After the classical anthropological studies on rites de passage, transitions in the life course have been constantly on the research agenda since the 1980s. Flexibilisation of work, limitations of welfare states, changes of family structures and gender roles as well as longer life have contributed to a de-standardisation of the institutionalised life course with the consequence of affecting transitions between life stages in terms of uncertainty and risk. For a long time, primarily transitions between youth and adulthood – especially between school and work – have been addressed. Increasingly, however, the emphasis is on transitions in all life stages from early childhood to very old age, covering diverse situations, institutions and spheres of life (child care, family, health, youth culture, independent living etc.).
Transition research has developed and diversified across different disciplines, epistemological interests and approaches as well as research methodologies, partly driven by the scientific community, partly by national and international political actors – and one may argue that the latter have been particularly influential in setting the agenda. These developments have resulted in a research scenery which is difficult to be overlooked while there seems to be a lack of theory on transitions.
Research seems to operate with different understandings of transitions which are rarely made explicit. In fact, the meaning of transitions seems to be self-evident and to connect smoothly with other research phenomena and paradigms that theoretical clarification appears to be dispensable.
The aim of this conference was to take stock of concepts and controversies, findings and insights, perspectives and paradigms of transition research in the life course in the last three decades as well as to open questions in order to find common ground for theorising transitions. Key notes reflected on and present experiences from life course research, biographical analysis, developmental studies and last but not least transition research from different disciplines, especially sociology, psychology and educational science. Cross-cutting to these overarching perspectives, in workshops recent research agendas on transitions in the distinct life stages childhood, youth, adulthood and old age were exemplified, reviewed and discussed. Here, invited researchers presented their work, considering both the illustrative function and the innovative or stimulating contribution to the field.
The conference was part of the scientific programme of the Research Training Group “Doing Transitions”, funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), which focusses on the question how transitions in the life course emerge from social practices of formation and production (www.doingtransitions.org). Research will be concerned with the interplay of discourses, institutions and individuals in forming and producing transitions in the life course.
With this international conference, “Doing Transitions” went public. It invites relevant researchers from different fields of transition research to present their work and at the same time is a networking event, giving young researchers the opportunity to get in contact with experienced actors in the field.