Is “family adaptive strategy” a useful concept? Does use of this concept link actions of individual families with macro-level social change? This chapter examines the concept of family adaptive strategies, noting that it is an intuitively appealing metaphor for family response to structural barriers and stressful events. It has been used principally as a sensitizing device, describing both macro-level and micro-level trends and patterns of behavior. But good examples of empirical investigations of family strategies are difficult to find. What we mean by a good example is one that uses the family adaptive strategy concept as an explanatory process. Three studies, by Elder (1974), Tilly & Scott (1978), and Hareven (1982b), do fruitfully draw on family strategies of adaptation using concrete measures of this hypothetical concept. We discuss various methodological issues related to this concept: the level of analysis, the unit of analysis, and problems of operationalization. In addition to these methodoological problems, there are also conceptual difficulties: what exactly is and is not a “strategy,” whether families themselves view their actions as strategies or whether this label is based on researchers' analysis and interpretation, and whether strategies can be treated simultaneously as a cause and an effect. Several theoretical models serve to locate family strategies of adaptation. A emphasizes the ways that larger social structural forces constrain the repertoire of available adaptations. A approach underscores the role of choice, within the confines of structural constraints, in an effort to maximize family well being. And a approach points to the importance of historical time, life stage, and context in delimiting both family problems and the possible strategies to deal with them.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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