The Nexus of Social Class and Social Generations in the Global System

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Louis CHAUVEL, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
It had long been claimed that social generations are replacing social classes (Thurow, Kotlikoff): the elder generations hoarding (retirement, property rights, cultural domination in the dominant culture) might mean a new global context of “déclassement social” (downward social mobility) and precarity for the young. If some facets of this diagnose can be relevant, as such it is indeed mistakenly naïve and ignores important dimensions of the interaction dynamics of class and generations in the global system.

A better synthesis of history is in the interaction between Karl Mannheim, Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi (alphabetic order). For Mannheim, generations are certainly actors of social and cultural change, but are also a vector: when the young generation is scarified, it is not simply a social group, but our future that we harm. For Marx, and Piketty, social classes are back, objectively, in our recent history as a hierarchic system of social groups engaged in empirically extreme antagonist positions, even if class consciousness remains surprisingly weak. For Polanyi reloaded until today, we live the rebirth of the liberal creed, with the recommodification of money, labor, land and life.

The 3K interaction helps understand two centuries of history: the generations of the Belle Époque of extreme capitalism were fantastically polarized between the Western capitalists and the rest in a context of extremely strong political identities. One century ago, the conflagration of the liberal order had meant also the generational replacement of the old class system with a new class configuration, smother and weaker, with a massive wage earner middle class based on collective property of social rights (Castel). We now experience the new rise of an unconscious class configuration, in a new global capitalist system. For the new frustrated generations this means a new age of extremes. These changes are empirically documented.