Judith Burnett (2003) 'Let Me Entertain You: Researching the 'Thirtysomething' Generation'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/4/burnett.html>
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Received: 18/11/2003 Accepted: 18/11/2003 Published: 28/11/2003
|Table 1: The Distinction between Generations and Cohorts|
Are composed of groups with elastic boundaries and uncertain edges
Fixed group boundaries
Different generations 'age' at different speeds and 'age' in different ways. This may be a source of difference within generations in generational units.
Generations may find or make - or reinvent - ways of ageing. The mode of ageing is of significance to that generation and to neighbouring generations - who in their co-existence must find a way of working with the variety of modes which may co-exist at any moment in time, or in any specific place.
Cohorts 'age' at a specific rate and by a process set by the institution through which they move, e.g. the process of becoming a qualified doctor may be determined by the medical training establishment; may develop shared social life e.g. a sense of identity, related to the awareness of its uniqueness in time-space (e.g. 'the class of 84 re-union party etc).
Generations may develop shared cultures and systems of identification
These may include spaces and 'events' that become special, and are claimed as that generation's social territory: they are sites of action. The generation may (re)visit these, and use them as core building materials.
Cultural identification is not crucial to, or even necessarily relevant to, the definition of cohort. But cohorts, nonetheless, may develop these identities, and actualize them. Upon actualization, the cohort may, more properly, be regarded as having passed into a form of generation.
Cohorts may develop attachments to particular spaces through which they have passed.
Generations are constituted by the social organisation of time, which is changeable: e.g. lifetime; industrial and family time; productive time; 24/7 society; virtual time. This constitution of time may be critically important to shaping the generation's experience, both culturally, and in terms of its ability to acquire velocity.
Cohorts are governed by a concept of (unchanging) clock time; calendar time; linear and modern time. Cohorts may be compared across time in longitudinal studies, irrespective of whether or how time was/has become/became re-organised in the lifetime of the study, or in the spaces between studies.
Generations may be created by social actors in or out of the generation, and by social processes of every/any kind
Cohorts are exclusively created by social researchers, and in institutional disciplinary practices, such as schools and military organisations which organise groups into sets or classes, which then age in accordance with the disciplinary system.
In modernity, age as a system of distinction shaped specific flows, e.g. age groups in the educational system, and in the institutionalisation of 'old age'.
Familial and socio-historical generations are two possible kinds of generations: individuals and groups share at least two generational locations, one in each category.
Individuals are assigned to one key location and properly belong to one cohort
Generations may acquire velocity (and gain political power) or may be fragmented and disempowered.
Cohorts are static in the sense that the boundaries are relatively fixed and their journey is paced (For example, the Class of 84 does not have the possibility of becoming the class of '86. Neither can it decide to graduate in '75 instead).
Generations produce debris: they consume its own and others' debris, which become cultural and material resources for the acquisition of velocity.
Society is traffic. Debris is an essential building material.
Cohorts are less porous to flows of objects, memories, buildings, and other symbolic systems, for example, music, imagery, artifacts etc. They may produce local and sub-cultural debris, but may not have the capacity to produce large scale debris.
Time-space is flow: generations are one of its constitutive flows
Cohorts occupy time-space, which may be conceived as: regular; ruled by geometry; predictable; recurring, with cycles of recruitment and dispatch; possibly grids; rectangular boxes; categories with known borders.
|Table 2: The Focus Groups|
|Link Person||Group Formative Process||Existence Now|
|G||Ex-prisoners||No explanation given|
|SE||Network||Business owners stated: 'suspicious of research'|
|P||Community||Monks: all but one are too old!|
|S||Displacement||Immigrants could talk, but only in secrecy, I could never use conversation|
|S||Club||Astronomers: lack of interest|
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