Eric D. Widmer

Further information related to this research issue:

Family configurations of individuals with psychological vulnerability



Family configurations of individuals with psychiatric problems are usually considered an anomaly by sociological research. Their complexity is not well served by standard approaches of the Family using survey designs and random sampling or in-depth qualitative interviewing. The strong link existing between psychological problems and family relationships has often been interpreted as a sign that these relationships only responded to psychological causes and processes and therefore that they did not belong to the field of sociology. On the contrary, I stress that studying family configurations of individuals with psychological problems from a sociological perspective leads to new insights on the changing nature of families in late modernity.

Do individuals with psychiatric problems stick with the nuclear family model and the well ordered view that it implies on how social integration work in families? One may hypothesize that families of individuals with psychiatric problems and a role of patient in either a private or public psychiatric practice also go beyond the nuclear family. That has consequences for the understanding of the resources made available by their family configurations, as well as for the conflicts that they develop with their family members. Indeed, the composition of families has an influence on social capital as well as on conflict and ambivalence. The importance of family members beyond the household creates a great diversity of family forms. This diversity arise in families facing psychological problems of one or several of their members. In other words, there is a diversity rather than a single model of family configurations, characterizing all individuals with psychological problems alike.

In collaboration with several psychiatrists and psychologists, I have developed a series of publications on the social capital that family configurations provide to individuals with psychiatric problems, as well as the conflicts and ambivalences that they promote. Interestingly, we know very little about family relationships of such individuals, especially when their perceptions are considered, rather than the perceptions of their family members.



Key references


Cullati S., Kliegel M., Widmer ED. (forthcoming).Development of Reserves over the Life Course and Onset of Vulnerability in Later Life: A Conceptual Proposal. Nature. Human Behavior.



Widmer, E.D., Spini, D. (2017). Misleading Norms and Vulnerability in the Life Course: Definition and Illustrations. Research in Human Development . Vol. 14(1). pp. 52-67. description | Full text



Widmer, E.D., Aeby, G. et Sapin, M. (2013). Collecting Family Network Data. International Review of Sociology . Vol. 23, n° 1, pp. 27-46. description | Full text



Müller, N.S., Sapin, M., Gauthier, J.-A., Orita, A., Widmer, E.D. (2012). Pluralized life courses? An exploration of the life trajectories of individuals with psychiatric disorders. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. N°58, 3, pp. 266-277. description |



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