Applying symbolic interactionism and conflict theory in family relations

Symbolic interactionism and conflict theory are both useful to help aid in overcoming family challenges and difficulties. Conflict theory mainly focuses on the resources and power present within. Families, for example, include different individuals and roles which can eventually lead to competing for resources and power. Overall, conflict theory mainly states that we are constantly in conflict due to the competition between resources which is maintained and gained by power. Family challenges and difficulties typically occur when there is a lack of some type of resource or problems with power exist between roles.

Conflict management is one aspect that is always required as relationships are just known to have conflicts occurring. This is because each individual may feel like they should have access to the resources, scarce resources (time, affection, money) exist, and people typically have different ideas on how things should be done. In Status and Income as Gendered Resources: The Case of Marital Power (1999), a study by Veronica Jaris Tichenor, marital power dynamics were examined through finding whether wives with resource advantages were able to gain more power within their relationship. It was found that in order to resolve the issue between having more advantageous resources, the wives must not use their resources to claim greater power (Tichenor, 1999). Because of the gender roles expected of women, the wives were found to allow their husbands to maintain greater power (Tichenor, 1999).

This particular example of conflict management demonstrates how both individuals must be in sync with one another to avoid challenges or difficulties from occurring. Conflict is noted to only be resolved with both parties involved have achieved a mutual understanding or agreement. Within such cases, conflicts can also be advantageous as people tend to gain new understandings and knowledge of one another.

Symbolic interactionism, on the other hand, focuses on the relationship between two interconnecting factors. One being symbols, such as shared meanings or roles, and the other being interactions, such as verbal or nonverbal actions. Symbolic interactionism states that emotional bonds are maintained through sharing moments, activities, or events. It also assumes that family relationships are based on negotiations and there lie meanings behind them.

In a study by William Marsiglio and Ramon Hinojosa, Managing the Multifather Family: Stepfathers as Father Allies (2007), they focused on finding how stepfathers correlate with the biological father and their relations with them. Keeping in mind that managing a shared father-role between the

stepfather and biological can be difficult, Marisglio and Hinojosa discover how the symbols connected towards family and stepfamily are constructed within the broader context of culture. They found that stepfathers had minimal to no contact with the biological father. However, it was realized that both fathers should negotiate in order to well adjust to their multi-father circumstances. Such negotiations included being willing to become father allies and being understandable about allowing their stepfamilies to be in contact with the biological father. This highlights the role negotiation aspect of symbolic interactionism. The role of both the biological father and stepfather become a shared father role.

Salience also suggests that the greater the importance of the role to the individual, the more time the individual tends to invest in the role (Smith & Hamon, 2012). In a different situation, if the individual feels as if they are unable to comply with the role, conflict may occur. However, according to symbolic interactionism, communication and social interactions can create changes and resolve conflict by allow us to learn the meaning through them.

I would say that symbolic interactionism is more useful than conflict theory to be for family interventions. This is simply because symbolic interactionism focuses on the shared meanings and roles and their connection with interactions. Roles hold a great deal of importance and even duties that one may feel the need to accomplish. If every family member is able to understand their roles and the shared meanings they hold between each other as a family all together, I would believe that it would make it much easier to resolve family interventions. Additionally, using a symbolic interactionist perspective can allow interventions to flow smoothly by addressing how each member can manage their roles/identities and circumstances.