To what extent has theory and research on families been successful in transcending the individual-society dualism.
One of the interrogative themes in social psychology is that of individual-society dualism refers to the extent to “whether the individual or society is privileged in the explanation of social psychological phenomena” (DVD). There has been a great deal of psychological theory and research into the composition of families and the subsequent construction of self in children, however, the extent to which this work has successfully transcended the individual-society dualism is questionable as many are still mired by either notions of individuals being separate to society or over-socialised beings. It is the case that more recent perspectives and research, such as discursive psychology and the social psychoanalytic perspective, may be able to transcend this individual-society dualism and regard the individual as inherently influenced by society as well as influenced from out of society, such as by their family history (Lucey, 2007; Open University, 2007; DVD. This paper will discuss the extent to which theory and research on families have been successful in transcending the individual-society dualism, with particular attention given to discursive psychology and the social psychoanalytic perspective, while providing a critical evaluation of past and contemporary theory and research.
It has been claimed that much of the traditional psychological theory and research into families views these entities as both culturally and historically static in that families are unaffected by societal influences (Lucey, 2007). Much of the psychological research and theory in families focused on mother-child interactions with little attention paid to father-child interactions (O’ Brien, 2005, as cited by Lucey, 2007, p.67; Lucey, 2007, p.67). There has been very little research into families as a whole due to a tendency for researchers to view families in a reductionist manner. Thus, past psychological research into families could be said to be limited in usefulness as it does not give a holistic picture of family structure and the affect it can have on the construction of self for both children and adults. Lucey (2007, p.68) has highlighted that family is understood in terms of being separate from society and culture, and can neither being influenced by it or influence it. As such, traditional psychology followed this belief and as a consequence built its theories upon this mistake. Therefore, a problem with previous theory and research is that it is limited in its usefulness as it is influenced by societal influences and may not give an accurate picture of social psychology . However, from a critical discursive psychological viewpoint, this research is useful as it is situated knowledge and gives us an understanding of historical beliefs and a picture of how societal discourse has influenced psychology. An in-depth interview study by Sutton (2004, as cited by Lucey, 2007, p.71-73) of 3 African-Caribbean transnational families found that the construction of individual identity and family identity or structure was subject to change. Thus, this finding suggested that not as unchanging or static as had previously been thought. A problem with this study is that the sample size was relatively small and limited to an African-Caribbean sample, which has limited representation resulting in a reduced ability to generalize t o the wider population. On the other hand, this study is useful as it gained very detailed information regarding families and the construction of identities. Furthermore, this study “drew attention to the tensions between individual agency and structural forces” (Lucey, 2007, p.73) which has led to new directions in social psychology which have been able to successfully transcend the individual-society dualism. From this evidence it appears that much of the previous psychological theory and research has...
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