circumscribe our mission:
  • Family Economic Stability and Financial Security - the financial picture for families, regardless of the economy in which they live, becomes more complex as time progresses - both in terms of the particular family as it grows as well as the general complexity of the larger, global economy.  The impact of economic change, unemployment, legal aspects of personal finance, family income investments, retirement and such are particularly of interest.
  • Family Food, Consumption, Nutrition and Health - insuring the quality, quantity, appropriate intake of the food supply is important here.  So is the biology and science associated with individual growth, development and health, and this area also includes safeguards for food handling and food production at the household and factory levels.
  • Family Energy and Environmental Resource Utilization -  here both the costs of increasing dependency on energy and the supply of alternative sources of it are at issue.  Budgeting and family financial matters are certainly at the heart of this area of research, as is the management of energy resources. 
  • Family Strengths and the Social Environment - social and personal stress in an ever-changing world, parent education with an eye towards the production of good, reflective and thoughtful citizens in the future, demographics and the problems related to an aging population, and the ability to garner social support where needed by individual families - this area of study is more than the simply exposition of detail for basic science.  Here the FCS researcher will have long term applications of research findings in mind.
  • Family and Technology -  more than just microcomputing technology, the advent of rapidly changing technologies for virtually every aspect of existence over the lifespan is fodder for the researcher's inquiry.
At each juncture, individuals and families are forced into interaction with forces much larger than themselves. Without detailed knowledge for managing life in an uncertain environment (i.e., the neighborhood, city, state, nation and world), families will make their way by trial and error.  It is the responsibility of the FCS researcher to identify potential and real problems and begin to research them for solutions.  The task is daunting but necessary.  A strong foundation in finding things out through objective research is perhaps the best way to provide prescriptions for better living.  It is obvious that we are all the product of the environments in which we are born, reared, and currently live.  These environments are termed Ecosystems -  a term that contains the basic assumption that human beings live in association with other diverse people, places and things.  In truely systemic terms, poisoning the physical environment will eventually poison human beings.  Adding noise pollution to our physical environment will eventually add stress to our lives.  Mismanaging our ecological resources will eventually pose dire consequences for people.  While this makes near perfect common sense, the detection of the effects of a ruined environment may not be immediately perceptable.  Our ecosystem is vast and our ability to measure its effects on us is often lacking in precision.

An example of the ecosystem would be this.  Animal life (including humans) breathe in oxygen which we use to apply and propel our biological energies onto the environment. We also expel carbon dioxide into the environment.   Plant life takes in carbon dioxide to use in growth, expelling oxygen in the process.  This is a naturally occuring symbiotic relationship, and it works just fine in nature, but when an overabundance of one gas or the other is generated, the environment becomes toxic to one or the other side of nature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming) and bad things start to happen.  Carbon dioxide and its various fluorocarbon cousins cause depletion of protective atmospheric layers, pollution of rainwater, and loss of plant life - which in turn reduces the quality and quantity of oxygen.  Thus, management and balance are of constant importance.  Similarly, crime rates, moral and ethical values, conspicuous consumption of resources are all arguably similar in terms of their general impact on the balance of nature and life on the planet.

The issue of management, balance and health have led to the creation of several specializations in the overall professon of Family and Consumer Sciences.  Food science, nutrition and dietetics take into account our internal environment (our bodies) in which the cultural, as well as the biological, processes of nutrition and food production ultimately take place. Clothing and Textiles is the specialization that deals with a sort of portable environment (our garmets) in terms of its effeciency and qualities as well as its production, care, fashionability, commercial appeal, and uniqueness.  Interior Designers detail a less portable but no less personal aspect of the spatial environment, concerning themselves with personal issues such as territoriality, adaptation to the space. Family and Child Developmentalists are concerned with the quality of the environments in which children and families work and grow.  Thus, the cognitive environment (our mental functioning) is seen as the area of concern for research.

When conducting research, the Family and Consumer Scientist must attempt to weigh these concerns and considerations carefully.  Human Ecology provides an enormous theoretical and conceptual umbrella over our profession in general.  Only after understanding the big picture can less inclusive theories stemming from each of the contributing disciplines be considered.

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