Posted in AS Sociology: Family, Uncategorized

AS family: life course

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?




Sociology and Media Studies teacher at Hazelwick School, West Sussex. Former teacher at Felpham Community College and Doha College

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