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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making sense of normality : an interpretive perspective on ’normal’ and ’disturbed’ family Anderson, Joan Madge


This study reports an investigation into the concept of normality as a parameter of family functioning, from the point of view of interpretive sociology. Theories which seek to explain 'deviant' or 'disturbed' behavior as the product of defective communication patterns within families are analyzed for their explicit or implicit characterizations of 'normal' family life and communicative structure. In particular, attention is paid to the following question: to what extent do formal theories of normal and disturbed behavior instruct the researcher on the reliable identification of significant communication practices? In order to answer this question ethnographic data were collected on sixteen families identified as normal. Interactions between parents and children conducting everyday activities were observed and recorded. The data are used to show that in order to satisfy the requirements of theories of family functioning, extensive interpretation of interaction is required, for which such theories give no explicit guidance. Insofar as these theories form the basis of clinical practice, it is argued, such practice must be seen to rest upon tacit decisions concerning the nature of 'normal' and 'disturbed' behavior, in the context of everyday practical reasoning. Definitions of normality and disturbance, which underly successful practice, are thus shown to be interpretively constructed in ways which current theories do not give an adequate account of.

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