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The taxonomy of social support: An ethnographic analysis among adolescent mothers

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Abstract

Current approaches to assessing the health-related functions of social support are based on a theoretical frame of reference regarding the taxonomic structure of social networks. Nearly all previous work addresses the issue of social network taxonomies from an etic (i.e. objective, outside) rather than emic (i.e. subjective) perspective. Because of this, we intensively studied 5 unmarried adolescent mothers over the year following the delivery of their firstborn infants, utilizing ethnographic methods to elicit detailed portrayals of their personal, subjective taxonomies of social network support. Ranked in order of successful adaptation to parenthood, the young women with the best outcomes displayed a richer, more differentiated view of their social networks' taxonomic structure and regarded individual network members as more diverse in their capacity to provide broad, multi-faceted support. A common element among all subjects was the tendency to discriminate among categories of network members according to the stability and continuity perceived in individual relationships.

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