Trajectories and Landmark Events: How People Narrate their Lives Analysis of Life Course Facts and Perceptions

Short papers
By Caroline Laborde, Éva Lelièvre, Géraldine Vivier, Harriet Coleman


The life course survey Biographies et entourage, conducted by INED in 2001, recorded not only the respondents’ reports of the factual events in their family, residential and occupational histories but also some subjective elements. The aim was to take into account the way respondents saw their lives in retrospect. Respondents were asked to divide their lives so far into periods, explain and interpret these significant phases, and identify the turning points, the general tone of each period and what they saw as the landmark events. Our initial analyses of this abundant material show how individuals’ life courses are structured around certain factual landmarks, especially landmarks in their conjugal lives ? but the respondents’ subjective experience and characterization of events prove to be varied, non-stereotyped and not readily predictable. The study shows the usefulness of recording such retrospective assessments in a life course survey. Being able to compare the meanings that individuals confer on their lives with the factual events concerned provides a wealth of information for interpreting turning points and ruptures in the life course.

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