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Generational and Age-Group Politics

Generational and Age-Group Politics


Dr Rudolph Glitz



UvA Faculty: Dr Rudolph Glitz, Dr Pablo Valdivia (new member)
PhD students: Robert Steltenpool (committed), Lucy van de Wiel (new member – not yet committed)
RMA students: Megen de Bruin-Molé, Rosalyn Borst, Anna Persson, Jacqueline de Vent
International Partners: Professor Aaron Jaffe (Univ. of Louisville), Dr Lois Cucullu (Univ. of Minnesota)


Description of the research programme of the research group

In their work on aging and society, Riley et al. cover several of the many processes and structures that inform age group and generational identities. The age groups of a particular society might include, for instance, its children, teenagers, youth, middle aged, or old. The members of these age groups are provided with their age group identities through a shared and culturally codified outlook on past, present and future, but also through a variety of normative social role ascriptions. Thus a man who would legally be defined as an adult in a particular society but lacks a job, house, or wife may be defined by his age peers as immature and excluded from their age group despite his biological age. Age groups are not always defined by their members, of course, but can also, as is often the case with children and youths, be established and regulated by outsiders, although such imposed identities may not always stick and sometimes be subverted. Furthermore, age group identities can grow out of conflicts between age groups: the middle aged of a particular generation (e.g. parents, professional superiors, etc.) might, for example, resist and delay the transfer of power and resources to their juniors, who, in reaction, might bond together as a youth group. This youth group might also assume a generational identity, which we take to differ from age group identities following Karl Mannheim, for whom generations constitute themselves around particular historical events and based on their locations on the historical axis. An international event like WWI, for instance, may constitute the formative experience in a young person’s life, which would then give rise to a generation group whose demands, like those of age groups, can at least occasionally override those of other identity categories such as class, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, political affiliations, etc. In this research group, we analyze the contribution of culture and especially literature to the processes outlined above with a special emphasis on the interrelations of age and generational location with other social categories. How do different ethnicities or classes relate to a society’s generational or age-group divisions and how do they experience their respective ages? What roles do youth and old age play in the creation of post-colonial identities? Can children be queer(ed)? In our sessions we aim to generate and discuss queries such as these, pursue them in relation to literary texts or other cultural objects, and consider productive ways of finding answers to them. Over time, we also hope to build, and make publicly available, a substantial bibliography containing, on the one hand, as much age-related secondary literature as possible and, on the other, a substantial corpus of primary materials in which age and its socio-political dimension play a prominent role.


Envisaged results

- A period-bridging monograph on generational and age-group politics in literature (Rudolph Glitz).
- PhD dissertation on ‘Age Drag’ in Modernist American literature and culture (Robert Steltenpool); at least two presentations at international conferences followed by article publication in literary journals or edited collections.
- Two MA theses on the representation of children in literature (Megen Molé and Rosalyn Borst).
- NWO internationalization grant application to be submitted by Fall 2013
- A NICA event/workshop.
- A museum exhibition on age group and generation politics (brainstorming stage).
- Website resource on generational and age group politics in literature that improves networking and makes our findings publicly available (principally our bibliography).


Work plan and time schedule

This group aims to generate interest in its heavily under-researched topic and expand accordingly. It is envisaged to last at least until 2018, regularly recruiting interested RMA students as well as PhD candidates and staff members.
- Rudolph Glitz aims to complete his book by 2017. The first chapter, on Shakespeare’s Henriad, will be submitted to journal(s) in the summer or fall of 2013.
- Robert Steltenpool aims to submit his dissertation by 2017.
- All MA thesis projects of current participants will be completed in 2013.
- The next Amsterdam conference related to our topic is supposed to take place in 2014.
- A website containing our expanding bibliography is supposed to go public in 2014/15.


Societal relevance

In a period of rapidly increasing life spans and aging populations it is crucial for decision makers in the fields of politics and education to understand not just the economic underpinnings of our current age group structure but also the social and cultural factors that significantly contribute to shaping the relations between different age groups. Analysing these factors at work in specific cultural artefacts from different historical periods will raise their understanding of them, provide unexpected alternatives to our current age-political setup, and allow for more effective interventions in the latter. The general public, too, will benefit from an increased awareness of the socio-cultural mechanisms surrounding age identities (including their own, of course): people educated in this area will be less easily manipulated by cultural products that exploit such mechanisms and might even develop an age-political awareness on a par with, say, that of gender, class, or ethnicity – an awareness, in other words, that allows them to identify their own age-political interests and ideals, and have them adequately represented in the political process. Parties such as the 50+ers in the Netherlands can be seen as a first step in this direction, but one is still seriously hampered by the crudeness of its conceptual framework.