American Sociological Association

A New Political Generation: Millennials and the Post-2008 Wave of Protest

Building on Karl Mannheim’s theory of generations, this address argues that U.S. Millennials comprise a new political generation with lived experiences and worldviews that set them apart from their elders. Not only are they the first generation of “digital natives,” but, although they are more educated than any previous U.S. generation, they face a labor market in which precarity is increasingly the norm. And despite proclamations to the contrary, they confront persistent racial and gender disparities, discrimination against sexual minorities, and widening class inequality—all of which they understand in the framework of “intersectionality.” This address analyzes the four largest social movements spearheaded by college-educated Millennials: the young undocumented immigrant “Dreamers,” the 2011 Occupy Wall Street uprising, the campus movement protesting sexual assault, and the Black Lives Matter movement. All four reflect the distinctive historical experience of the Millennial generation, but they vary along two cross-cutting dimensions: (1) the social characteristics of activists and leaders, and (2) the dominant modes of organization and strategic repertoires.


Ruth Milkman





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