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Individual life trajectories encompass the chronological succession of states in various dimensions that are summarized in the life course cube (Bernardi et al., 2019). A first dimension points to the considered systemic level (i.e. intra-individual, micro, meso and macro). Another one distinguishes between various life domains in which individuals are integrated (e.g. family or occupation). A third one apprehends the main chronological phases of life (e.g. education, production and retirement). Fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration has allowed tackling this multidimensionality with the development of a common terminology to describe life courses as composed of four elements, namely events, transitions, phases, and trajectories (Levy et al., 2005). An event, seen as something significant that takes place at a moment in time, may be either normative (e.g. marriage) and integrated in the socialization and developmental processes, or non-normative (e.g. death) and generally stressful. Given their valence (neutral, positive or negative) and impact (anticipated and expected or sudden and stressful), these events may disturb the equilibrium of existing social relations and or psychological functioning (Olson, 2000), thus triggering life transitions, defined as a significant change in the roles an individual holds (becoming an employee, a widow). A phase represents the period between two transitions, characterized by a stable configuration of social integration in terms of roles and statuses (e.g. being a retired widow or a part-time working cohabiting parent). Finally, the combination of the three elements presented above form Trajectories, considered as “long-term patterns of stability and change, often including multiple transitions”. (George, 1993, p. 358)
Furthermore, in order to complement such a sociological perspective, it is important to also consider different conceptual models to grasp the ongoing developmental and psychological processes and identify individual and psychological factors which play a crucial role in shaping life course trajectories. Rather than focusing on trajectories that denote retrospect sequential phenomena embedded within contexts and structures, psychological research sometimes refers to pathways instead. Notably, pathways imply a certain directionality and individual agency and proactivity leading to objectively and subjectively defined outcomes (e.g. Evans & Furlong, 1997). For example, a pathway to career sustainability could be defined as “a sequential pattern of a person’s occupational experiences characterized by continuity over time, crossing several social spaces, and involving individual agency in order to provide meaning to the individual” (Van der Heijden & De Vos, 2015).

Authors: Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Jonas Masdonati, Koorosh Massoudi, Shagini Udayar, Ieva Urbanaviciute


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Evans, K., & Furlong, A. (1997). Metaphors of youth transitions : Niches, pathways, trajectories or navigations.
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Levy, R., Ghisletta, P., Le Goff, J.-M., Spini, D., & Widmer, E. D. (Éds.). (2005). Towards an interdisciplinary perspective on the life course. Elsevier JAI.
Olson, D. H. (2000). Circumplex model of marital and family systems. Journal of family therapy, 22(2), 144 167.
Rosino, M. (2016). ABC-X Model of Family Stress and Coping. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies.
Van der Heijden, B. I., & De Vos, A. (2015). Sustainable careers : Introductory chapter. In Handbook of research on sustainable careers. Edward Elgar Publishing.

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