The term life project (LP) has been used in scientific literature, though frequently without a clear definition. This terminological inaccuracy has been leading the field to conflicting conclusions. This thesis is a compendium of seven articles comprising four parts that, altogether, aim to introduce a new comprehensive theory of LPs.
The first part comprises two non-systematic reviews and one systematic review that discuss the existing literature on the theme. The first article presents the main theories, constructs, and instruments of future time perspective (FTP). The term LP is introduced as an FTP variable entailing a specific type of anticipation. The review fills in a gap in the Brazilian literature, in which the term LP has been frequently used as a synonym of expectations, aspirations, and other terms. The second article presents 15 theoretical approaches to LP. The review discusses similarities and controversies across them and acknowledges that they refer to different aspects of LPs or even distinct constructs. The third article identifies the theoretical contributions on LP across 93 articles. A thematic analysis coded all excerpts providing theoretical contributions on LP, from which six theoretical dimensions were created. Another thematic analysis with the LP’s explicit definitions generated four categories that describe defining features. The associations between the included articles’ theoretical features were investigated by networking analyses that identified three main theoretical trends. The second part includes a theoretical study that integrates the theoretical approaches, dimensions, and defining features acknowledged in the first part. Thus, it signals the initial proposal of a comprehensive theory of life projects. The article starts by providing a definition of the general notion of project as “a process comprising the formation, enactment, and maintenance of intentional structures and actions”. This definition mitigates the conflict between two theoretical traditions that conceived project either as a process prior to action or a set of actions aiming at the same goal. Subsequently, LP is defined as “an ongoing evolving project that encompasses a long-term, meaningful, and prospective narrative capable of driving decisions and efforts in daily life”. This definition embraces diverse components extracted from distinct theories, which precisely denotes its comprehensive nature. The article also provides a framework associating LPs with other phenomena, such as consciousness, narratives, purpose, personal projects, life themes, career, and FTP.
The third part encompasses two empirical articles that provide empirical evidence of the created theory. Firstly, a qualitative study carried out via interviews is reported. Participants were 26 Brazilian citizens, aged between 15 and 59 years, who were aware of plans for the next years of their lives. The interviews content was assessed according to a thematic analysis that allowed for the outline of a theoretical model associating several LP’s personal and contextual antecedents. The second empirical article reports the creation of a psychometric scale for the assessment of LPs – the Life Project Scale (LPS). The article comprises eight studies encompassing over four thousand participants from five countries. Altogether, the eight studies identified different sources of validity and reliability evidence by means of consultation with experts, focus groups, exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, invariance measurement models, relations to other measures, three types of reliability coefficients, and test-retest correlations.
The fourth part contains a theoretical study in which the practical relevance of the theory is discussed. Practical limitations of the use of more restricted LP definitions are firstly discussed. The comprehensive theory of life projects is, then, introduced as a possible set of guiding assumptions for professional practices, particularly in the context of basic education. The seven articles introduce the four main components of a theory: (1) definition of terms; (2) a domain; (3) a set of statements; and (4) predictions. Firstly, it contributes with new definitions of project and LP. Secondly, it presents evidence that the theory may be applied in different circumstances and settings. Thirdly, it states the relationships between different types of phenomena and variables. Lastly, it presents a body of knowledge that allows for predictions regarding how people construct and implement their LPs. Therefore, the thesis may be conceived as the introduction of a new comprehensive theory of LPs.
Key-words: life projects, theory, narrative identity, personality, literature review, qualitative methods, psychometrics.