Generational identities: Historical and literary perspectives

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Discussions of generational identities need to take into account their long and non-linear history. Our present focus on intergenerational inequity Baby-Boomers vs. Millennials disregards the much more complex history of this social identity. This paper by a historian and literary scholar teases apart (1) the diachronic and synchronic meanings of ‘generation’, (2) the difference between ‘a generation in itself’ from ‘a generation for itself’ that has a social identity, and (3) generational identities that are claimed from within or ascribed from without. This paper places the question of how generational change takes place into historical context, showing that while generational identities came to focused attention during the First World War, they arguably began a century earlier, in the upheavals of the French Revolution and worldwide Napoleonic Wars. Nineteenth-century intellectual movements were often generation-conscious, though these identities did not translate across the social spectrum. The paper emphasises the intersectional nature of any generational taxonomy in relation to class, gender, race and national context, drawing brief examples from independence-era Jamaica, post-Soviet Russia, and mid-twentieth-century UK and USA. A final section highlights the value of ‘intergenerational’ approaches over those that emphasize a ‘generation gap’.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12641
JournalSocial and Personality Psychology Compass
Issue number10
Early online date13 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

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