life coursethe process of personal change, from infancy through to old age and death, brought about as a result of the interaction between ‘biographical events’ and ‘societal events’. The term is preferred by many to life cycle because, in recognizing that people do not experience their lives strictly in terms of chronology, it focuses on sociohistorical processes as both the result of human action and as a background to personal biography Life cycle may be regarded as the process of change and development of a person, an institution or an entity and is therefore similar in meaning to ‘life course’. However, because it suggests a continuous and renewable process, as in ‘the cycle of the seasons’, it has connotations of inevitability, similarity and determinism which may be considered inappropriate to an understanding of how human lives are experienced at the level of individual personal relationships and in the context of the social and historical forces which influence lives. Both terms are often used interchangeably, but current preference is for ‘life course’ for the reasons given.
Sociological and psychological concern with the life course has grown in recent years. One of the first theorists to propose that development does not end when adulthood is reached, and who described eight successive stages of psychosocial development, was Erik Erikson (1963). Other classic authors include Charlotte Bühler (1953), whose work, like Erikson's, particularly illustrates the NATIVIST approach, emphasizing the common process underlying the human life course (this being closest to the definition life cycle). Other authors (e.g. Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend, 1974) have emphasized the effect of different experiences, i.e. the contrast between lives rather than their similarities (this being closest to the definition life course).