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Karl Mannheim: The Problem with our Generations.docx

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Bonnie Erickson

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The Problem with our Generations (Karl Mannheim) A concrete group – social location - the groups are most often mere cliques, with the one distinguishing characteristic that group formation is based upon the consciousness of belonging to one generation, rather than upon definite objectives - draw a distinction between generations as mere collective facts on the one hand, and concrete social groups on the other o organizations, for specific purposes, the family, tribe, sect, are all examples of such concrete groups: their common characteristic is that all individuals of which they are composed do actually in concrete form a group, whether the entity is based on vital, existential ties of ‘proximity’ or on the conscious application of the rational will - all ‘community’ groups such as the family, and the tribe come under the former heading, while the ladder comprises ‘association’ groups - the generation is not a concrete group in the sense of a community, i.e a group which cannot exist without its members having concrete knowledge of each other and which ceases to exist as a mental and spiritual unit as soon as physical proximity is destroyed - on the other hand, it is in no way comparable to associations such as organizations formed for a specific purpose, for the latter are characterized by a deliberate act of foundation, written statutes, and a machinery for dissolving the organization –features serving to hold the group together, even though it lacks the ties spatial proximity and of community of life - by a concrete group, then we mean the union of a number of individuals through naturally developed or consciously willed ties. Although the members of a generation are undoubtedly bound together in certain ways, the ties between them have not resulted in a concrete group. How, then, can we define and understand the nature of the generation as a social phenomenon? - Class position (Klassenladge) of an individual in society o Class position can be defined as the common ‘location’ certain individuals hold in the economic and power structure of a given society as their ‘lot’ o It is possible to abandon one’s class position through an individual or collective rise or fall in the social scale, irrespective for the moment whether this is due to personal merit, personal effort, social upheaval, or mere chance o Membership of an organization lapses as soon as we give notice of our intention to leave it; the cohesion of the community group ceases to exist if the mental and spiritual dispositions on which its existence has been based cease to operate in us or in our partners and our previous class position loses its relevance for us as soon as we acquire a new position as a result of a change in our economic and power status - Class position is an objective fact, whether the individual in question knows his class position or not, and whether he acknowledges it or not - Class consciousness doesn’t necessarily accompany a class position, although in certain social conditions the latter can give rise to the former leading it certain features and resulting in the formation of a conscious class - Besides the concrete social group, there is also the phenomenon of similar location of a number of individuals in a social structure –under which heading both classes and generations fall - The unity of generations is constituted essentially by a similarity of location of a number of individuals B. the biological and sociological formulation of the problem of generations - Class position was based upon the existence of a changing economic and power structure in society - Generation location is based on the existence of biological rhythm in human existence –the factors of life and death, a limited span of life, and aging o Individuals who belong to the same generation, who share the same year of birth, are endowed, to that extent, with a common LOCATION in the historical dimension of the social process C. the tendency ‘inherent’ in a social location - The fact belonging to the same class, and that of belonging to the same generation or age group, have this in common, that both endow the individuals sharing in them with a common location in the social and historical process and thereby limit them to a specific range of potential experience, predisposing them for a characteristic mode of thought and experience, and a characteristic type of historically relevant action - Any given location, then, excludes a large number of possible modes of though, experience, feeling and action and restricts the range of self-expression open to the individuals to certain circumscribed possibilities - In every location is a tendency pointing towards certain definite modes of behavior, feeling and thought - For any group of individuals sharing the same class position, society always appears under the same aspect, familiarized by constantly repeated experience - Traditions bearing in a particular direction only persist so long as the location relationships of the group acknowledging them remain more or less unchanged - The concrete form of an existing behavior pattern or of a cultural product doesn’t derive from the history of a particular tradition but ultimately from the history of the location relationships in which it originally arose and hardened itself into a tradition D. Fundamental Facts in Relation to Generations - According to what we have said so far, the social phenomenon ‘generation’ represents nothing more than a particular kind of identify of location, embracing related age groups embedded in a historical-social process - While the nature of class location can be explained in terms of economic and social conditions, generation location is determined by the way in which certain patterns of experience and though tend to be brought into existence by the natural data of the transition from one generation to another o (a) new participants in the cultural process are emerging, whilst o (b) former participants in that process are continually disappearing o (c) members of any one generation can participate only in a temporally limited section of the historical process and o (d) it is therefore necessary continually to transmit the accumulated cultural heritage o (e) it is therefore necessary continually to transmit the accumulated cultural heritage o these are the basic phenomena implied by the mere fact of the existence of generations, apart from one specific phenomenon we chose to ignore for the moment, that of physical and mental aging - (a) the continuous emergence of new participants in the cultural process o Cultural creation and cultural accumulation aren’t accomplished by the same individuals –instead we have the continuous emergence of new age groups o This means, that our culture is developed by individuals who come into contact a new with accumulated heritage o In the nature of our physical make-up, a fresh contact (meeting something new) always means a changed relationship of distance from the object and a novel approach in assimilating, using and developing the preoffered material o Fresh contacts play an important part in the life of the individual when he is forced by events to leave his own social group and enter a new one –when for example, an adolescent leaves home, or a peasant the countryside for the town or when an emigrant changes his home, or a social climber his social status or class o In all these cases, however, the fresh contact is an event in one individual biography, whereas in the case of generations, we may speak of ‘fresh contacts’ in the sense of addition of new psycho-physical units who are in the literal sense beginning a ‘new life’ o Whereas the adolescent, peasant, emigrant and social climber can only in a more or less restricted sense be said to being a new life, in the case of generations, the fresh contact with the social and cultural heritage is determined not by mere social change, but by fundamental biological factors o We can accordingly differentiate between two types of fresh contact: one based on a shift in social relations and the other on vital factors (the change from one generation to another) o Were there no change of generation, there would be no fresh contact of this biological type. If the cultural process were always carried on and developed by the same individuals, then to be fresh contacts might still result from shifts in social relationships, but the more radical form of fresh contact would be missing o The continuous emergence of new human beings in our own society acts as compensation for the restricted and partial nature of the individual consciousness. The continuous emergence of new human beings certainly results in some loss of accumulated cultural possessions but on the other hand, it alone makes a fresh selection possible when I becomes necessary; it facilitates reevaluation of our inventory and teaches us both to forget that which is no longer useful and to covet that which has yet to be won - (B) the continuous withdrawal
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