“Among some young people, the Covid-19 pandemic radicalizes a feeling of helplessness and anger”

Manifestatiojn in Nantes, January 16, 2021. SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

What is at stake is not so much a conflict between the generations, but rather a split between certain sections of the youth and the public authorities, affirms Cécile Van de Velde, sociologist, professor at the University of Montreal, and youth specialist.

Can having experienced this pandemic at the age of 20 constitute a generational marker?

The pandemic updates the question of generations as the sociologist and philosopher Karl Mannheim formulated it at the turn of the 1930s. According to him, periods of social destabilization can create a common “condition of generation” for those entering adulthood. , and then promote the birth of a “generation consciousness”.

Of course, everyone has been affected by the crisis generated by the pandemic. In the case of young people, it may have resonated like a shock of uncertainty and loneliness at an age precisely thought of as that of gaining momentum towards adulthood. The extent of the scar will depend on economic developments and political choices in the years to come. We also know that the pandemic strongly increases the unequal pressure even within the young generations, who were already marked by strong social competition and increased risks of dropping out for those with less qualifications.

In addition, we know that the economic crisis of 2008 – and the austerity policies that followed it – largely contributed to the rise of a generational “voice”, in France and at the global level. It was expressed within social movements and was carried above all by students and young graduates. We can read there the growing refusal of a “debt” or a “legacy” considered too heavy to bear, and unfairly transmitted to the younger generations, forcing them to submit to decisions for which they are not responsible.

This criticism was first forged on economic and social conditions, then extended to environmental issues. Today, the health crisis gives it a new dimension, because it has led to visible political arbitrations between generations.

In their testimonies, the young people express a feeling of injustice and dispossession. How to analyze it?

In reality, what is at stake is not so much a conflict between the generations, but rather a split between certain sections of young citizens and the public authorities. However, this generational frustration tends to turn more against the “system” – whether educational, social or political – than against the older generations, who themselves see themselves strongly called upon to provide support in the face of precariousness.

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