Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Steven R. Wilson

Committee Chair

Steven R. Wilson

Committee Member 1

Stacey Connaughton

Committee Member 2

Seungyoon Lee

Committee Member 3

Shawn D. Whiteman


This dissertation builds upon social psychology, organizational studies (i.e., social identity theory, social network theory), family studies, and interpersonal communication (i.e., hurt, confirmation theory) literature to understand how marginalized family members, or "black sheep," come to live at the edge of their families. In some societies, marginalized family members are called black sheep because they stand out from the rest of the group. Being marginalized refers to feeling different, not included, or not approved of by family. Two studies were conducted to uncover and test the dimensions of family marginalization and explore the process of marginalization in families. Study 1 consisted of interviews with marginalized family members (N = 30) between the ages of 25-35 who had felt marginalized by family for at least one year during the past 10 years. Study 1 utilized the retrospective interviewing technique to conduct a turning point analysis and grounded theory to analyze in depth interview data. Study 2 was designed to extend and compliment Study 1 by replicating some of Study 1's research findings and exploring the construct of marginalization with a larger, more diverse sample of marginalized family members (N = 315). An online survey version of the retrospective interviewing technique collected turning point data. The two investigations described here identified three dimensions of marginalization: difference, disapproval, and exclusion. Cluster analysis revealed that participant scores on the three dimensions can be grouped into three types of marginalized people: highly marginalized, moderately marginalized, and similar yet marginalized. Study 1's turning point analysis categorized events into 22 categories and identified 5 trajectories that represented the process of family marginalization: turbulent, inclining, disrupted, declining, and prolonged. Study 2's turning point analysis refined the turning point codebook from Study 1 and coded events into 9 overarching categories. Study 2's results replicated three of the trajectories identified in Study 1 (i.e., inclining, declining, disrupted) and identified 1 additional trajectory (i.e., stable-high). Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed including avenues for future research (e.g., creating a family member marginalization scale and identifying strategies for managing marginalization).

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