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University of Guelph
Family Relations and Human Development
FRHD 1020
Robyn Pitman

CHAPTER 2 LIFE COURSE ANALYSIS Theoretical Assumptions o 3 sets of assumptions: motivational theories, normative theories, and macro-historical theories o Motivational theories assume that you choose or determine why and how you do something o Rational choice theory: this theory proposes that individuals choose events, people, and things based on the principle of maximum profit (rewards versus cost). Some rational choice theories, such as those of Coleman (1990), derive social norms and social organizations from the individual’s profit-seeking calculations and behaviour o Arguments against motivational theories:  What something is worth to you depends on the situation and the norms of society  Your choices are conditioned genetically and you are in fact determined to act a certain way even though you may perceive choice  There is little logic in our choices since we cannot compute the cost and rewards of any action in a rational way o Normative theories assume that social norms predict behaviour and action o A social norm is a rule about our conduct that is held and followed by most people in a society o Because the rule is held and followed by so many people, it becomes a basis for social expectations o Social norms are divided into formal norms, such as laws or rules established by an authority, and informal norms, which are not codified or written down, but are shared by many people o Life course theory is largely normative theory  It takes the perspective that all societies need to organize people across their life courses  Age-graded norm a social norm that refers to the age or timing of a particular event or stage o Major criticisms of normative theories is that they fail to explain how norms are formed and how they develop  Rational choice theorists say they depend on the choice of individuals  Evolutionary social theory argues norms are based on our biological nature  BUT, norms are very different from society to society o Macro-historical theories assume that forces beyond the individual or society create change o Forces may be historical or evolutionary o Our behaviour is determined neither by choice or social norms but by macroscopic forces such as historical dialects, a dialectical interpretation of historical events that moves from thesis to CHAPTER 2 LIFE COURSE ANALYSIS antithesis to synthesis; and evolution, any process determined by a consistent set of rules or principles that explain and predict the continuity of change o Problem  If historical and evolutionary forces are everywhere, why is there variation between individuals, social groups, and societies Major Theoretical Frameworks for Studying Families o Functional Theories  family is a normative institution in all societies and that the family is central in all societies to perform the functions of reproduction, control of sexuality, and socialization of children. It emphasizes the maintenance of functional institutions and therefore tends to see social change as a threat to society’s institutional functional relations o Conflict theories  the family is a social group that mirrors and is affected by large-scale forces such as historical dialectical materialism or a class of cultures o Feminist theories  women are subjugated and oppressed by patriarchy. The family is seen as the central institution that reproduces the social roles and mechanisms that maintain patriarchal oppression o Systems theories  families have members that affect both one another and the balance of the entire family system. When the system is thrown out of equilibrium or balance, members try to correct the dysfunction by recalibrating means and goals or by changing inputs and outputs. o Rational choice and social exchange theories  individuals have the rational capacity to choose those actions deemed to produce the greatest rewards relative to costs. o Symbolic interaction theories  individuals are constructed by their society. When individuals arrive in the world, they learn signs and symbols so they can express and negotiate meanings in the social world. o Biological theories  interplay of our biological and evolutionary selves with our social selves. Individuals act to maximize survival of their genes from one generation to the next o Developmental and life course theories  individuals, relationships, and families are all conceptualized as traversing stages of development. As we traverse the life course significant events propel a transition to another stage Life Course Theory o Event any occurrence or experience that can be pinpointed to a relatively instantaneous time  Ex. Birth, graduation, wedding, death  Events are meaningful to people and have chronological dates  An event is experienced by the individual but is also a shared understanding that can be communicated to others  There are idiosyncratic events (unusual event that does not happen to majority of people)  Most life events are easily understood because they are normative  There is a host of social and cultural practices surrounding an event CHAPTER 2 LIFE COURSE ANALYSIS  If an event has long duration it becomes a stage o A stage is a duration of time characterized by a particular property not present before the stage and not present after the stage  Ex. A couple has a child – the structure of the household changes from two members to three and the couple’s interactions change  Stages are used to describe the life course of individuals, with terms such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, middle age, etc.  Stages can also describe small social groups such as the family and work group, as well as discuss the development of social organizations, and to describe the development of nations and cultures  Stages are characterized by 3 elements: 1. Each stage has a beginning point that is marked by an event  Transition event an event that is considered relatively instantaneous in time and divides the previous stage with the next stage in a life course 2. An ending or exit event marks the end of duration of the stage 3. For its duration, the stage is marked by a particular property that the stages before the transition event did not have and the stages after the exit event will not have o Every organism and social organization experience transitions  Age and duration will account for changes  Include intense adjustments and relatively high stress loads  Ex. Transition to parenthood, adulthood, marriage, empty nest o Pathways  at any point in the life course of an organism, an individual person, or a family, there is always the possibility of a stage transition CHAPTER 2 LIFE COURSE ANALYSIS  The probability of a transition depends on the stage you are currently occupying, how long you have been in that stage, and the social norms favouring one type of transition over another  Many historical and random factors arise to change or modify our pathways  Life course perspective acknowledges that individual choices are made but also that, these choices are driven by the norms of the society and many other factors Levels of Analysis o Level of analysis is the theoretical and concept
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