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Lecture 10

Lecture 10 Nov 29.rtf

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Matthias Koenig

SOC256H1F – November 29 PERCEPTIONS OF THE LIFE COURSE What is the cultural definition of the life course in a society? (Ikels et al. ask people to tell them how they see the life course in a range of different societies= works with the Lenski et al. typology) -what life stages do people define and name? -what do they say these stage are like? -how much do they agree in their views of the life course? -and how does this vary by type of society? Ikels et al. compare several communities which are examples of some of Lenski et al.’s types of society: hunters and gatherers !Kung herding Herero industrial 1) two Irish towns having the simplest technologies and economies 2) Hong Kong, a dynamic urban area 3) two smaller towns in the US, the most complex We will also add an Innuit community as an example of the effects of rapid societal change. – used Inkels et al. by Collins - what happens when hunter group absorbed into another society – transitional society: Innuit How does type of society affect how people see “the” life course? 1) How do people define and describe life stages? Societies vary in the themes they discuss: -simplest, foraging society (!Kung): all depends on functionality (for hunters/gatherers: everything has a functionality – move when you are ready) -this is the only thing that makes much difference to social roles in a very simple society - once the level of technology becomes more complex, other things are more important: Herders emphasize family status -The Herero herders: add family status and level of responsibility (more variations of responsibility in herding society: some people are rich and have more cows, some are in charge vs. egalitarian Kuhn same level of responsibility for everyone and less differentiated)  All the other, more technologically sophisticated societies add participation in formal work (themes related to “jobs” or “careers” or “employment”) Anything from farming onward- people talk more about “work” hunter and g see it as what you do in life but for others more of a formal role – taking place in organizational context (pay, industrialized society) The beginning of a real job is a big deal! Major step in becoming an adult - Work= industrial jobs Societies also vary in the extent to which they associate life stages with chronological ages. (Different life course stages with age stages) - Chronological age has no role in foraging or herding social life (they do not care for it vs. our life that is organized formally by it: old age pension example), so only people from more complex examples give age ranges for life stages -these are rough, but ready; formalization in complex societies (including role of state, formal organizations) leads to widespread social use of age- we have expectations for when it is the right age to do something based on realities of practices in the world as we know it - When to marry today? – base it on when education is finished or get job – feel ready – since people have different beginnings to life course, people’s ideas about the appropriate age range in life events in early adulthood will vary. o so asking people in university you get late 20s early 30s (dedicated to education) o but if you ask high- school drop outs- they would say early to middle 20s o the shorter the time spent in education, the younger the ages they give for things including retirement (ex. McDonald’s job you want to retire as early as possible) - H&G = nothing - chronological age a lot for us- formally mandated ages but also for our expectations correlated with what makes sense for us with where we are in our complex societies Thus, overall, more complex societies: - have more actual, socially significant differences between life stages, and so, -use more themes to define and describe stages – more emphasis on chronological age but also more disagreement - Within our complex society we have people who are in pockets where the life course plays out differently where as in the Kung it was all the same as life course patterns were the same and same with life course descriptions - Compare with complex society which says marriage is supposed to happen at varied time - More complex societies= more variations in how we see the life course 2) How much do members of a society agree in their descriptions of the life course? -the more technologically sophisticated societies are larger and more differentiated, so -peoples’ actual life course vary more, and -culture of all kinds is less universally shared Thus the more complex the society, -the more people vary in their descriptions of life stages. Note here that Ikels et al. somewhat underestimate the clarity with which the !Kung see and agree on life stages - compare to Howell. Note also that there is more research on the extensive variations in complex societies like our own. -e.g. in Canada and the US, people of lower socioeconomic status make life transitions at earlier ages on average -so they give younger ages when describing the typical, general ages for a life stage More reasons for varying definitions in more complex societies are include in the next section. 3) To what extent do people have a cultural definition of the life course at all? (Surprising thing from Ikels et al. those who do not have a clear idea of what the life course is like in their society- when asked what old age is: they would say so and so is like this etc. – irrelevant ideas, trying to generalize old age which is hard) - Traced to complexity of society - But Erickson says to trace it to complexity of SOCIAL NETWORKS - what kinds of people think easily in abstract terms or more comfortably in concrete specifics. Bossel Barnstein – looked at differences in the language use of working class and middle class families and found middle class language use was different (more use of abstraction/generalizations/conscious and thoughtful analysis) vs. working class kids (did not use abstraction as much, less analysis, no conscious reflection on what they talked about) he said this was a class thing related to the language of education of parents and children and also to the kinds of work the