ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION Feminist critiques of the family suggest that there are powerful assumptions around family life that have real effects on the way in which family conflict is understood (Caplan 1981, 1985; Hollway 1984; Nice 1992). One such assumption is that the family is a “private haven,” set apart from the wider society, and an arena for the provision of mutual support and the realization of individual potential. As a result, conflict experienced within this setting is likely to pose a major accounting problem for the individual. Feminist critiques also suggest that gender role expectations form the pivotal axis around which family identity is constructed, and that, because of this, family conflict needs to be understood as embedded in the expectations surrounding women’s roles within the family. Making sense of family conflict, and in particular the attribution of responsibility for that conflict, is thus likely to be an intensely personal experience which is rooted in the expectations and values of the cultural milieu in which such conflict occurs. It is this tension between family conflict as a personal experience and as a social construction that we wish to explore.