Accueil Journal Europa | Formats | Les magazines | #Eurocities 2012 7-10 Novembre 2012 | Cécile Van de Velde: No generational gap

Cécile Van de Velde: No generational gap

Cécile Van de Velde

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Articles | Publié le 19.11.2012 Cécile Van de Velde is a Belgian sociologist who has taught in Lille, Paris and Montreal. Her research interests focus on the significance of age and generation in sociology. She analyses the most recent movements in Europe, like the Indignados movement, and what defines youth as a concept.

Would you say age could still be considered as a relevant feature to define youth?

Over the past few years, we have kept on raising the age of adulthood. In the European or national texts, the 16-24 years old age group became 18-29 years old and we can even witness the formation of a new age category: 18-35 years old.

As a sociologist, I refuse to define youth according to particular age groups. I see it more as a self-consideration of being an adult. If you ask young people, they define themselves as young longer and longer. So age is not necessarily a relevant feature anymore. We are now dealing with more vague factors. As there are still many challenges to overcome in life, adulthood becomes a receding horizon for an individual moving forward. From this perspective, the transition between youth and adulthood is constantly delayed, being now towards the end of the thirties.

Do the opportunities for mobility that young people have today determine their awareness of a European identity?

We see two identities emerging. Young people assert an ultra-local identity in parallel with a transnational identity. This means being able to belong to your area and feel like a Citizen of the world. This is a rejection of frontiers, which is a strong feeling among the young generation. Indeed, the feeling of a European identity is socially divided. It is mostly developing among the educated, mobile and informed youth. On the other hand, the youth located in the suburbs or in the country neither understand nor trust Europe. This exact phenomenon exists in the south of Europe. In Spain, the Indignants movement concerns primarily the educated youth and corresponds to the first generations with access to higher education since the end of the Franco regime. This segment of the population had high expectations upon finishing their studies, but finds itself experiencing deep social despair, faced with this crisis.

Although they once identified positively as Europeans, they now are beginning to reject Europe as an institution. I have heard Spaniards say that the head of their government is Merkel. This feeling originates in the austerity measures they considered to be imposed from the outside. This is a new North-South divide seen among European youth.

How does one characterize the political orientation of this indignant youth?

This is a form of political involvement. It is "original" in the sense that it refuses to be a part of a representative democracy, favoring a model of direct democracy instead. This is not a hopeless generation, as it has been portrayed, but it does express a strong mistrust. In France or Italy, less than 20% of young people have confidence in democracy. This confidence is more evident in northern Europe, where the discontented are an integral part of the traditional political system. The pirate party accepts the legitimacy of voting and has some European deputies. It is strongly influenced by the younger generations, more integrated in these countries than in Europe as a whole.

Does the 'Facebook generation' show a certain fickle political activism?

This generation has a strong appetite for immediate politics, like online petitions, street protests or occupation movements... It often sees everyday actions as political. However, it shows a certain distrust of any representation of the political system, such as representative democracy, elections, political parties or traditional media. When it comes to rallying, there is always more virtual responses indicating “I like” than people actually taking it to the streets. The Internet is an intermediary that allows a very reactive self-organization and counter-information. The important movements are all embodied by physical presence. The Indignados' slogan "Torna la Plaza" is a concept of physical occupation to recover, by force of number, a power lost over their lives. This is not only abstract.

How do these movements interact with the ruling class, mostly in the hands of older generations?

The link between these new modes of participation and the traditional political system is yet to be invented. It is the political parties' responsibility to reconnect with new technologies in order to reconnect with youth. Young people feel underrepresented. The true divorce is more between political parties and societies than generational. For political use, new technologies are mostly invested by the younger generations, but this should change shortly.

Emmanuel Lemoine, Nantes France