How Does Our Understanding Of The Life Course Differ From That Of Earlier Historical Periods?

1524 words - 6 pages

'Life course' is a term that is used by sociologists to refer to an individual's path through life, and is defined as simply "The development of a person through childhood, adolescence, mid-life, old age and death" (Abercrombie et al. Dictionary of Sociology). The concept of a life course is useful in helping us understand our individual situations as it provides us with stages of social belonging (such as childhood, adolescence and old age). Naturally therefore the stage of social belonging that we currently identify with is subject to change as we progress through our life course. However, these stages are also structured by classes such as ethnicity and gender which are fixed and do not change. This essay will look at how our understanding of the life course has changed over time and now differs in comparison to that of earlier historical periods.According to Berger and Luckman, "All societies are constructions in the face of chaos" (1). One argument is that society needs to create meanings in order to give coherence to the lives of the individuals. Symbols are used here by society to link life course to the reality outside of everyday life. It is thought that in medieval societies these symbols took the form of cosmic processes, such as the signs of the zodiac and different seasons, whereas today they take the form of various different social structures such as employment and education. Furthermore, biological changes such as puberty and menopause are often given meaning by being associated with progression into the next social stage (adolescense and old age respectively).Today childhood is vastly different to how it was for earlier generations. In the middle ages a child was seen as a representation of his parents, often dressed similarly to the same-sex parent and viewed almost as a "mini adult", whereas children today are thought to be fundamentally different to adults. Although in some cases they may be dressed as adults they will usually be treated as innocent and perhaps also naive. However, this may not be universally true, as non-western societies such as Japan have been found to treat children as being independent individuals from their earliest moments of life (Kagan, J. 1976). Nevertheless, modern childhood is undeniably different to that of earlier historical periods. For one thing it is now illegal for children to work, whereas in the 19th century it was commonplace for them not only to work, but to work twelve hour shifts as 'hurriers' in the coal mines, which were extremely dangerous environments. Hurriers pulled a small wagon full of coal and would often make several runs into the mine and back to the surface again. Another common job for children in the Victorian era was a chimney sweep, as children were smaller and more agile than adults it was easier for them to accomplish these tasks and parents often used their children as an additional source of income. It wasn't until 1833 that a royal commission banned children under...

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