Problematizing a popular panacea: a critical examination of the (continued) use of ‘social generations’ in youth sociology

Steven Roberts, Alan France

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Scholars using the concept of ‘social generation’ are committed to understanding the relationship between social change and social inequality. However, in this article we raise a variety of concerns about the empirical and theoretical foundations of the social generation approach. Complementing and advancing critical scholarship on social change, our concern is to advocate for a theoretically robust sociology of youth that can properly tackle questions pertaining to contemporary intergenerational relations and tensions, and issues of power and inequality. We argue that, in relation to social generation approaches, (1) the concept of generational habitus is incoherent and moreover, redundant given the triple historicization already built into Bourdieu’s conceptual apparatus; (2) the notion of generational units cannot attend to inequality and, indeed, is absent, and potentially unworkable, in the research by its main advocates; and (3) that the idea of ‘global generation’ relies too heavily on research from the Global North and, thus, is at odds with the experience of the majority of the world’s youth population located in the Global South.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-791
Number of pages17
JournalSociological Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • baby boomers
  • generational habitus
  • generational unit
  • millennials
  • social generation

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