Communication Multicultural Families
Jordan Soliz, Mackensie Minniear
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0306


Many have heralded the rise of multiculturalism as a sign of the changing times, and a signal of a new, more accepting era. While there have been major demographic shifts in immigration patterns, ethnicity and race, and acceptance of different family types, most of the research and pedagogy concerning family communication still centers on family roles and processes that assume a singular cultural, racial, or ethnic identity in the family. Defining a “multicultural” family is difficult, as our definitions of what constitutes culture, nationality, identity, and difference are always changing globally, and largely context specific. For example, a multicultural family in the United States may conjure an image of a family made up of multiple different races, while a multicultural family in Thailand, may conjure an image of a family made up of different religious or ethnic practices. Evident in the scholarship of these is families is the complexity of defining and distinguishing ethnicity, race, and culture. Race and ethnicity both share the assumption that said group has a common culture and is from a certain geographical region. However, race tends to reflect socially constructed physical or visible difference, while ethnic groups tend to have some type of cultural marker of social boundaries rather than a visible boundary. These definitions are clearly not fixed, with many scholars arguing that it is not always possible to neatly divide these facets of identity. Nonetheless, when reviewing the literature, we do notice that studies on “multicultural” families—whether framed as cultural, ethnic, or racial diversity in the family—tend to focus on communication, identity, and difference. In this way “multicultural” families contend with some facet of differentness that they discuss and negotiate within their family. This bibliography presents literature overviewing several approaches to studying multicultural families. After reviewing core texts, it overviews general family relationships that are marked by cultural and/or ethnic-racial differences, including multiracial-ethnic families and immigrant families. It then presents work specifically on marital relationships, parent-child relationships, and sibling relationships. Given the growing literature on transracial and international adoption, the next section is dedicated to research exploring how adaptive families negotiate differences. Lastly, when examining multicultural families, it is equally important to look at how these families are represented outside of the immediate family system. To do this, it reviews media representations of multicultural families.

Core Texts

Given the paucity of research on communication in “multicultural families,” there are limited core texts devoted to communication in these families. Each chapter in González and Harris 2014 addresses parent-child communication related to cultural differences. Soliz 2008 provides a brief overview of salient communicative dimensions in marital and parent-child relationships reflecting different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Socha and Diggs 1999 and Soliz and Colaner 2020 are more general, but contain specific chapters devoted to managing differences in family relationships.

  • González, A., and T. M. Harris. 2014. Mediating cultures: Parenting in intercultural contexts. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Edited volume contains ten chapters organized by two sections: interpersonal process and mediated family communication (e.g., television, social media). Topics include intergenerational communication, storytelling, rituals, problem solving, content of media messages, and multivocality of parent and child perspectives across a broad range of cultural and ethnic heritages.

  • Socha, T. J., and R. Diggs. 1999. Communication, race, and family: Exploring communication in black, white, and biracial families. Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

    DOI: 10.4324/9781410603104

    The primary focus of this eleven-chapter text is on intersections of race and family communication, in general. However, both specific chapters (e.g., interracial families by Mark Orbe) and content of other chapters speak to differences related to race, ethnicity, and culture.

  • Soliz, J. 2008. Interethnic relationships in families. In International encyclopedia of communication. Vol. 6. Edited by W. Donsbach. Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Focusing on communication in the “multiethnic family system,” the brief essay reviews communicative dynamics reflecting different cultural values and norms at play in multiethnic-racial families (e.g., communication modes, family rituals, and narratives). Following this, aspects of parent-child communication are reviewed with an emphasis on socialization of identity and identity negotiation.

  • Soliz, J., and C. W. Colaner. 2020. Navigating relationships in the modern family: Communication, identity, and difference. New York: Peter Lang.

    DOI: 10.3726/b14764

    The fourteen chapters in this collection each address a family context in which salient identity differences are part of the family structure (e.g., interfaith families, political differences). Chapters on multiethnic-racial families, refugee families, and immigrant families speak to specific aspects of differences based on culture, race, and/or ethnicity.

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