Youth Movements Research Paper

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Youth movements are the organized, conscious attempts   by  young  people  to  bring  about   or  resist societal change. The formal organization and coordinated activities  of youth  movements  distinguish them from brief episodes of youthful unrest and collective behavior.  Rooted  in generational tensions and specific sociohistoric  conditions, the defining characteristic of  youth  movements  is that  they  are staffed and carried out largely by young people—typically between the ages of 17–30—who join together to protest adult authority and take it upon themselves to transform society. Ranging  from  a small number  of members  to  hundreds   of  thousands of  active  supporters, youth movements have included student movements, cultural (literary, artistic, musical, ethnic, religious, countercultural) movements, peace and antiwar movements,  nationalist and political movements, and  environmental–ecology  movements.   Young people  spontaneously may  initiate  their  own  movements   for  change,   or   youth   movements   may  be sponsored  by adults  to  supplement  the  activities  of larger social and political movements.

1.    The Problem Of Youth And Youth Movements

Throughout history, adults have defined young people as ‘a problem.’ Wedged between childhood  and adulthood, it  has  long  been  recognized  that  young people’s idealism,  energy, impetuousness, and  desire for independence draw them to action and put them at odds  with  adults.   Although  incidents   of  youthful unrest  and  collective  behavior   have  been  recorded since antiquity, full-fledged,  organized  youth  movements did not emerge until the early nineteenth century in Europe.  The impetus for youth  movement  activity stemmed from the forces of modernization and from the Enlightenment, which ushered in the new values of freedom,  equality,  and  self-determination.  Increasing   in number and geographic location from the early nineteenth   through  the  twentieth   centuries,   youth movements   occurred   on  a  global  scale  during  the 1960s  and  1980s.  Youth   movements   have  toppled governments and have been a force for democracy and societal  reform  as  well as  violence,  terrorism, and bloody revolution.

The   study   of  youth   movements   ranges   from personal and journalistic accounts to detailed descriptions,  analyses,  and  research  investigations   by  historians,  sociologists,  political  scientists,  anthropologists, psychologists  and  psychiatrists  throughout the world.  As a result,  information about  youth  movements,  while  plentiful,  is fragmented   and  scattered among many disciplines and countries.

Several theoretical  perspectives have influenced the way  youth   movements   are  perceived  and  studied. Advocates  of a life-course  approach—based  largely on Freudian psychodynamic theory—attribute youth movements  to generational rebellion,  young people’s life-cycle characteristics  and  needs,  and  deep-seated emotional conflicts between youth and adults (Erikson 1968;  Feuer   1969).   From   a  cohort-generational   perspective, youth movements are viewed as products  of a rapidly changing  social order  and  unique  growing-up  experiences that  exacerbate  age-group  tensions  and  relations,  and,  at  times,  may  heighten  young  people’s generational consciousness  and  organized  behavior. In addition, because of their varying social locations in society, young people may disagree over the direction that change should take and form generation  units or competing   groups   within   the   larger   generational movement (Mannheim 1952; Ortega 1962).

According  to  socialization   theory,  young  people involved in youth movements are not rebelling against their parents but are carrying out values learned in the home.  Schools,  universities,   peer  groups,   and   the media also act as influential  sources of socialization that  promote   or  reinforce  youthful  activity  (Flacks 1971; Keniston  1971). Historical  conditions   are  the  focus  in  another   perspective on youth movements. According to this view, the formation, structure,  and demise of youth  movements are affected strongly by specific local, national, and   international  trends   and   events.   In   general, societal  dislocations, inequities,  and  widespread  discontent  in conjunction with  new opportunity structures  and  resources  explain  why  youth  movements occur  during  certain  periods  and  not  others  (Esler 1971; Tilly 1975).

2.    Historical Generational Patterns Of Youth Movement Activity

Youth Movements Research Paper

A survey of modern history indicates that youth movements erupt periodically and became global in scope by the 1960s. Moreover,  youth movements tend to cluster during particular eras, followed by periods of relatively little youth unrest. A cluster of youth movements  represents  a  historical  generation.  Over the last nineteenth  and twentieth centuries, there have been five identifiable  historical  generations  or waves of youth movement activity: Young Europe, PostVictorian,  Great  Depression,  1960s Generation, and 1980s Generation. Historically,  most youth movements have formed over issues of citizenship, including freedom,   equality,   self-determination,  nationalism, and cultural expressiveness (Braungart and Braungart 1989b, 1993). To provide an overview of the growth of youth movements during this period, the five historical generations  are described briefly in Table 1.

Young  Europe  was the first wave of youth  movement activity where young people fought for Enlightenment values. Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 ushered in an age of nationalism, romanticism, and liberalism that  inspired  university  students  to  organize  movements for national  independence.  First,   in Germany   and  then  elsewhere  in  Europe,   students called for an end to absolutism  and the ancien regime in  favor   of   the   modern   nation-state.  The   Post-Victorian  Generation reflected another  period of upheaval in modern history. A new era of mass democracy  and self-determination encouraged  young people  to  organize  against  colonialism  and  imperialism. Fin de siele youth  mobilized  to challenge the last  of the  great  empires  (Victorian,  Austro– Hungarian, Ottoman, Ch’ing, Meiji, Romanov), and young  socialists  fought  nineteenth-century  liberals. The Great  Depression  Generation reacted against the economic failures of capitalism and waged intense ideological struggles involving totalitarian regimes (communist, fascist), authoritarian states, and liberal democracies. The call for national  independence  reached developing countries  by the 1930s.