middle class and working class did - middle class work involves more language, non-repetitive tasks so more analysis – higher level of language used – required to have a decent education – skills of parents do or don’t take home and pass to kids -- this is harder for a factory worker - Rose Lub Koser- effect of peoples networks on them in various ways- she argues that some people see the same people in the same way over and over again (typical working class experience- ex. McDonald’s job – can use passive knowledge or concrete language instead of analytical vs. other people who constantly shift from one social world to another (at work people with middle class jobs talk with clients, suppliers, people who they supervise and people who supervise them – many role relationships and with each interaction a different kind of language is appropriate- these people are the same who will go out into the social world and engage in many social worlds – likely to engage in voluntary associations) – these people are aware of their code shifting as they go from one place to another, cannot help but see the differences- not auto-pilot!! – - we would expect people who live in narrow social worlds where they seem same people to have trouble with abstraction – esp. about the life course - obvious characteristic of our complex society compared to the Kung – the Kung live in small social worlds, see same people, more concerned with concrete everyday specific and less concerned with abstract - Ikels et al. found the Kung had trouble talking about life course stages and how they looked at that but Howell did not find this- Ikels so took a procedural nature used for us applied to Kung – Ikels and el miss out on their understanding of childhood - But yes there point on complex societies having ease with abstraction is correct due to our increased complexity of social interactions and the more variation in our complex societies (whether in narrow networks or more complex) -Some do not! Some people have trouble seeing life course in the abstract, a set of named and defined general stages with known characteristics; instead they think in terms of specific individuals they know. Ikels at al. broadly generalize that more complex societies go with more frequent and comfortable use of abstract, general concepts for life course stages -but to some extent this is a result of their greater success in using a particular research strategy in some places -the !Kung for example quite readily talk about stages such as elders versus decrepit old -but they may be less eager to generalize, and more interested in discussing specific people they actually know and the details of their lives Ikels at al. argue that complexity fuels life course generalization for several reasons. 3a) People work with life course abstractions more readily when they often deal with many people they do not know, or do not know well -interaction with many different kinds of people is associated with abstract thinking of all kinds -generalizations help us to organize what we know about all these people, and to have some expectations about them before we know much - Educated people deal with abstractions easier - Take abstractions, theories and apply them to specific case studies – see how they compare- high level ability (characteristic of more middle class/complex social worlds rather than working/homogenous narrow social worlds Implications for societies: technological level –> scale, mobility, social complexity –> routine contacts with strangers and acquaintances –> common use of life course concepts Implications for people within a society: - those who live in small worlds of well known people may not use life course generalisations much – even in complex societies like the US. People in more complex societies vary more in their social worlds, thus adding to the internal variation of views of the life course in more complex societies. 3b) People work with life course generalizations more readily when they are more highly educated -this fosters generalizations in general More complex societies have: -more formal education -more variation in education Hence have more abstract, and more varied views. 3c) People generalize more readily if, in their worlds, lives are long and predictable -so one can reliably generalize life course experiences that apply to most people -truest for technologically sophisticated, wealthy societies - Unpredictable life- will not have a coherent form – what distinguishes our world from pre-industrial and H&G our lives are more predictable (ex. We have life expectancies – we expect to live to an old age. Vs. pre-industrial with higher mortality rates thus could die at any time) - Our life courses are organized by powerful organizations- we know we will go to school, get old age pension at 65 – there is a lot of shaping of our life courses, we can be confident in generalizing – past 65 a lot are retired, because of pension, most kids at age 7 in classroom A COMMUNITY IN TRANSITION FROM HUNTING AND GATHERING TO MODERN TECHNOLOGY: HOLMAN (IN THE CANADIAN ARCTIC) - This is not like Kung or Howell study not trying to see H&G while it still was one- Ache and Kung - H&G are being absorbed into more complex societies – for many the absorption is complete- there are few living independent lives therefore interesting to see a simple being absorbed into a more complex- SEE LENSKI ET AL. FOR THIS What are the changes we see with Holman? - The old way of life of getting income became unsustainable – collapse of fur economy- the fur economy used to be very strong. For trade of fur they got guns. They would trade for tea, tobacco (tasty but not good for you things) – decreased due to animal activists – thus had to look for other means than hunting and gathering - More advanced technology use for hunting – since you cannot make a living through hunting and gathering anymore there is a role for waged labour – which leads to a different economy – remember Kohli – huge change in life course came about through actions of employers and governments – Inuit drawn into this dynamic - Government plays more of a role- reliance on social assistance - People abandon nomadic way of life in all parts of Can
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