Responding to Christian Smith’s book “Lost in Transition”

I have been in a whirlwind of social and academic activity lately, as well as engaging heavily in community building.  I like when that happens, but it does mean a little of the quieter pursuits that I enjoy fall by the wayside, namely contemplative blog post writing, and intensive personal reading.

However, I have been processing Christian Smith’s book Lost in Transition for over a week now, and would like to present some of the material in the book.  I’m going to break this down into five parts, with the following part serving as an introduction.  Some of these posts are longer than I would normally write, so for that, I apologize.

Part One: The Premise, and an Introduction

The concept of Emerging Adulthood is about 10 years old now, a theory that those between the ages of 18 and 29 in America are in an intermediary phase of life, which precludes them from official membership in “adulthood.”  Adulthood, for the purposes of establishing it’s otherness from emerging adulthood, is defined as marriage (and/or starting a family), a stable job, a breaking off from the support of parents, completion of education, and one’s own living space and rooted community.  I am very interested in sociologists, psychologists and reporters who study and write on these topics from a scholarly and statistical point of view, as I feel like I experience this phase of life from a much more gritty point of view daily.  I write about this topic frequently. (You can type “emerging adulthood” in the search box for specific references),

Christian Smith, a sociologist I very much admire, has written several books about teens and young adults and their religious views (see here); so with his extensive surveys and knowledge he realized “There was much more of a story to tell than the first book disclosed, and more about emerging adults beyond their religious lives that needed to be reported and considered.  That story became this book.”

This is a story of the “dark side” of emerging adulthood as contrasted with a few others who write about some of the lighter side. (A few are by authors, Jeffrey Arnett ,the leading researcher on the topic, and Richard Setterstein and Barbara Ray. )

In his introduction Smith states his intention to use “the sociological imagination to engage in social and cultural criticism and moral argument.”  Thus, he is up front that he writes with a value-laden analysis of American emerging adult culture and that he and his co-authors “do not assume that our position in what follows will be self evident and universally shared.”  Once the bias is stated he is able to define what it is that he finds to be the dark side, namely: (1) an inability for young adults to think coherently about moral beliefs and problems, (2) an excessive focus on consumption and materialism as the good life, (3) prevalent lifestyles of routine intoxication and drug usage (4) sexual encounters which are not practiced in an environment of physical, mental, or emotional health, and finally (5) an inability to care about, invest in, and hope for the larger world through civic and political participation.

These are not problems he thinks emerging adults developed on their own, but have inherited from larger cultural institutions and yes, older adult culture.  Since his book is written using information from surveys of youth between the ages of 18-23 I am a little older than these surveyed emerging adults, but not by much.   Therefore, I felt an acute sense of connection with many of the quoted interviews, particularly those dealing with moral beliefs, materialism, and civic participation, because those are questions I feel as thought I am still asking and attempting to clarify my own position toward.

What I want to respond to in these chapters are some of the main points under each of the “dark” sides.  Then, to follow this summary with some of my experience and observations in navigating these areas, and then to conclude with Christian Smith’s suggestions for growth on the macrosocial and microsocial levels.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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