Generation (society)

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Four generations of one family

In the sociocultural understanding, a generation is a large group of people who, as an “ age group ” in their society or due to the common character of a specific historical or cultural constellation, show a time-related similarity.

Typical is, for example, the division of society into the generations of young and old, or the generation of children and parents. An important social aspect here is the generation change ( generational change ) and the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation (cf. communicative memory ).

Similar to ethnicity or gender, the notion of generations has established itself as a cultural interpretation pattern to describe the identity and difference of people. In the meantime, the cultural sciences no longer assume that every human being belongs to a generation according to natural law, but that generations are "made", i. H. develop in communicative processes . In this regard, Generation Studies is based on research approaches in Gender Studies . However, it must be taken into account here that people were and are constantly being born, and that the delimitation of "generations" by naming the oldest and the youngest year of an age cohort thus contains an element of arbitrariness.

Historically, what was understood by generation has always changed in different epochs and discourses. Sometimes the genealogical perspective dominates, in which generations are understood as groups of descent, sometimes the perspective that generations are historically unique phenomena because people are similarly shaped by a specific historical situation or by milestones in technical development. Furthermore, a distinction can be made as to whether the term extends to entire (national) societies (the 68s ), to parts of society (e.g. generations of scientists or writers). Sometimes the focus is more on describing the identity of a group ("generationality"), sometimes the difference between different groups ("generational relationship"), sometimes social processes such as shaping, impact and change ("generativity").

Karl Mannheim's "Problem of Generations"

For sociology in 1928 , Karl Mannheim presented a formative term for the sociology of knowledge that also had an impact on other sciences and that does not include the 30 years usually mentioned , but is characterized by shared “generational experiences”, i.e. formative events in childhood and youth, which have an impact on entire birth cohorts. In the case of rapid social change , a generation therefore comprises fewer cohorts (in the present, scientists and marketing experts often combine cohorts of fifteen birth cohorts to form a “generation”). For his sociological analysis of the problem of generations, Mannheim refers on the one hand to the positivist tendency coming from David Hume and Auguste Comte , which tried to find fixed, externally quantified periods of mostly 30 years that followed one another as generations. On the other hand, Mannheim falls back on the romantic understanding of generations that occurred in the historical school , which aimed at the qualitative, only internally perceptible time of spiritual movements, as is customary in art history .

Mannheim made a distinction between generation storage , generation context and generation unity . Generational storage is the generic term that means the roughly simultaneous birth “in the same historical-social space - in the same historical community”, ie the basic condition for belonging to a generation context or a generation unit. A generational context is an additional connection that exists in the “ participation in the common destinies ” and in the participation in the spiritual currents of the time. A generation context comprises several generation units . The members of the generational units are even more closely linked, as they process the spiritual currents of the time in the same way: They share “basic intentions and design principles”, which they socialize into a group and ensure a uniform reaction to the time currents.

Examples for generations in Germany and the USA

Generations - in the sense of Mannheim with the same, distinctive generational experiences - were often named after the connecting events or experiences. Mannheim itself distinguishes the intergenerational context of the youth of the liberation wars . Two generation units have become relevant, namely, on the one hand, the liberal-rationalist direction, which continued in Vormärz , and, on the other hand, the romantic- irrational direction belonging to German conservatism .

20th century

He also names the generation units of the youth movement (at the beginning of the 20th century) and the “contemporary” neo-romanticism .

The generations since the Weimar Republic initially followed one another at very short intervals in quite different forms. The generation of those born in the 1920s who had to go to the front as young people in World War II ( Helmut Schelsky's “Skeptical Generation”) were followed by those born in 1926–29 who still had to do anti-aircraft helper services as high school students (cf. the “ Swingjugend "). The social movements of the “ 58s ” in the Bonn republic were recruited from the “ war children generation ” of the late 1930s and early 1940s that were no longer drafted . The white cohorts in both German states were not drafted into any German army.

The next generation grew up during the period of "reconstruction". The " 68ers " were recruited from their ranks . In the USA, the 68ers and baby boomers were largely identical. Baby boomers did not exist in the FRG until 1955–1967, while in the USA they were already talking about the Jones generation . The later American age groups by Douglas Coupland based on his eponymous novel assigned designation Generation X (USA 1960-1970) and the designations " Generation Y " and " Generation Z " derived from it only partially coincide with German assignments. This is where the term “ Generation Golf ” established itself for those born between 1965 and 1975 .

Those born in the 1980s were referred to in the FRG with the term MTV generation (which has since gone out of fashion) in order to emphasize the influence of the music channels and video clip aesthetics. The Generation Internship label is intended to accentuate the influence of a changed labor market as a formative experience for the generation concerned.

Further designations such as B. Generation Doof , Generation iPod or Generation Youtube are circulating as well as Generation Prekär or Generation Maybe . However, it is becoming apparent that, following the American model, there is increasing talk of a “Generation Y” and a “Generation Z” (those born in the 21st century) in Germany, especially since today (2018) all members of Generation Y are of legal age and thus are entitled to vote (which currently distinguishes the children and young people of Generation Z sharply from young adults of Generation Y).

The characteristic “young adults entitled to vote” is also used for the designation “ Generation What? “Which has become common in Europe since 2016 and in the Arab world since 2017.

