Ohad Parnes, Ulrike Vedder, Stefan Willer

Generations: The History of a Concept

(German title: Das Konzept der Generation)
ca. 385 pages
Ohad Parnes

Ohad Parnes

Ohad Parnes is a historian of science and head of the department »Knowledge about Life« at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung) in Berlin.

Ulrike Vedder

Ulrike Vedder

Ulrike Vedder is Professor of German literature at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Stefan Willer

Stefan Willer

Stefan Willer is a literary scholar and Deputy Director of the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung) in Berlin.

Rights available

The first book-length attempt to understand the concept of »Generations« and its history from a boarder and multi-disciplinary perspective.


Few other concepts have played such a central role in the history of modern thought like that of »Generations«. The concept has been often discussed from a variety of perspectives - social theory, biological thought, historiography - yet no comprehensive and systematic study of this concept has hitherto been provided.

The book is historically structured, beginning with the more ancient semantic layers of »generation« in antiquity and tracing the development and circulation of the concept in various fields of knowledge from the early modern period and up to our days. The authors are particularly attentive to the modern, double meaning of the word »generation« in its reference to both biological processes of procreation and descent on the one hand, and socio-cultural cohesion and cohort-identity on the other. Special attention is given to the period around 1800, which the authors identify as pivotal for the modern understanding of generations. Other chapters trace the genealogy of the concept and its dissemination in various aspects of human knowledge throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in a range of disciplines like physiology, genetics, pedagogy, political theory, sociology and aesthetics.

The book offers a novel and original perspective on the origins of the concept in Western thought while also attempting to provide an explanation for its seemingly ever lasting impact on modern culture. The choice of sources analyzed by the authors is extensive and - even though the book has originally been published in German - not at all restricted to the German context. In fact the concept of generation has made a momentous career in the English speaking world, notably in the US where the idea of political generations and of generational dynamics has not only played a significant role in early constitutional debates, but has recently attracted increasing interest (»generation X«, »generation Y«, »generation me«). In this regard, the book is highly relevant for an English speaking public, all the more since a comparable study is lacking in English and American scholarship. The interdisciplinary character of this book makes it indispensable to scholars of various disciplines: political theory, history of science, literary studies, cultural studies, sociology and anthropology. The combination of a comprehensive historical framework and a systematic analytical perspective makes it both a historical monograph and a truly reference work.

The English translation will be funded by Geisteswissenschaften International.