Rachel Thomson, University of Sussex

Title: From a noun to a verb: rethinking generation for new times

Abstract: The concept of generation has been influential in youth studies, with theories of generation assuming youth to be a special time for the formational and expression of shared experience. Longitudinal, cohort and life history methods contribute towards generational thinking enabling comparison between generational trajectories. Within the sociology of the family there is a complementary tradition, focusing on intergenerational relations, negotiations and transmission, revealing the work done in families and other dynamic intergenerational formations to negotiate past-present relations. Qualitative life history and ethnographic research enable us to grasp the ambivalences of transmission and the work involved in living social change and continuity. Inspired by the late David Morgan’s conceptualisation of family practices, I will suggest the value of thinking about generation as something that we ‘do’ as well as something that we ‘are’, making the shift from generation as a noun to a verb. Drawing on my current collaborative research project ‘Reanimating data: experiments with people, places and projects’, I illustrate what it might mean to enact generation methodologically. The study involves a return to the data of a 1989 feminist research project exploring young women’s sexual stories. I explain what happened when young women in 2019 engaged with these stories and generated their own creative responses to the juxtaposition of the past in the present. This work both revealed and destabilised generational positions, enabling something new to emerge.

Päivi Armila, University of Eastern Finland

Title: How to catch the ”Intergenerational” as a youth researcher? Emerging hermeneutics of going close

Abstract: What it means and how it feels to be a young person within the contemporary Zeitgeist of the 21st century? These are focal questions for us youth researchers interested in life-worlds of the young ones. However, the general epistemological limits in interpersonal understanding of meanings and feelings warn us to make too strict and quick answers to them – and in case of youth research these warnings should be taken even more seriously than in scientific reasoning in general. Interpretative work contains the methodological premise of researchers as “prisoners” of their own life-worlds, from which they can only cautiously filter conclusions concerning other people’s lives. As youth researchers most often represent older generation than their young informants, their interpretation work becomes easily toned by an extra gap: the hermeneutic distance grows when researchers aim at catching contemporary young lives from the memorial personality of their own youth. However, reaching the contemporary experiences of today is crucial if – and because – we aim at youth political effectiveness of our research.

In my presentation I will approach the issue from a perspective of empirical data collection and analyses conducted during a ten-years qualitative longitudinal research project Youth in Time (2015-2025). The project is carried out by youth researchers from different cohorts and environments. During the already bygone research years I have noticed how researchers from three different cohorts can make crucially different interpretations and conclusions from the same data; in youth research, then, there can be a generational gap also in this sense. However, a tendency of emerging  intergenerational understanding caused by qualitative longitudinality can also be recognized: ten-years follow-up, regular and intense meetings with the young ones, as well as visits and “ramblings” around in homeplaces and other environments of youth, have an added methodological value. Going continuously close can have an important effect of manifold emergence: qualitative follow-up makes it possible to catch different processes of emerging youth, to develop and deepen emerging research-related connections, and to create emerging intergenerational hermeneutics of “what it means” and “how it feels”.