The increasing prominence of the category ‘millennial’ irritates me. I thought this was a sociological objection. As this superb n+1 essay observes, the category builds systemic conditions into the dispositions of the generational cohort and so disguises the former through highlighting the latter:
Of course the kids stay home because they can’t get jobs that pay rent. But the function of millennial-speak is to disguise structural causes (the lack of jobs) as human desires (the kids want to stay home), and to justify further measures (make hiring and firing easier) in terms of those desires. This is why millennials are constantly figured as happily zigzagging from job to job, fleeing long-term employment, luxuriating in the intense anxiety of a precariousness said to be uniquely theirs. If they (we?) don’t like a job, what use is there in organizing or demanding more from it? Just quit and move on, we’re told, and so we tell ourselves the same. (Another paradoxical statistic: a majority of millennials look fondly on unions, but are also less likely than previous generations to join or form one.) Having been told for decades that they are creative snowflakes, “knowledge workers” laboring in a new kind of capitalism, younger cohorts have been encouraged to recognize themselves as operating in a wholly different, less fair economy than that of their parents — which is one way of ensuring that such an economy actually comes into being. In this way articles that worry over the socialization of millennials function as a way of socializing them into an unequal society.
But it seems that my objection is perhaps an expression of my millennial nature. As this new Pew study finds, “Just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the ‘Millennial generation'”. Even if we largely reject the meaningfulness of analysis in generational cohorts, I think it’s an important sociological challenge to explain the variability with which each cohort embraces a generational label.
Categories: Rethinking The World