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Shanahan, Michael J. & Longest, Kyle C. (2009). Thinking about the Transition to Adulthood: From Grand Narratives to Useful Theories.. Schoon, Ingrid & Silbereisen, Rainer K. (Eds.) (pp. 30-41). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


The study of adolescence and young adulthood has been markedly influenced by “grand narratives” that purport to offer encompassing descriptions of these periods of life. Most organismic theories of development – which view the biography as a progression through universal stages – count as grand narratives. According to such theories, all humans must proceed through a sequence of stages that reflect a “maturational unfolding” of qualities that everyone shares. For example, Erikson (1968) maintained that everyone must pass through the stages of industry versus inferiority and then intimacy versus isolation, reflecting the intrinsic nature of ego development. A more recent example is Arnett’s (2000) concept of “emerging adulthood,” which he proposed as a new phase of the life course between adolescence and adulthood. According to his conceptualization, during emerging adulthood, youth explore roles and identities with little commitment. Although emerging adulthood is not an organismic theory of development that supposes a universally shared set of experiences, the concept has been proposed as a new phase of the life course in contemporary Western societies. Thus, it has the “across-the-board” quality of a grand narrative.


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Book Section

Year Published


Series Title

Jacobs Foundation Series on Adolescence


Shanahan, Michael J.
Longest, Kyle C.