The University of Geneva bestows an honorary doctorate to Glen Elder

For the 2012 edition of the Dies academicus, the Geneva alma mater honors several prominent figures, among whom one of the popes of the life course theory, who continues to teach at 78 years old and remains amazingly accessible.

Professor of Sociology and Psychology at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Glen Elder has inspired many scholars specializing in the study of the life course. His seminal book, "Children of the Great Depression", has influenced generations of academics.

"His perspective is particularly valuable to develop an interdisciplinary perspective that takes into account individual activity related to others in specific and historical contexts," says Prof. Dario Spini, director of the NCCR LIVES.

The proposition to honor Professor Elder on 12 October at the Dies Academicus of the University of Geneva was made by the LIVES codirector and director of the Interfaculty Center of Gerontology and Life Course Studies (CIGEV), Prof. Michel Oris.

"Very special to me"

“An honorary doctorate from the University of Geneva is very special to me for a number of reasons, but most especially because this University and the University of Lausanne represent a major center of life course studies and both doctoral and postdoctoral training in Europe,” writes Glen Elder in an e-mail.

Professor Elder continues to be professionally active and responds indeed readily to requests, as could experience Sandra Constantin, LIVES PhD student, who also approached him: "I enjoyed not only his kindness and availability, but also the advice and recommendations that he gave to me, since the quantitative dimension of my methodological approach is partly the same," she explains.

Glen Elder says that he has followed the life course studies of Swiss social and behavioral scientists for many years, especially in research on pathways from childhood into the adult years : “The North American perspective on the life course has centered on the individual in context, while the European perspective has a distinctive institutional perspective on the welfare state and life course. In addition, life course studies in Europe has always been more engaged in comparative research.  In many ways, these different perspectives reflect the social-historical world of the two continents. But today we find a mixture of perspectives in North America and Europe,” explains the American professor from Chapel Hill.

For Dario Spini, "if I had to pick a central message of his reference book "Children of the Great Depression", it is that what can be seen a priori as a difficult ordeal exacerbating vulnerability for some, can also be a source of opportunity and growth for others. Challenge can also strengthen.”

Glen Elder proves in any case that age is not always a source of vulnerability: “I have now devoted more than 50 years to life course studies and new questions continually emerge that excite me and challenge my mind. I still want to know how individual lives and societies influence each other. And I take great pleasure in opportunities to pass on what I have learned across the years to the next generation. "