Sociology and the problem of ‘social generations’

In evaluating the power and limitations of the ‘social generations’ concept, developed by Karl Mannheim in the 1920s, my chapter in Studying Generations: Multidisciplinary Perspectives reviews the different approaches to the study of generations within the discipline of sociology, with particular regard to their relationship to contemporary social, historical and political developments. It further suggests that the increasing appeal of ideas about ‘social generations’ partly reflects the increasing salience of generational analysis to a ‘post-political’ age increasingly concerned with identity, and partly reflects the misunderstanding and extension of this analysis into crude generational labels and stereotypes. By way of illustration, the chapter concludes with a discussion of generational consciousness and labelling in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Studying Generations: Multidisciplinary Perspectivesedited by Helen Kingstone and Jennie Bristow, is published by Bristol University Press (2024) and available Open Access digitally under CC-BY-NC-ND licence. Read the full chapter

On 14 May, the book’s contributors held a public launch discussion, outlining the ways in which interdisciplinary thinking about generations can bring about a better understanding and use of the concept. Watch the Zoom recording

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