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Mannheim’s problem of generations, and the later theories of the social construction of reality, shaped the understanding of the Baby Boomer generation as post-war society grappled with the upheavals now known by the simple label ‘the Sixties’ and struggled to understand the young people who appeared to be at the forefront of the colourful movements defining the Zeitgeist of that era. The emphasis that these theories placed on the human subject and the time and place within which those human subjects exist and act, also give us the tools to Understanding Generations Historically 41 understand the construction of the Baby Boomers as a problem in the present day.

This tension is what, according to Eisenstadt (1963), marks generations out as a distinct problem in 26 Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict industrial societies. Whereas pre-industrial societies rely on the family as the primary unit of socialisation, and stable social roles and identities are given by lineage, industrial society weakens the significance of kinship bonds due to its foundation on ‘the universal criteria of citizenship’. The ensuing contradictions between the family and the world of work creates a particular crisis point for youth in modern societies, as this is the time of necessary transition from one world to the other.

276–277). The ‘romantic and historicist German mind’, on the other hand, challenges the Positivist concept of progress by ‘relying on data furnished by a conservative technique of observation’ and pointing to the problem of generations ‘precisely as evidence against the concept of unilinear development in history … The problem of generations is seen here as the problem of the existence of an interior time that cannot be measured but only experienced in purely qualitative terms’ ( p. 281). Mannheim dissects the work of Dilthey, Heidegger and Pinder to draw out the limitations of this ‘introverted’ approach, and to develop his own dynamic theory of generations, which engages with the objective reality made knowable by the Positivists through an appreciation of the subjective factor in shaping the Zeitgeist.

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