The  1960s Generation, rooted  in the  post-World War II baby boom, faced several international challenges,  including  the  East–West  Cold  War  and the growing economic gap between rich and poor countries.  In unprecedented numbers,  young  people demanded freedom, equality, and peace, while countercultural lifestyles and behavior  spread rapidly around the world. The ‘revolution  of rising expectations’ generated youth movement activity in developing countries. The 1980s Generation mobilized over issues relating  to  human  rights,  freedom,  and  democracy. The Cold War was under  attack  by young people in Western and Eastern Europe; youth in Asian countries demanded  greater democracy; the North–South economic gap worsened and spawned youthful  protests  in developing  countries;  and  ethnic  and  religious confrontations involving young people erupted in all global regions. What started in Berkeley in 1964 had reached Beijing by 1989.

3.     Intergenerational And Intragenerational Dynamics Of Youth Movements

An examination of several hundred  youth movements in history  indicates a number  of common  patterns  in generational activity.  Specifically, much  of the  momentum  for  youth  movements  is derived  from  the intergenerational conflict between young  people and adult  authorities and  the  intragenerational  conflict among  competing  generation  units or youth  groups. When  the  research  is pulled  together  to  provide  an understanding of youth  movement  activity, the principal dynamics  of generational conflict are identified and suggest a synthesis of the various theoretical perspectives.

Intergenerational conflict is the central dynamic of youth movement activity and plays a significant role in mobilizing  young  people  to  transform society.  The generational tensions, misunderstanding, and conflict between youth and adults stem from two sources: (a) the life-course differences, needs, and orientations of young people that set them apart from adult needs and interests; and (b) the distinct  growing-up  experiences of each cohort  in a rapidly  changing  society. During routine  times, youth  and adults manage to cooperate or at least coexist. However, during certain extraordinary periods,  specific historical  conditions—especially a large educated  youth  cohort,  institutional discontinuities, and opening-up eras—heighten young people’s  dissatisfaction with  society  and  desire  for gradual  reform or total  change. These sociohistorical conditions, in  conjunction with  effective leadership and opportunities for youthful mobilization, facilitate the formation and spread of youth movements.

The  dynamics  of  age-group  mobilization  involve the intensification of young people’s peer and generational  identification. Adults and adult-run institutions are ‘deauthorized’  or chastised for the mistakes and disappointments they created  in society, and young people ‘authorize’ or empower themselves to bring about or resist the desired change. As  a  youth   movement   becomes  more  active  and visible, adult authorities typically react by attempting to curtail youthful protests, using either relatively peaceable  methods  or  violence  and  repression.  The wider adult  population may  support  or  oppose  the youth movement activity and strongly influences its success or failure.

Once a youth movement challenges adult authority, intragenerational conflict erupts within the youth generation.  That   is,  although  young   people   may concur  that  society  needs reform,  youth  groups  are likely  to  disagree  and  compete  over  the  direction, means,  and  extent  of the proposed  changes.  During each historical  generation, youth  movements  fighting for radical change are countered by youth groups defending  the status  quo  or championing the status quo ante. Whether initiated by young people or sponsored  by adults, extreme utopian  as well as ideologically moderate  generation  units may organize that reflect an array and intensity of social and political views (revolutionary, progressive, moderate, conservative,  and  reactionary).  The  various  opposing   generation  units  compete  over the control  of the larger generational  movement   (Braungart  and  Braungart 1989a, 1989b, 1997).

4.    The Impact Of Youth Movements

As youth  movements  unfold,  the dynamics  of interand intragenerational conflict sustain the momentum and  largely  determine  how  the  movement  is played out—as  a positive source of societal renovation and renewal or fraught with injury, destruction, and death. Historically,   youth   movements   have  ranged   from being mildly disruptive to thoroughly destabilizing; they  have  been  short or  long-lived;  and  they  have been a significant force for extending democracy  and citizenship  as well as for totalitarian repression  and genocide.  Over  the  nineteenth   and  tweentieth  centuries,  youth  movements   have  become  a  powerful means  for  young  people  to  bring  about   or  resist change in every part of the world.

With their personal  identity  and  future  tied to the vitality of the nation or state, young people readily are recruited  into movements  to reform  or revolutionize society by charismatic  leaders  who are successful in connecting youthful life-course needs to movement objectives.  Specific conditions  and  opportunities account  for  why youth  movements  erupt  during  particular periods in history. In all likelihood, future generations  of young people will mobilize over issues that  challenge their  contemporaries. The question  is not whether  a new wave of youth  movement  activity will arise, but when and over what issues?


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