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The Sociology of the Life Course 3- youth and adolescence

This series of presentations are an accompaniment to terrific textbook 'Sociology, 7th edition' by Giddens and Sutton (2013). There is a very strong focus on visuals, with many additional short activities designed to foster interaction between teachers and students.

The text from Giddens and Sutton is usually paraphrased and reworded to aid the comprehension of students, particularity those of lower language ability than Giddens and Sutton had in mind.

The sociology of the age and the life course is the perfect embodiment of contemporary sociology as a whole, and a branch of the discipline with direct relevance to every individual in late-modern capitalist industrial societies.

Sociology is the study of how the structure of any particular society largely dictates how individuals must live; the analysis of the plight of the modern individual in a rapidly changing world. By using this frame of reference, we often reveal social phenomena previously regarded as "natural" and eternal as -in actual fact- "social constructions" that are completely dependent on the socio-historical era for their own existence.

The sociology of the life course looks at how the meanings attached to something as fundamental as a "stage of life" (e.g. childhood) change across time and space; in other words, in different historical eras and -still today- in different places around this complex and diverse planet, the expectations attached to -say- being pre-teen, a teenager, or someone over the age of 50 are products of capitalist, industrial modernity and therefore very, very recent developments in our 800,000 year human history.

This series begins with an introduction to the different aspects of ageing, with an emphasis on the development of social self (looking-glass self), which is something all humans do regardless of time and space; it is part of the psychological process of growing up in all societies.

We then establish what social ageing is; the fundamentals of the sociology of ageing.

Later chapters of the series analyze the different stages of life, in turn, in socio-historical perspective; beginning with what we would today call "childhood" (pre-teen), before looking at "youth", "young adulthood", "mature adulthood" and finally "later life".

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The Sociology of the Life Course 3- youth and adolescence

  1. 1. The Sociology of the Life Course 3 – The sociology of youth and adolescence Accompaniment to the superb Giddens and Sutton (2013) (left) Chapter 9, with an assortment of additional accompanying resources and activities
  2. 2. Contents 3 The sociology of youth and adolescence Also in the series… 1 Introduction to the sociology of age and the life course 2 The sociology of childhood 4 The sociology of young adulthood 5 The sociology of mature adulthood 6 The sociology of later life
  3. 3. 2 The life stages in socio-historical perspective: 2- Youth and adolescence see G&S 2013:350
  4. 4. A teenageris anyone aged 13-19… …the period in which most of our biological developmentfrom “child” to “adult” takes place Puberty : when a person becomes capable of “adult” sexual activity and reproduction Activity: Why might one’s teenage years be a more difficult life stage that childhood or young adulthood?
  5. 5. These biological changes are universal across time and space- puberty, and being literally a “teenager” are not specifically modern phenomena! Activity: If the biological aspect is universal, what aspects of being a “youth” may be socially constructed?
  6. 6. However, many of the social meanings associated with being a teenager in industrial societies are culturally specific “…in manycultures (puberty) does not produce the degree of turmoil and uncertainty often found among young people in modern societies.” Giddens & Sutton 2013:350
  7. 7. In many cultures across time and space, there seems to be much less of a concept of “youth” as transition between child- and adulthood
  8. 8. In some cultures, a distinct ceremonial event signals one’s relatively brief transition to adulthood: there is little or no awkward, halfway stage And in these pre-modern environments “the process of psychosexual development is far easier to negotiate” Giddens & Sutton 2013:350 Activity: Discuss the Giddens quote (left). What is ‘pyschosocial development’? Why might it difficult to negotiate in modernity, but easier in more traditional settings?
  9. 9. Many are now realizing that in pre-modern settings, there is very little concept of “youth” at all. In cultures where children are already working alongside adults, there is very little social relevance of the “youth” stage apart from its biological aspect.
  10. 10. Procreative sexual activity (ie conceiving babies) generally takes place earlier in pre-modern settings, also. In many pre-modern settings, one becomes “adult” when one becomes a parent! Activity: Find statistics on the age of first childbirth in modern industrial societies over the last 100 years. Why such a long wait between puberty and first childbirth?
  11. 11. This is certainly notthe case in modern industrial societies Pregnancy is biologically possible after puberty; yet in modern industrialized societies, teenage pregnancy is highly stigmatized and discouraged
  12. 12. The concept of “youth”, and “youth culture” is a modern one, specific to industrial societies and not fully flourishing until the post-World War II “ baby boom” cohort Activities: (i) We’ve already seen how childhood was to an extent a socially constructed , early-modern phenomenon. Review the factors that contributed to this. (ii) Can you guess which factors might be relevant to the social construction of “youth culture”? Pre-modern youth in the UK The industrialized West experienced a “baby boom” after WWII
  13. 13. The Hippy youth movement
  14. 14. Post-war affluence, rapid mass-media expansion, and the rapid onset of consumerism, created and fostered a growing concept of youth culture Activity: How does increased opportunity for consumerism contribute to the creation of youth culture and various subcultures?
  15. 15. Youth was constructed as a time of individual identity-formation… Activities: (i) What is ‘identity’ and why is it such a crucial concept in sociology? (ii) How is the late-modern concept of identity different today than in pre-modern times?
  16. 16. new-found autonomous consumer freedom; “teenager” as old enough to be free of the constraints of parental controls and yet young enough to be without the responsibilitiesof real adult life … Activity: For how many years might a late-modern youth expect to live in such a transitory state?
  17. 17. …and often, the participation in various subcultural trends and groups such as hippies, mods, rockers, skinheads, emos, ravers etc. Activity: Can you identify the subcultural trends depicted here?