Giele and Elder (1998: 22) define life course as "sequence of socially defined events and roles that the individual enacts over time".
Human agency is one of the primary interests of life course scholars and their methodological challenge (p. 20) is the observation of ways in which the individual's detailed transactions with other and with context both steered the individual's life course. Before life course inquiry, social scientists observed human behaviour either (a) as "a snapshot of 'social relations' or structural approach" of impact of social surroundings, or (b) "a movie-like 'temporal' or dynamic approach" tracing live stories over time (p. 6).
The principal elements (p. 15) of life course and the sociology of aging include:
- The chronological age of an individual since birth
- The relevant historical period that characterised the society at large
- A cohort of persons—an aggregate of persons of similar age
The particular age and the historical events of a given cohort individuals typify a generation, not necessary as believed before, the embodiment of age norms of a particular age group (p. 23).
Giele, J.Z. & Elder (Jr.), G.H. (Eds.) 1998. Methods of life course research—qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks: SAGE