We all experience change in our lives. Going to first grade, leaving for college, getting married, having children, finding or losing a job, buying our first home, recovering from a life-threatening disease, retiring, losing our parents – most of us will experience a combination of major transitions throughout our lives.
As a sociologist, I believe that our understanding of those transitions is profoundly shaped by the dominant discourse in society about those transitions. Movies, greeting cards, sports stars, music, popular blogs and websites, advertisements, political debates, and many other voices contribute to our interpretation of those transitions.
American society is, for a variety of reasons, especially preoccupied with transitions. How, then, does the dominant discourse in America depict life’s major transitions? What underlying themes and perspectives do we find, as we move across many of the most important transitions in life?
In this book, I try to answer these questions. I identify two primary approaches to life transitions. The first approach depicts transitions as exciting, individualistic opportunities for new beginnings: the past is cast aside, the future is wide open, and the self has the opportunity to recreate itself anew. The second paints transitions as having to do with continuity: our connections to others, and the life-cycle, with an emphasis on acceptance and adaptation.
At first, these two approaches seem in opposition and almost contradictory. But upon closer analysis we can see that they in fact complement each other, and ultimately reveal a great deal about some of the most fundamental aspects of American society.
Francesco Duina is Professor and Head of Sociology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is also Visiting Professor in the Department of Business and Politics at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.