Our culture defines for us the “normal” family and the “normal, healthy” individual. Those stereotypes are perpetuated by everyday repetition. Within the family itself, an ongoing discourse defines relationships among family members and with the outside world.
Communication professors Jordan Allen (Utah Valley University) and Nicole Allen (Utah State University) study the non-normative family — families that depart from the cultural norm. Jordan and Nicole Allen will be our guest scholars on the second season premiere of the UT Libraries’ livestream show For Your Reference. Join us for a lively virtual conversation about family communication at 7 p.m. (EST), Thursday, September 16, on YouTube or Facebook.
According to an article on estranged families co-authored by Jordan Allen,* the professional literature of family therapy defines the functional family as necessarily one with open and ongoing communication. Any family that falls outside this ideal is proclaimed to be dysfunctional and in need of therapeutic intervention. This performative discourse creates the cultural norm for what a functional family is and ought to be. But individual experiences challenge this norm. Being estranged from one’s family can, in fact, be functional and desirable for the individual.
Jordan Allen and Nicole Allen — twin sisters — have also written about twinship.** Our culture, which puts a high premium on individualism, tends to look askance at the perceived intimacy of twin relationships. The close bonds between twins are envied but also viewed as unhealthy, as keeping twins from forming other close relationships — and also, therefore, in need of intervention. For one study, our scholars interviewed twins themselves to gauge how twins perceive and negotiate their own levels of intimacy.
Other subjects of study by our guest scholars include the stepfamily and the two-mother family — family units that challenge our society’s script for the iconic family.
Tune into the For Your Reference second season premiere with family communication scholars Jordan and Nicole Allen to learn more about the role of rhetoric in family communications and in society’s understanding of the family itself.
Jordan A. Allen graduated with her PhD from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2018. Her primary research interests lie in non-normative family relationships including estranged family relationships, stepfamily relationships, and twinships. She won the Gerald R. Miller outstanding dissertation award at the National Communication Association’s annual convention in 2019. She has published in several communication journals including the Journal of Family Communication, Western Journal of Communication, and the Annals of the International Communication Association.
Nicole T. Allen graduated with her PhD from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2017. Her primary research interests include rhetorics of time, vital materialism, and the rhetorics of twins and twinships. She won the Gerald R. Miller outstanding dissertation award at the National Communication Association’s annual convention in 2018. She has published in several communication journals including the Quarterly Journal of Speech and Journal of Family Communication.
* Jordan Allen and Julia Moore. 2017. “Troubling the Functional/Dysfunctional Family Binary Through the Articulation of Functional Family Estrangement.” Western Journal of Communication 81(3): 281-299. DOI: 10.1080/10570314.2016.1250156
** Jordan Allen, Nicole Allen, and Julia Moore. 2020. “Articulating Twintimacy as a Communicative and Cultural Perspective on Twinships.” Journal of Family Communication 20(1): 51-65. DOI: 10.1080/15267431.2019.1659272
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