In-Laws vs. Out-Laws
An Analysis of In-Law Communication
Holly Keener
School of Communication, Radford University, Virginia, 24142
The Movies
While much research has been conducted on interpersonal
relationships that focuses on such areas as friendship, romantic, and family,
there is one area that is noticeable missing in the academic literature. In-law
relationships are something almost every individual will experiences at least
once, however few scholarly endeavors have been published on this topic.
This project seeks to discover more information regarding in-law
relationships through a communication perspective by examining popular
media culture through a critical analysis of films that highlight in-law
relationships. This project touches on various communication phenomena
related to the topic such as communication theory, gender & diversity
issues as well as the role of humor and power in this often complicated
interpersonal relationship.
Basic Premise: Uncertainty arises when people lack information therefore
individuals seek information in order to predict and explain their surroundings
thus reducing their overall uncertainty of the situation.
Three Reasons to Seek Information: Deviation, Anticipation of Future
Interaction & Incentive
Three Ways to Seek Information: Passive Strategy, Active Strategy &
Interactive Strategy
Axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory
Uncertainty is negatively associated with verbal communication; nonverbal
affiliative expressiveness; the intimacy of communication content; the degree of
similarity between partners; liking; and shared communication networks
between partners. Uncertainty is positively associated with information-seeking
behavior and reciprocity rate.
The “opposite” sex
You, Me & Dupree
Attribution Theory
Meet the Parents
By: Fritz Heider
Basic Premise: Any communication
What are Attributions?
The internal (thinking) and external
(talking) process of interpreting and
understanding what is behind our
own and other’s behaviors.
Examples: URT is present in all four films
event can be viewed as an effect that
has some cause, and the cause we
attribute is likely to influence the
meaning of the action and how we
might respond to it
Communication Principles
French & Raven’s Power Bases
Coercive- the ability to punish
Reward- the ability to reward
Legitimate- depends on one persons acceptance of role
obligations to follow instructions or advice, positional
Referent- the desire to identify with, emulate or respect
Expert- relies on ones superior knowledge and ability
Power can be…Destructive, Productive & Integrative
Behavior is seen as
Behavior is observed
Behavior is attributed
to internal or external
Examples: Meet the Parents and Guess Who
formed based on
Little Research Available Because….
-Focus on other familial relationships
-Sensitive Issue
-Reluctance to communicate because
issue may cause more conflict in the
-Uncertainty, Power, Gender &Intercultural Communication are connected
*Gender issues and intercultural differences create uncertainty which causes one to
feel the need to exert power over those who are different in hopes of achieving a goal.
By: Charles Berger & Richard Calabrese
-In-law relationships are triadic and
non-voluntary in nature
In-Law Relationships
as Triadic
Communication Theories
Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT)
Research Method: Content Analysis
You, Me & Dupree
Meet the Parents
Guess Who
Two Issues Present…
The Out-Law
a.k.a. The Spouse
-Role of competition
-In-Group vs. Out-Group
Ex. Meet the Parents, Circle of Trust
The In-Law’s
Circle of Trust
Further Research…
Further research needs to be conducted on this topic, specifically father-in-law
relationships, the effect of in-law relationships on other familial relationships,
and the role of competition that exists in in-laws relationships.
Gender Issues
Basow, S.A. (1992). Gender: Stereotypes and Roles (3rd ed). Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing
Gender Role- the behaviors and attitudes
considered appropriate for males or females in a
particular culture
Gender Stereotype- a set of beliefs about what it
means to be female or male, including information
about appearance, attitudes, interests, social
relations and occupations.
Social-Role Theory- maintains that the stereotypes
arise from the different social roles typically held by
women and men
Baxter, L.A., & Braithwaite, D.O. (Eds.). (2008). Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication: Multiple
Perspectives. (37-49; 133-144). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.
Bryant, C.M., Conger, R.D. & Meehan, J.M. (2001). The Influence of In-Laws on Change in Marital Success.
Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 614-626.
De Niro, R., Roach, J., Rosenthal, J., & Tenenbaum, N. (Producers), & Roach, J. (Director). (2000). Meet the
Parents [Motion Picture]. USA: Universal Pictures.
Dunbar, N.E. & Burgoon, J.K. (2004). Perceptions of power and interactional dominance in interpersonal
relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22 (2), 207-233.
Fottrell, M., Perrone, S., & Kaplan, A. (Executive Producers), & Russo, A. & Russo, J. (Directors). (2006). You,
Me & Dupree [Motion Picture]. USA: Universal Pictures.
Golombok, S. & Fivush, R. (1994). Gender Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hocker, J.L. & Wilmot, W.W. (1995). Power. Interpersonal Conflict (4th ed). (p. 69-93). Dubuque: Brown &
Benchmark Publishers.
Intercultural Communication
communication is a process whereby people
from different cultures constantly search for
knowledge of how to interact with one
another against a background of uncertainty
In-Group- the group members who identify
and associate with each other
Out-Group- people who are kept at a physical
and emotional distance by the in-group
Brooks, P., Shareshian, S., & Waitt, N. (Executive Producers), & Zwick, J. (Director). (2002). My Big Fat Greek
Wedding [Motion Picture]. USA: Gold Circle Films.
Infante, D.A., Rancer, A.S. & Womack, D.F. (2003). Uncertainty Reduction Theory. In Building
Communication Theory (4th ed) (p. 192-196). Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.
Conflict Resolution
Klyukanov, I.E. (2005). Principles of Intercultural Communication. (K. Bowers, Ed.) Boston: Pearson
Education, Inc.
Morr Serewicz, M.C. (2006). Getting Along With the In-Laws. In K. Floyd & M.T. Morman (Eds.), Widening
the Family Circle: New Research on Family Communication (p. 101-116). Thousand Oaks: Sage
Publications, Inc.
Podsakoff, P.M. & Schriesheim, C.A. (1985). Field Studies of French and Raven’s Bases of Power: Critique,
Reanalysis, and Suggestions for Future Research. Psychology Bulletin, 97(3), 387-411.
Silverstein, J.L. (1990). The problem with in-laws. Journal of Family Therapy, 14, 399-412.
Examples: My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Guess Who
Thomas, B., Greener, S. & Caracciolo, J.M. (Executive Producers), & Sullivan, K.R. (Director). (2005). Guess
Who [Motion Picture]. USA: Columbia Pictures & Regency Enterprises.
*Printing Supported by the RU Honors Academy