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Syllabuzz: SOC 373 - The Sociology of Family Reunions

Find out more about some of the interesting courses faculty are teaching at Elon.

Larry Basirico, sociology professor and chair of the sociology and anthropology department

For some people, there is nothing more overwhelming than attending a family reunion—the mere thought of spending an afternoon or weekend with extended family and in-laws can be fraught with fear, anxiety or immense joy.

And while reunions can be highly fulfilling, psychologically and emotionally, and a great way for people to reinvigorate their family bonds, they can also be very stressful. It’s a reality that hasn’t escaped sociology professor Larry Basirico, the author of a family reunion survival guide, who taught an online class this summer on the phenomenon of family reunions. Besides covering the reasons for the historical growth of family reunions in the United States and the motivations for having them, another class goal is to explore the issues and problems that can arise at reunions and how to overcome them. “Stress is normal for a family reunion,” Basirico says, adding that many people experience tension at such events, mostly because they set unrealistic expectations.

Basirico started researching the interpersonal dynamics at play during family reunions about 15 years ago after he returned from his own family reunion. He was intrigued at how some people reacted after he told them he had spent a week at the beach with his family; he heard “I’m sorry” a lot and “Hope you had a good time.” Tensions flare up during reunions, he concluded, because of colliding realities: the one people develop while growing up and the one they create as adults after leaving the nest or starting their own family. When these two realities converge, there are bound to be sparks.

Students learn that while group dynamics vary among families, keeping expectations in check and having open communication with family members leading up to the event can minimize pre-reunion anxiety. Developing a well-structured plan so rules, activities and chore schedules are set ahead of time is another proven way to avoid conflict because it eliminates ambiguity, Basirico says. “If you go into this wanting everything to be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed and think there is something wrong with your family,” he adds.

As part of the class, students read articles, watch movies, participate in daily discussions via a class blog and write reflection papers. Basirico wants his students to leave with a firm grasp on sociological theories and techniques for avoiding predictable family reunion problems. “The class is primarily a vehicle to learn sociological concepts,” Basirico says, “but I also want students to apply what they’ve learned in class to their own lives.”

About the professor

Larry Basirico joined the faculty of Elon’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 1983. His areas of teaching and research are social psychology and the sociology of the family. His research on family reunions has received extensive national publicity.

Recommended readings

  • Your Family Reunion Survival Guide by Laurence A. Basirico
  • After Pomp and Circumstance: High School Reunions as an Autobiographical Occasion by Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi

Syllabuzz is a recurrent feature in The Magazine of Elon. To read the latest edition, click here.

Keren Rivas,
8/1/2014 8:45 AM