Critical feminist family communication theory: Gender, power, and praxis

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Department of Humanities


A well-known critical feminist treatise (Coontz, 2016/1992) argues that the nuclear family depicted in popular culture and institutionalized in national policies represents a nostalgic vision of The Way We Never Were that does not fit the lived experiences of the majority of people. Yet the dominant approaches in family communication studies too often assume the centrality of this traditional family form. There is a need for more expansive, inclusive, and responsive theoretical perspectives. We argue for the value of the complexities, vitality, and imagination of contemporary critical feminism for energizing and reshaping family communication scholarship. In our view, family is not defined solely by biological or legal ties. Rather, family is a social and material construction organizing relations of power, identity, intimacy, and possibility. Family is also a site of struggle within which differing-and at times, contradictory-forces converge, including personal memories, institutional sanctions, cultural values, and historical legacies. We take family to be thoroughly communicative, enacted in personal interactions as well as through cultural prescriptions, institutional regulations, and state policies. As critical feminists, we critique taken-for-granted inequities and oppressions inherent to normative family models and advocate for diverse, responsive, and just possibilities for all families.

Publisher's Statement

© 2018 Taylor and Francis. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Engaging Theories in Family Communication: Multiple Perspectives