Date of Award

Winter 1983

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study views the family photograph album as a visual construction of social reality which represents how the family perceives and defines its world. This popular cultural artifact is used to examine the social and geographical boundaries of this world as well as the family's conceptualization of gender. How social class, family structure and lifecycle stage affect the process of reality construction is also explored. Data collection from twenty families residing in New England form the basis for this analysis.

The findings indicate that social class has the greatest impact on the family's visual representation of itself. Working-class families are more likely than those of the middle class to present stereotyped conceptions of gender and to visually portray the family as a "closed" system. The geographical boundaries of these family worlds are constricted and strongly linked to the immediate community. Social boundaries are similarly narrow whether the visual representation of kin or friendship networks is examined.

Changes in family dynamics and concerns over the lifecycle also affect the family's visual construction of reality. The findings reported here suggest that the family's social and geographical boundaries expand and contract over the lifecycle depending in large part on the presence and/or age of children. An "open" image of family life is most characteristic of pre-parental families or those with older children. The typical attributes of such family systems include broad and permeable social boundaries and a cosmopolitan orientation to the world.

The practical implications of these findings for family therapists and suggestions for future research are discussed. Overall, this study suggests that the family album is a cultural artifact worthy of further exploration.