Mannheim vs. Strauss-Howe: Finding a Medium Between the Trees and the Forest

artistic representation of a crowd of people

As I have continued with my project, I have begun to develop a framework through which to understand the context of my research in the greater intellectual dialogue regarding generational identity. Like I discussed in my previous post, my research has mostly centered on two theories in regard to generational development. One of these is sociologist Karl Mannheim’s theory, which posits the belief that generations can be broken down into many different components or generational units, sharing unique experiences in the zeitgeist of the present. The second theory I have focused on is the Strauss-Howe theory of cyclical change. In this theory, there are four different types of generations, that repeat indefinitely throughout history, bringing similar qualities as each phase is cycled through.

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Above: The difference between the approach of Mannheim (left) and that of Strauss and Howe (right) seem to be opposite, Mannheim focuses on individual groups, which he deems generational units, making few assertions about the group at large, whereas Strauss and Howe focus more intently on the group at large, ignoring many idiosyncrasies of individuals in the generation.

Since my last post I have articulated my own critiques of these models, and have begun an effort to craft my own model of generational understanding. (A very perplexing task) I have inherent issues with each, regardless of the fact that the scholars that posit them provide a strong framework for their plausibility. In terms of the Mannheim model, my main critique is that it focuses a great deal on delineating between specific groups within society, articulating differences in experience very acutely, rather than examining the larger cohort of individuals on the whole. For example, if we claim that only a specific subsection of society such as individuals born in the state of Massachusetts, we may be able to more specifically determine how this one group will react to generational change, but we lose their role as part of the whole.

366_1firemen_photo_best_1aLeft: Like Mannheim remarks, the effect of an event such as 9/11 would be much more significant for someone from New York City than someone from Portland, Oregon, however, Mannheim does little to explain the larger effect on the generation as a whole, rather than simply generational units.

My issues with the Strauss-Howe Model are somewhat the opposite, in that it seems to graze over many of the eccentricities of generations to make its cyclical model apply. Strauss and Howe make large generalizations about Millennials– that we are civic-ly minded, inherently optimistic, powerful communicators, strong team players–however, I remain unconvinced of the legitimacy of these claims. I know many Millennials who fly in the face of these supposed trends, and as a Millennial myself have trouble trusting some of the assumptions that Strauss and Howe make.

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Above: I find that neither Mannheim nor Strauss & Howe dwell much on the effects of globalization or technology on the generational discourse. Although Strauss and Howe do say that technology will have an effect, they minimize the impact of cultural diffusion and diaspora inherent in the internet and global trade.

In my own model, I hope to address the effects of changing technology, globalization, economic variables, and significant societal events, things that seems to be somewhat missing from discussions by Strauss-Howe and Mannheim.

One thought on “Mannheim vs. Strauss-Howe: Finding a Medium Between the Trees and the Forest

  1. Sorry guys, forgot to add my photos to my post yesterday! They should be there now.

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