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Lecture 3

SOC3116 Lecture 3: 3 Sociological Perspective on Life Transitions

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3 Sociological Perspective on Life Transitions Introduction - During the past two decades, sociologists have devoted increased attention to history, to heterogeneity, and to the dynamics of change - The roots of research on life transitions can be traced to classic perspectives on: o Social roles o The relationships between social location and personal well-being o The mechanisms by which social contexts shape individual lives Precursors of the Study of Life Transitions Role Theory - Linton (1936) introduced the initial elements of role theory, defining status as a position in social structure and role as the expected behaviours of status occupants - Over time, use of the term role broadened in two ways o First, role is now used to describe both a status and the behaviours associated with it o Second, role can refer to either the behaviours expected of a status occupant or the behaviours exhibited by a status occupant - Became more complex and more directly relevant to the study of life-transitions with the emergence of interest in the dynamics of role allocation and socialization o Role allocation: the processes by which roles are assigned to individuals and to the related dynamics of role entry and exit o Socialization refers to the processes by which social structure transmits to individuals the skills and attitudes compatible with the roles that they enact - Role theorists view social norms as the cultural referents that permit role allocation and socialization to occur in a routinized and predictable manner - Norms are o The basis of shared expectations about role behaviour o The allocation of roles to individuals or subgroups, the timing of role entry and exit o Socialization experiences that facilitate role performance o Social sanctions that are applied when individuals fail to perform their roles effectively - The link between role theory and life transitions is straightforward role entry and exit are, by definition, transitions - Makes two major contributions to the study of transitions o Offers a potential explanation for the genesis and timing for life transitions Most transitions are normatively governed and, hence, predictable in both occurrence and timing o Socialization provides individuals with the skills needed to master transitions and perform new roles effectively - These principles lead to the prediction that role based transitions typically operate smoothly, with little disruption to individual lives or to social structure Social Stress Research - Conceptualizing the relationships between social location and illness - In early studies the primary research question was whether stress mediates the relationships between social location and illness - Later studies examined the conditions under which stress leads to adverse outcomes - Stress research has made two primary contributions to research on life transitions o The most important of these is recognition of heterogeneity among events, consequences of events, and the contingencies that shape the impact of life events o In addition, stress research demonstrates that life events (and, therefore, life transitions) are important for health and well-being - A distinctive sociology of the life course has emerged in the past two decades o Life course = social phenomenon, distinct from the life span: the life course reflects the intersection of social and historical factors with personal biography o Life course perspectives focus on age-differentiated, socially recognized sequences of transitions o Life course studies require a dynamic longitudinal perspective - Life course studies of transitions can be conveniently divided into two subsets based on unit of analysis o Population-based studies o Studies of individuals Population-Based Studies of Transitions - The timing of life course transitions is usually operationalized as either the average or median age at which a transition occurs or the age by which a majority of cohort members have experienced a transition - Variability of transition timing is typically examined both across ad within cohorts o During this century, the average age at which several transitions occur has changed o Compared to earlier cohorts, recent cohorts of men are older, on average, at school completion and age of first full-time job - Investigators also have examined sequences of life transitions, their compression or dispersion over time, and their consequences - Initial hypotheses posited that transition sequences are governed by norms specifying the appropriate ordering of trans
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