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Stepchild-Stepparent Relationships and Resilience  

Bailey M. Oliver-Blackburn

Stepfamilies have existed throughout time and refer to families that form after re-partnering when at least one partner brings a child from a previous relationship into the new union. Stepfamilies can be complex, spanning across multiple residences, and may include full biological, half-biological, and step siblings. Although stepfamilies can be found within nearly every culture in the world, they are most prevalent in Westernized cultures such as the United States. Stepparents at one time were most likely the result of the death of a spouse or partner. However, since the 1970s, stepparents have served as an additional kin or family relationship, as remarriage is more likely to follow a divorce than bereavement. As the demographics of stepfamilies have changed over time, so has the stepparent role. Stepfamilies were originally studied for how they fall short of first-marriage, intact family outcomes, and research has well-documented the inherent challenges to stepparent-stepchild relationship development, noting the ambiguous roles, expectations, and boundaries for stepfamily interaction. Stepfamilies lack cultural models to derive these roles and expectations from and thus rely on communication to make sense of the relationships within their family unit, and to externally validate their family to outsiders. Instead of exclusively focusing on their deficits, current research looks to how stepfamilies are developmentally unique yet functional, and how communication can contribute to positive and resilient stepparent-stepchild relationships. Affinity-seeking strategies, remaining flexible in roles, and negotiating boundary and ritual changes can aid in developing positive and resilient stepparent-stepchild relationships over time.


Queering the Study of U.S. Military Family Communication  

Erin Sahlstein Parcell and Danielle C. Romo

Military families in the United States reflect diverse family forms. They include not only “traditional” families but also single service members, women service members, dual-career couples, service member mothers, single-parent service members, service members of color, cohabitating military service members (i.e., nonmarried couples), LGB service members, and transgender service members. However, the research primarily reflects white, heterosexual, cisgender, different sexed, married couples who are able-bodied with biological children as well as postpositivist and interpretivist perspectives; trends that parallel interpersonal and family communication studies broadly speaking. Given calls for new approaches within these areas, and in particular military family communication research, scholars should consider “queering” the study of military family communication by including individuals who identify as queer but also varying the research theoretically. Studies that bring attention to different types of military families (e.g., LGBTQ+ military families) would make significant contributions to the scholarship and make these families as well as their unique experiences visible. Informed by calls for critical military studies and the critical interpersonal and family communication framework (CIFC), recommendations are offered for future queer military family communication inquiry. First, a brief history of queer families in the military as well as the current state of military family communication scholarship are presented. Next, the CIFC framework, discourse dependence, and relational dialectics theory are discussed as conceptual paths for engaging in critical military family communication studies.


Relational Dialectics Theory  

Kristina M. Scharp

Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a postmodern critical theory of meaning. Based on the writing of Russian philosopher, RDT attunes researchers to the ways that discourses (i.e., ideologies) compete to make meaning of particular semantic objects (e.g., identities, phenomena, processes, etc.). Of note, not all discourses hold the same amount of power. Some discourses are dominant (i.e., centripetal) whereas others are marginalized (i.e., centrifugal). RDT researchers, then, are primarily interested in exploring how these discourses, with unequal power, compete. This focus on the competition of discourses for power and the ability of RDT to call out the ideological forces that disenfranchise some groups while enfranchising others holds promise for practical applications such as debunking misconceptions and better understanding where privilege comes from and how it is perpetuated. When discourses compete, they might do so within or across a set of utterances. Utterances are turns in talk and serve as the primary unit of analysis in RDT research. Utterances, however, are not standalone entities. Rather, they are connected by different links to form an utterance chain. Some links of the utterance chain pertain to time (what has been said before and what response an utterance can anticipate) whereas the other links of the utterance chain pertain to the relationship level (some pertain to the culture at large whereas other only to an idiosyncratic relationship). Overall, discursive competition takes place across a continuum of interplay. At one end of the continuum is monologue. Monologue represents the absence of meaning. Next are discursive enactments (i.e., closure) that reinforce the dominant discourse and shut down alternatives (see entry for complete list). Diachronic separation occurs when the dominance of a discourse changes across time. Diachronic separation can take two forms: (a) spiraling inversion or (b) segmentation. Synchronic interplay is next and occurs when two discourses compete within a given utterance. When RDT researchers examine a text for synchronic interplay, they often look to see how a marginalized discourse (a) negates, (b) counters, or (c) entertains the dominant discourse. Finally, on the other end of the continuum of interplay, is dialogic transformation. Dialogic transformation occurs through either (a) discursive hybridity or (b) an aesthetic moment whereby discourses suspend their interplay to create new meanings. Conducted using RDT’s corresponding method, contrapuntal analysis, researchers using this theory work to disrupt hegemonic, taken-for-granted assumptions about how things are and call attention to voices overlooked in the past. To date, this theory has been taken up primarily by family, interpersonal, and health communication scholars, although many scholars have used this theory throughout the discipline.