Summary: Sociologists that study the life course emphasize the importance of turning points. The life course refers to the various interconnected sequences of events that take place over the course of a person’s lifetime. Transitions are changes that people experience in different stages or roles of their life; examples include entry into marriage, divorce, parenthood, employment, or military service. These transitions can, but don’t necessarily, lead to turning points, which are marked by long-term changes in behavior that “redirect” a person’s life path. Whether or not a turning point has taken place only becomes apparent after the passage of time, when one can look back and confirm that a long-term change has occurred (e.g., see Elder 1985; Sampson and Laub 1996; Abbott 2001, ch. 8). Rutter (1996) highlights three types of life events can serve as turning points: (1) life events that either close or open opportunities, (2) life events that make a lasting change on the person’s environment, and (3) life events that change a person’s self-concept, beliefs, or expectations. For example, Uggen (2000) examined whether work serves as a turning point in the life course of criminals, and whether age and employment status can explain recidivism rates. In the short film above, a young filmmaker chronicles the transitions taking place in the lives of two family members: his 82-year-old grandmother, Obaa, and his 17-year-old sister, Phoebe. Obaa has recently sold her house and is moving into a retirement home; Phoebe is graduating high school in two weeks and will soon be heading off to college. Both women experience depression. As viewers, we don’t know whether these transitions will lead to turning points in the lives of Obaa or Phoebe. Viewers are encouraged to consider how these life changes constitute a transition, using Rutter’s (1996) criteria above. Also, how might mental illnesses, such as depression or dementia, intersect with the ability for a transition to result in a turning point? How might transitions help or hinder people with mental illnesses? What about a person’s age? Do viewers believe that Obaa’s or Phoebe’s age will play an important role in their transition or potential turning point? What unique and/or similar challenges and/or opportunities will each woman face as they transition into a new stage of their life?
People have increasingly married others from their same class; the number of people marrying up or down (to classes higher or lower than their own) has decreased over time. This is one pattern of assortative mating, or the process through which people tend to marry someone with similar traits to themselves (e.g. education, wealth, age). A 2013 ASRarticle, “Trends and Variation in Assortative Mating” identifies the many causes and consequences of these patterns. One cause, which is depicted in this excerpt from People LIke Us: Social Class in America, is the varying forms and levels of cultural capital across members of different classes. The different cultural practices and preferences related to class background can ultimately shape who we are attracted to and who we feel comfortable around. The video features a woman, who was born as a “poor country girl” but married into the upper class, and has made her living replicating the cultural practices and norms of her new class. She teaches a working-class woman how to position herself in proximity to others, how to dress (they shop for a $2500 outfit, and she is “worth it”), “desire shop,” and be confident with members of the upper class, all in preparation for finding a partner from a wealthier background. Toward the end of the video, a commentator ponders whether a person is truly able to ever change their class, arguing that it would take “a lifetime of study and actors’/actress’ training” to master the cultural practices of the wealthy elite. The clip works well to illustrate cultural capital and to engage in discussions about the causes and consequences of assortative mating, especially in terms of economic inequality. For example, what is the role of class and cultural capital in shaping our marriage partners and how does this lead to class reproduction?
AQA (our exam board) have released some podcasts that might be helpful:
A few days ago, I watched a very interesting programme about child preachers in Brazil. The programme raises lots of relevant issues relevant to the A2 course:
- Why is evangelism rising in popularity when many other religious organisations are declining?
- What roles do preachers play?
- Why are children fulfilling the role of a preacher?
I also mentioned the series I have been watching recently – Hand of God. It is being aired on Amazon Prime and is definitely worth a watch because it focuses upon charismatic authority (Max Weber), the continuing influence of religion upon many peoples’ lives, the appeal of religion for prison inmates etc. Be warned that there is some adult content.