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Elder, Glen H., Jr.; Shanahan, Michael J.; & Jennings, Julia A. (2015). Human Development in Time and Place.. Bornstein, Marc H. & Leventhal, Tama (Eds.) (pp. 6-54). Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..


The life course and human development has flourished as a field of study during the past quarter century, extending across substantive and theoretical boundaries (Mortimer & Shanahan, 2003), and now appears in many subfields of the social, behavioral, and medical sciences. With this change has come an increasing appreciation for linkages between changing contexts and human development. The term context refers to the social embedding of individuals and typically entails study of biographical, historical, and ecological variations. The social concept of life course refers to a temporal pattern of age-graded events and roles that chart the social contours of biography, providing a proximal context for the dynamics of human development from conception and birth to death. Conceptual and methodological breakthroughs associated with the interdisciplinary life course framework, coupled with the dramatic expansion of long-term longitudinal studies, have generated more research and knowledge than ever before about behavioral adaptations in realworld settings around the globe. We are also increasingly aware of people as agents of their own lives. New avenues of research have opened, and the future offers exciting promise for understanding how dynamic views of context and the person— including biological dimensions— interact to influence achievements, exposure to stressors, physical and psychological well-being, and social involvements. This contextualization of lives and developmental processes occurs through the patterning of social roles, events, and age distinctions; and in a multilevel context of family/primary group, neighborhood, community, economic region, and country. The meaning of historical time and context stems in large part from the ecological process of place and its multiple levels (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). A distinctive feature of this ecology is its social inequalities of class, ethnicity, and gender. They are expressed across individual lives and the generations in cumulative dynamics of advantage and disadvantage through childhood, adolescence, and the adult years. We begin this chapter by viewing the evolution of life course thinking as a response to the challenges that stem from following children into young adulthood, middle age, and late life. This chapter is also a product of the remarkable growth of these studies from the 1960s to the end of the century. Life course ideas in developmental science, social roles and relationships, and concepts of the age-graded life course are prominent in this conceptual advance. By the end of the 1990s, a new synthesis, linking theory on social relationships and age, had become a theoretical orientation on the social life course and its influences on human development in historical and ecologically defined contexts. Multiple lives are interdependent in this developmental process.

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Elder, Glen H., Jr.
Shanahan, Michael J.
Jennings, Julia A.