Edmunds Šūpulis, Kaspars Zellis


This paper highlights the different approaches used to understand the concept of generation. It seeks to identify various age cohorts as cultural entities. Our approach follows Karl Mannheim’s sociological analysis of „The Problem of Generations” (1928), this being one of the first theoretical works on the sociological concept of generation.  According to Mannheim generation refers to an age-defined subgroup in which individuals are exposed to and shaped by similar historical events and experiences. For us, the question of generations is neither about lineage nor descent within a family, nor the perception of generation merely as a group in society that shares the same birth date within a certain time period. Drawing on relevant theories in the field, we argue that generations exist as specific collective identities with substantial historical significance.

While the concept of generation has a long history in Western popular and academic realms, its use in Latvia is still underdeveloped. Recent studies have shown how commemoration and remembrance processes in Latvian society shape collective memories and promote their transmission across generations. Historic shifts, wars and changes in political regimes as well as in value systems have left a deep impact on people’s biographies especially in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. What kinds of historical generations can scholars identify studying biographies and narratives? Historical turning points have driven the dynamics of generation formation and opened up questions about the subtle generational consciousness among age cohorts in Latvia. We use biographical interviews from the National Oral history archive in Riga to delineate a sense of generational belonging. The emphasis is on how traumatic events shape cultural identity during the formative years of life in story tellers. This has allowed us to refine the generational model and to identify six distinct generations in Latvia during the twentieth century.