In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family Communication

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks

Communication Family Communication
Dawn O. Braithwaite, Kathleen M. Galvin, Benjamin Chiles, Esther Liu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0104


Communication scholars joined the interdisciplinary conversation on family in the 1980s, springing from the breadth of research on interpersonal and small group communication. Family communication scholars focus on the messages and discourses by which members define, develop, and enact families and on the specific communication processes by which family is performed across different family types and contexts. Although scholars across disciplines may study communication variables relevant to family processes, most are examining communication from a message transmission model with communication as an antecedent variable. Family communication scholars view communication as the primary, constitutive social process by which family relationships are formed and enacted. Central to family communication, scholarship is the recognition that families are discourse dependent, meaning that all families form and negotiate expectations and identities through interaction. From this perspective, all families are discourse dependent. However, families that depart from cultural norms, for example, stepfamilies; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) families; or multiethnic families, are even more dependent on discourse to define themselves as a family and to legitimate their family form to those outside the family. At its core, family communication scholarship enlightens the discourses and processes by which families talk themselves into being, that is, how families are maintained, changed, and challenged through interaction. Some of the theories used to guide the research are imported from the broader study of interpersonal communication, some from allied disciplines, and some developed within family communication. Although a preponderance of the research has come from the postpositivist paradigm, family communication has been home to interpretive scholarship and, of late, to critical scholars as well.

Core Texts

In this first section, we review core volumes that represent overviews of family communication research and theorizing, followed by volumes that explore relational types and volumes that explore family processes and contexts. First, four edited volumes take broad lenses to the terrain, the earliest being Fitzpatrick and Vangelisti 1995, an introduction to family interactions across the life span. Vangelisti 2012 follows with a comprehensive thirty-chapter volume of the breadth of scholarship across disciplines. Turner and West 2006 presents conceptual and application essays on the breadth of family communication. Braithwaite and Baxter 2006 focuses exclusively on theories used in the late 20th and early 21st century, or ones with the potential to guide family scholars, framed by the authors’ analysis of research from 1990 to 2003. Finally, the edited volume Floyd and Morman 2006 focuses on understudied family relationships.

  • Braithwaite, Dawn, and Leslie Baxter, eds. 2006. Engaging theories in family communication: Multiple perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The authors present twenty theories based on communication and allied social sciences guiding family communication study and practice from 1990. Having developed or used these theories in their research, the authors discuss the features, applications, strengths, and limitations. The editors describe metatheoretical roots of the theories most widely employed.

  • Fitzpatrick, Mary Anne, and Anita Vangelisti, eds. 1995. Explaining family interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The editors assemble thirteen social scientific pieces, addressing family changes within three sections—development of family communication patterns, family relationships in process, and extending family boundaries. Their focus on communication in whole-family interactions ranging from infancy through aging, emerging family forms, and family culture, breaks new ground.

  • Floyd, Kory, and Mark Morman, eds. 2006. Widening the family circle: New research on family communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The editors argue for a focus on communication in understudied family relationships and present reviews and critical analyses on challenges faced in ten relational types, for example, aunts, siblings-in-law, and adoptive families. The editors arrange chapters by family type and communication scholars present findings relevant to students, researchers, and practitioners working with understudied families.

  • Turner, Lynn, and Richard West, eds. 2006. The family communication sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The editors have assembled a comprehensive set of chapters covering the definitions of family, family communication theories, and family dynamics (including storytelling, conflict, and rituals), as well as the relationship of the family to external structures such as work, religion, and media. Paired chapters address theory and practical applications.

  • Vangelisti, Anita, ed. 2012. Handbook of family communication. 2d ed. New York, NY: Routledge.

    In this comprehensive thirty-chapter, 604-page handbook, the editor brings together an interdisciplinary array of authors who address a wide variety of topics central to family communication and relationships. The authors address theories, research methods, and findings that represent the best thinking on family communication at the time of its publication.

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