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Generations and Social Change in the Sinophone World: Identities, Relationships and Collective Actions

Generations and Social Change in the Sinophone World: Identities, Relationships and Collective Actions

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📅 Deadline : 15 January 2021

Guest editor: Justine Rochot, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation postdoctoral fellow, CECMC and CEFC Associate researcher

Expressions designating specific generations have flourished in the past decades within the Sinophone world: the “post-50s/80s” (五零/八零后), the “lost generation” (失落的一代), the “second generation of only-children” (独二代) or the “fifth generation of filmmakers”(第五代导演) in China; the “(Wild) strawberry tribe” ((野)草莓), the “post-war generation” (戰後世代), the “fifth-graders” (五年級), the “neo-neo people” (新新人類), the “weary generation” (厭世代), or the “waisheng-second generation” (外省人後代) in Taiwan; the “baby boomers” (嬰兒潮世代), the “X generation” (X世代), the “post-eighties” (八十後) or the “cursed generation” (被詛咒的一代) in Hong Kong.

Some of these terms are used in everyday life, while others seem restricted to the academic sphere; some are taken for granted, while the legitimacy of others is subject to debates and negotiations; some are mobilized by individuals to define themselves and engage in collective actions, while others are used as stigmatizing expressions; some are named after specific place-based events, while others may borrow from foreign categories or even circulate within the Sinophone world; some refer to largely shared experiences societally, while others only make sense within particular social, professional, or ethnic groups; and, even though some terms do look alike, they in fact encompass very different preoccupations and emerge at different times in various national settings. Nonetheless, they all reflect both the richness and diversity of generational belongings and categories, and the importance of the generational factor in the shaping of identities, social relationships and collective actions within the Sinophone sphere.

The interest shown by the social sciences towards the concept of generation is not new and its complexity has been regularly addressed. Mannheim’s seminal work (1952) demonstrated the link between generational consciousness and the subjective experience of time. While chronological contemporaneity is insufficient to produce a generation, generational consciousness arises along with the shared experience of rapid social change and major historical events, especially during one’s formative years. Individuals from one “generational whole” may, however, respond differently to the “tempo of change”, therefore creating “generational units”. Some have also pointed out the role of other aspects of social change, such as global contextual elements (economic or political contexts, technical transformations) or the transformation of socialization organs (Viriot Durandal 2003; Drouin 1995) in the shaping of generationally shared attitudes. Others, finally, have conceptually distinguished “social” and “family” generations (Mauger 2009; Van de Velde 2015), the latter being mobilized to analyze both changes in cultural transmission within the familial realm and the transformations of intergenerational solidarities (Mead 1970; Attias-Donfut and Segalen 2007).

As Michel Bonnin pointed out, the “awareness of being part of a certain generation (…) is more widespread in China than in most countries” (2006: 245) – a remark which could also apply to other parts of the Sinophone world as revealed by the prolific terms quoted above. In China, particular attention has been being given to the life course of the “lost generation” of the Cultural Revolution (Chan 1985; Hung and Chiu 2003; Yang 2016; Bonnin 2016; Xu 2019) and to the younger generations of only children (Moore 2005; Yan 2006; Feng 2011; Constantin 2013; Kan 2013). In Taiwan, some have concentrated their attention on the generations stretching between the Japanese occupation and the dangwai movement and their role in intellectual and political history (Wu, Hsu, Huang et al. 2017; Hsiau 2010) while others have focused on the changing political attitudes and identities of younger Taiwanese born in the 1980s (Chang and Wang 2005; Rigger 2006; Lepesant 2011 and 2012). In Hong Kong, finally, researchers have shown the connection between the recent emergence of the term bat sap hou(八十後) and the debates surrounding the politization of members of the 1980s cohort in the post-handover context : while the term first emerged with the 2009 “June-Fourth Festival for Post-80s Generation” (80後六四文化祭) and the 2010“Post-80s Anti-XRL Youth”(80後反高鐵青年), some have considered it too politically restrictive while others warned of its possible confusion with the Chinese “post-80s” (Lui 2007; Chan 2010; Shen and Wong 2012; Hung 2016).

Since the extant literature on generations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwanrarely confronts them together (despite the hypothetical reverberation localized historical events and rapid social change may have had beyond national borders), this special issue project aims to develop a more comprehensive approach to generations by inviting scholars to reflect critically on specific trajectories of generations and produce localized or comparative studies in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Such an approach would not only help us distinguish potential connections in the circulation of some terms or debates within the Sinophone sphere (the term “neo-neo people” 新新人類, for example, has largely stretched across borders) but would also allow us to tackle the role and potential repercutions of various processes of rapid social, political or economic change in the shaping of generational identities and conceptions of intergenerational justice. Moreover, quantitative approaches remain dominant in the study of generations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: existing research therefore tends to overlook the processes leading to generational consciousness, the representations and debates surrounding the use of specific terms to designate generations, as well as the way generations affect and shape interactions, relationships and culture in specific settings and environments.

This special issue therefore aims to contribute a more qualitative and comparative approach to generational belongings in the Sinophone world: we particularly welcome contributions stemming from qualitative enquiries, paying attention to the processes surrounding the emergence of generational consciousness, to the ways generational identities shape interactions and social movements in specific contexts and spaces, and to the negotiations and debates they might generate within the public sphere.

We welcome proposals primarily, but by no means exclusively, exploring the following topics:

  • Processes leading to the emergence of generational consciousness;
  • Debates/conflicts surrounding the definitions, naming and theorizations of generations;
  • Generations, social movements and repertoires of contention;
  • Generations and the production of intellectual, political or cultural movements (and their potential foreign influence, such as with Kerouac and the beat generation in China for example);
  • Intergenerational justice in society, its link with specific events (such as pension or property ownership reforms) and the debates they might generate in the public sphere;
  • Intra-generational gatherings and socialization spaces (such as “youth spaces” or universities for senior citizens) and their link with shared generational issues.

For those interested, please send an abstract in French or English (between 300 and 500 words), as well as a short bio and contact info, to Justine.rochot@ehess.fr before the deadline of 15 January 2021.

Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to submit a full paper by 15 June 2021 to the guest editor of the special issue.