American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS)

"Body of Knowledge" for
Family and Consumer Sciences

Shirley L. Baugher, Carol L. Anderson, Kinsey B. Green,
Jan Shane, Laura Jolly, Joyce Miles and Sharon Y. Nickols

The Body of Knowledge for the discipline and profession was identified more than twenty years ago to facilitate several evolving developments. Evolutions within the profession continue and include renewal of the certification examination and the standards for Accreditation of FCS programs. During this past year, several members of the Association have provided leadership in the revision of the CIP codes. Finally, dialogue during the FCS Higher Education Summit, held in February 1999 and a session at the 1999 Annual Meeting addressing a comprehensive vision for the future contributed to the decision to invite the elected leaders of professional organizations and societies of the family and consumer sciences profession to discuss the Body of Knowledge for the future.

Early Beginnings
From its very beginning, practitioners and friends of family and consumer sciences have discussed and debated the content of what should comprise our body of knowledge. Reports of the ten Lake Placid Conferences document the initial differing points of view. While the overall theme was the application of scientific principles to the management of the household, there were advocates who insisted that substantial attention to arts and letters be included. Some believed that teaching life skills to young people should be the primary focus. Marian Talbot and Benjamin Andrews wrote statements supporting social and philosophical perspectives, including attention to public policy. It was Marion Talbot's belief that,

... The obligations of home life are not by any means limited to its own four walls, that home economics must always be regarded in light of its relation to the general social system, that men and women are alike concerned in understanding the processes, activities, obligations, and opportunities which make the home and family effective parts of the social fabric...

-- Fourth Lake Placid Conference, 1902

At mid-century, Katharine Alderman (1948) summarized the ways in which the Home Economics philosophy had been expressed:

  • improvement in instruction;
  • betterment of the status of consumers;
  • fostering international understanding; and
  • importance of research.

But the ultimate purpose of all of this was so that families everywhere may achieve the highest quality of living and happiness in their homes and communities.

Discussions after Mid-Century
Lee and Dressell (1963) suggest, based on the literature and their observations, that there were three conceptions of home economics which evolve from its beginning to the 1960s:

  • a single field with a broad general perspective and a number of sub-
  • a unified field with sub-specialties embedded in the home and family;
  • a collection of disciplines with no unifying theme or "anchor".

Analysis, dialogue, and generally at least partial agreement on the body of knowledge came about as a result of various meetings held between 1961 and 1993. Points of reference include, but are not limited to --

French Lick Conference

    1961 - addressed problems of articulation and differentiation in home economics subject matter in secondary, college, and  adult education. A "concept approach" was explored.

Eleventh Lake Placid Conference

    1973 - designed to develop consensus among members and focused on the future directions of the field.

Future Directions

    1979 - released Home Economics: A Definition by Marjorie Brown and Beatrice Paolucci. An indepth philosophical essay in which home economics is referred to as a critical science.

Proud Past - Promising Future

    1984 - initiated the Commemorative Lecture series on the 75th  anniversary of the American Home Economics Association. Marjorie Brown challenged the profession to continually ask "Whose interests do we really serve?" This presentation was built on work Brown had done to clarify history and examine critically the basic ideas inherent in the profession.

Scottsdale Conference

    1993 - examined the mission, breadth, scope, and name as well as recommended a new conceptual framework and released Positioning the Profession for the 21st Century. Stage and Vincenti (1997)

Discussions at the End of the Century
During the last decade of the 20th century, programs in higher education were influenced by increased enrollment in specialized areas and a decrease in general programs. Increasingly, complex bodies of knowledge evolved within the specializations. Groups within the profession have continued to discuss the body of knowledge, examples of which include:

  • the 1999 Family and Consumer Sciences in Higher Education Summit planned by the Association of Administrators of Human Sciences, Council for Administrators in Family and Consumer Sciences, the Higher Education Unit of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, Kappa Omicron Nu, the National Association of Teacher Educators of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Phi Upsilon Omicron.
  • the Council on Accreditation has been engaged in updating Standard 3: Program Foundations, of the Accreditation Standards document.
  • the Council for Certification initiated a study to update the exam so that the questions would reflect the current philosophical base and the body of knowledge.

At its October 1999 meeting, the Board of Directors of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences determined that bringing together these various efforts was essential to finding common ground for establishing a forward looking framework for the body of knowledge embedded in Family and Consumer Sciences. A dialogue on the body of knowledge was held at AAFCS headquarters in January 2000. Participants agreed that this dialogue was a great start to the new millennium.

