18 Nov

Understanding the Life Course

Posted By polity_admin_user

What makes us live or die the way we do or often survive to such an old age today? Is it biology/genetics or society/culture which decide our life pathways? Alternatively, are our lives a result of the complicated and often unclear interactions between biology and the environment? Are we therefore autonomous authors of our own destinies, prisoners of biology or largely moulded by the norms and values of our society? Are childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, midlife and old age biologically predetermined life stages, clearly differentiated by specific experiences and characteristics? Conversely, are life stages mostly socially constructed and subject to variable interpretations and significant historical and cultural change? What impact might social divisions such as gender, ‘race’/ethnicity, social class, disability and sexuality have on age and ageing and how might this change over time? What effects could the rapid development of various new technologies, such as the internet and new bionic medical procedures, have on us at different times, for example, during birth or the last stages of life?

This book attempts to provide some provisional and tentative answers to these important questions, as well as posing further linked questions. It achieves this through comparing both older and more contemporary psychological and sociological theory and research on the life course, constantly illuminating key points through pertinent examples and relevant research studies. It highlights both differences and similarities in how psychology and sociology understand, research and theorise the life course and shows how they sometimes complement, contradict or occasionally dovetail with one another.

Interesting areas such as increasing late parenthood, the use of DNA markers and new reproductive technology, alongside the diversification of families and living arrangements in modern society, are critically examined. The positive and negative impact of new communications technology on adults’ and children’s learning, entertainment and relationships are also evaluated. The second edition of the book carefully updates the first edition to include new demographic statistics and new legislation and their potential effects. New studies which corroborate or contradict earlier research or provide new insights, for example older people’s experience of new intimate relationships and their increasing recourse to cosmetic surgery, are also discussed. Additional new sections include a critical evaluation of the contribution of neuroscience and the concepts of ‘active ageing’ and resilience to understanding the life course.

This book is unusual in that it evenly analyses and compares the approaches of two disciplines, sociology and psychology. Most other UK literature either concentrates solely on how either sociology or psychology deal with the life course or is focused on the life course in relation to one specific area such as attachment or disability. This text provides a wide ranging, topical and well-balanced introduction to the life course for vocational students, particularly those within social care, health and education. These students require a good multidisciplinary understanding of human development/the life course to practice competently and work productively across different organisations with other professionals. It also proffers wider thought-provoking understandings of the life course to psychology, sociology and other social science students and academics.

Lorraine Green is an independent social sciences and social work consultant, formerly of the University of Manchester and the University of Nottingham.

Her book, Understanding the Life Course: Sociological and Psychological Perspectives, 2nd Edition, is now available from Polity.