In the GDR and in East Germany, completely different terms were and are used: The “first generation East Germany”, the “building generation”, is followed by the “second generation East Germany”, who was born, socialized, trained and worked in the GDR. The members born in 1975–1985 are called " Third Generation East Germany " or "Wendekinder"; Their main characteristic is the attendance of a GDR kindergarten, partly also a GDR school with subsequent "re-socialization" (chronological order: children of war → GDR children → children of the revolution). Only those who experienced their secondary socialization in federal German institutions are certified to belong to the all-German Generation Y (or Generation Z), albeit with restrictions.

21st century

Those born from 2010 onwards belong to the “app” generation. She uses smartphones, computers and apps for information, communication and education, of course and integrated into her life. She increasingly grows up in families with only children.


  • Karl Mannheim : The Problem of Generations. In: Karl Mannheim: Sociology of Knowledge. Selection from the factory. Edited by Kurt H. Wolff. Luchterhand, Neuwied / Berlin 1964, pp. 509-565.
  • Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann , Edgar Piel (ed.): One generation later. Federal Republic of Germany 1953–1979 . Saur, Munich a. a. 1983, ISBN 3-598-10475-8 , (on the symposium “One Generation Later” Bonn 1981).
  • Heinz Bude : German careers. Life constructions of social climbers from the Flakhelfer generation . Suhrkamp , Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-11448-4 , (also: dissertation, TU Berlin 1986).
  • Kurt Lüscher , Franz Schultheis (ed.): Generational relationships in “postmodern” societies. Analyzes of the relationship between the individual, family, state and society . ( Constance contributions to social science research , 7). Universitätsverlag Konstanz, Konstanz 1993, ISBN 3-87940-408-9 , (for the 2nd Konstanz symposium “Society and Family” 1991).
  • Heinz Bude: The aging of a generation. The years 1938 to 1948 . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-518-58190-2 .
  • Jürgen Reulecke (Ed.): Generationality and life history in the 20th century . Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, ISBN 978-3-486-56747-2 ( full text as PDF )
  • Sigrid Weigel and a. (Ed.): Generation. On the genealogy of the concept - concepts of genealogy . Fink, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7705-4082-4 , ( trajectories ).
  • Ulrike Jureit : Generational Research . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-525-03706-6 .
  • Christian Kuhn: Generation as a basic concept of a historical history culture. The Nuremberg Tucher in the long 16th century . v & r unipress, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-89971-588-0 .
  • Ohad Parnes, Ulrike Vedder, Stefan Willer: The concept of the generation. A history of science and culture . ( Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1855). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-518-29455-0 .
  • Mark Häberlein, Christian Kuhn: Generations in late medieval and early modern cities . University Press Konstanz , Konstanz 2011.
  • Ulrich Oevermann : The sociology of intergenerational relationships and historical generations from a structuralist point of view and their significance for school pedagogy. In: Rolf-Torsten Kramer, Werner Helsper, Susanne Busse (Ed.): Pedagogical Generational Relationships . (= Studies on school and educational research, 15). Leske + Budrich, Opladen, ISBN 978-3-8100-3294-2 , pp. 78–128.
  • Manfred Günther : Dictionary youth - age. Illustrations: Stuttmann . Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-935607-39-1 .
  • Martin Gloger: Generation 1989? To criticize a popular diagnosis of the time. transcript, Bielefeld 2012, ISBN 978-3-8376-1961-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Generation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Reinhold Sackmann: The interpretation pattern generation. In: M. Meuser, R. Sackmann (ed.): Analysis of social interpretation patterns. Pfaffenweiler 1992.
  2. Jürgen Zinnecker: The interpretation pattern of the youth generation. Questions to Karl Mannheim. In: J. Zinnecker, H. Merkens (Ed.): Yearbook Youth Research. 2 (2002), pp. 61-98.
  3. Björn Bohnenkamp: Doing Generation. Bielefeld 2011.
  4. ^ Ohad Parnes, Ulrike Vedder, Stefan Willer: The concept of the generation, a history of science and culture. Frankfurt 2008.
  5. This approach goes back mainly to Karl Mannheim, cf. KM: The problem of generations. In: Karl Mannheim: Sociology of Knowledge. Selection from the factory. Edited by Kurt H. Wolff. Luchterhand, Neuwied / Berlin 1964, pp. 509-565.
  6. For a systematization of these perspectives cf. Björn Bohnenkamp: Doing Generation. Bielefeld 2011, p. 27 ff.
  7. See Mannheim: Generations. Pp. 509-522.
  8. ^ Mannheim: Generations. P. 542.
  9. ^ Mannheim: Generations. P. 542 f.
  10. ^ Mannheim: Generations. Pp. 544-547. For the tripartite distinction cf. overall Mannheim: generations. Pp. 541-555.
  11. See also: Fight against atomic death and Ohnemichel .
  12. ^ Manfred Günther: Dictionary youth - age . Berlin 2010, pp. 44–45.
  13. Generation Maybe. ( Memento of the original from April 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. from: , accessed on November 8, 2012.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. Is there a third generation in East Germany? In: sociology blog . ( [accessed October 3, 2018]).
  15. Lukas Rietzschel : Generation Y - Chemnitz: Solidarity, finally! Time campus . "Generation Y" series. 16th September 2018
  16. ^ Valerie Schönian: Heimat Ostdeutschland: Born 1990 . December 16, 2017
  17. ^ Volker Faust : Psychiatric-neurological information offer of the Liebenau Foundation. With the collaboration of Walter Fröscher and Günter Hole. Mental Health 159: The Generations from a Socio-Demographic Perspective. Foundation Liebenau, Mensch - Medizin - Wirtschaft, Meckenbeuren-Liebenau, 2020. (War and post-war babies, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z and Generation App. From economic hardship to increasing life expectancy).