External Influences and Trends
While our history informs what we teach, investigate, and share through practice, any discussion of the body of knowledge in Family and Consumer Sciences must take into account external influences and trends. An environmental scan brought the following trends to the dialogue-

  • Aging of the population: By 2030, over half of all U.S. adults will be eligible to join the American
    Association of Retired Person which means they will be age 50 or greater. At the same time, a baby boom is projected.
  • Digital technology: The information revolution is transforming society and creating new careers, new industries, and new ways of working, living, and learning.
  • Genetically modified products: Genome research, DNA knowledge, and genetically modified products will contribute to new alternatives for preventing and treating diseases. Nutritionally enhanced fruits and vegetables will influence weight control and improved health practices.
  • An altered institution: The American Family The majority of families with kids will raise them without the presence of both biological parents. Families are smaller. Marriage is less central. The proportion of adults who never have been married rose from 15 percent in 1972 to 23 percent in 1998.
  • Protecting the environment while accommodating growth: Healthy ecological neighborhoods depend on sustainable practices.
  • No majority ethnic group: By 2020, this country will not have a majority ethnic or racial group and will be more diverse than ever.
  • Work life. There are more variations in work life choices. The number of women starting their own businesses continues to increase. A person may live in one part of the country and be employed in another. People plan to work in some capacity following retirement.
  • Dualistic society: A high school diploma is crucial and fundamental for economic security. The gap in income between the well to do and the poor continues to grow larger.
  • Globalization: Digital technology links the world and decisions in one country influences what occurs in others.
  • Focus on community: Even though global forces impact what happens with individuals and families, communities foster a sense of belonging and provide "high touch" environments that support well-being.

Discussions for the 21st Century
A group of 20 FCS professionals gathered at the headquarters of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences in January 2000 to develop a philosophical framework for the future body of knowledge for Family and Consumer Sciences. Their charge was to review the work of different groups, engage in dialogue and agree upon a philosophical framework for the Family and Consumer Sciences body of knowledge, define basic concepts and identify pervasive threads, and establish a process for sharing the framework and engaging others in refining it. Participants were challenged to think toward the year 2020 and to have 20/20 vision about what elements should inform scholarship, curricula, policy, and practice.

The admonition from Ellen Swallow Richards to the 1899 Lake Placid Conference was used to encourage the year 2000 group to stretch its thinking: "Real progress is often retarded by trying to make the new fit into the old scheme of things," Richards told the conferees of the last century. The 2000 Body of Knowledge participants rose to the challenge to create a new framework while preserving the distinctive essentials of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The Process
Dr. Sharon Nickols, Dean, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia, facilitated the process. Organizations, and representatives of those that participated in the process are identified at the end of this document.

Trends and issues within society and the family were identified and discussed. As threads of continuity were identified, a model for the Body of Knowledge began to develop.

Threads of continuity were labeled as those issues that participants repeatedly identified as central to the work of Family and Consumer Sciences. They included the basic assumption that the focus of work was within a family and community system with ecological perspective. Threads emerged in two categories...those that were integrated across disciplines and those that identified specializations within the field.

Cross-cutting threads:

  • basic human needs
  • communication skills
  • public policy
  • critical thinking
  • diversity
  • global perspectives
  • professionalism
  • independence, dependence and interdependence of creativity thinking
  • community development
  • technology
  • moral, ethical, and spiritual development

Specialization(s) threads:

  • health
  • food, for basic nutrition and health, and future scientific developments in the creation of foods
  • clothing and textiles
  • shelter
  • economics and management
  • relationships and social leadership
  • wellness

A model was developed to represent the identified threads and the basic foundation of the profession was created. The premise of the presented model is that family and community systems, resource acquisition and management, and human lifespan development is fundamental to the knowledge base.

Specializations Addressed
The proposed Conceptual Framework for the Body of Knowledge in Family
and Consumer Sciences provides a means to organize the rich array of knowledge necessary to function as a family and consumer sciences professional. Cross-cutting themes representing contemporary societal trends interact with the Common Body of Knowledge elements (systems theory and lifespan development applied to individuals, families and communities) to study and address basic human needs. This conceptual framework visually depicts the integrative nature of the field, yet allows for specialization and the influence of societal trends on the profession.

A continuing trend in the field is the need for Family and Consumer Sciences professionals to function as specialists, requiring both considerable depth in one subject area specialization and the ability to integrate concepts from other areas of the family and consumer sciences knowledge base. The proposed conceptual framework addresses this need.

Basic Human Needs is one of the key elements. Basic Human Needs may be operationalized to include subject area specializations. Basic Human Needs may be conceptualized broadly to allow flexibility for programs and professionals to articulate in unique and varied ways the role of the specialist in Family and Consumer Sciences. New specializations and programs may emerge to focus on the interaction between the common body of knowledge, cross-cutting themes, and basic human needs. Basic Human Needs, as an organizing principle, include traditional specializations and make possible the emergence of new specializations. The dynamic nature of the framework provides a mechanism for continual reflection, enhancement, and development of programs and specializations in the field.

Continued Development
The model presented in this manuscript is in no way complete or final. Indeed the process and the model for the Body of Knowledge are evolutionary and will continue to be refined. A glossary of terms is currently being developed to provide a sense of common meaning to the labels used in the model. The model will be placed on the Websites of participating organizations and societies and feedback will be solicited. As you review the model, make notes and provide us with your thoughts. What insights do you have about the model and its capacity to speak to the work of the profession in the next twenty years? You may contact any participating member of the meeting or send your comments directly to Ann Chadwick at


Alderman, K. M. (1948). Expressing our philosophy. Journal of Home Economics.

Lee, J.A. & Dressell, P. (1963). Liberal education and home economics. Teachers College Columbia University: Bureau of Publications pp. 89-94.

Smith, Tom W. (1999). The Emerging 21st Century American Family. GSS Social Change Report No. 42. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Stage, Sarah & Vincenti, Virginia B., Eds. (1997). Rethinking Home Economics -  Women and the History of a Profession. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.