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Generational Narratives

Jonathan White
The London School of Economics & Political Science
Jonathan White
The London School of Economics & Political Science
Open Panel

Abstract

Often, and perhaps increasingly, social and political life is periodised with the concept of ‘generation’. Whether it be in discussions of the ongoing sustainability of public spending commitments, of forward-looking duties of environmental protection, or the veneration of national heroes of the past, ‘generations’ are much invoked. This paper examines some of the implications and political consequences of narratives centred on this concept, proceeding from the assumption that generations are primarily a discursive construction rather than an empirical fact. It identifies a series of salient contemporary examples of generation-talk, and in each case analyses the work to which the concept is put. At a general level, it is suggested that a world conceived in terms of ‘generations’ embeds a number of secondary ideas: it evokes a strongly harmonious image of society, externalising conflict away from the present into the past and future, and it asserts a combination of both social stability and change, the uncertain balance between which allows declarations of both continuity and rupture, of identity and difference. The paper goes on to consider who has reason to advance generation-based narratives, who may be disadvantaged by them, and in what global contexts one can expect them to figure prominently. Jonathan White, PhD Lecturer in European Politics European Institute London School of Economics and Political Science Houghton Street London WC2A 2AE Email: j.p.white@lse.ac.uk Tel.: (0044) (0)20 7107 5403 http://www2.lse.ac.uk/europeanInstitute/staff/academicStaff/white/home.aspx