The educational scientist Benno Hafeneger on a youth that wants to shape their own future full of hope – despite epochal crises.
Mr. Hafeneger, young people have to deal with several social crises, with the climate crisis, with the Ukraine war and with Corona. How does that work?
It’s about epochal crises. The younger generation has to deal with that first.
Nevertheless, studies show that two-thirds of the young generation is “optimistic and confident” about the future, as you write in your book. How does that fit together?
The personal view of one’s own future is rather optimistic and confident, that’s true. But with a view to social development, most of the younger generation is rather pessimistic and concerned. We hardly find this youth-typical basic optimism anymore; it is superimposed by the epochal crises.
Why is this difference?
There is a reality perception of reality that is mediated daily. In principle, one knows that things cannot go on like this if the world is to have a future. At the same time, you still have life ahead of you. You want to shape it. That is the meaning of youth. The younger generation must remain optimistic about themselves despite all the problems in society.
What future will the current youth movements have?
There were youth movements like the “hooligans” who fought against a cultural stalemate in adult society in the 1950s. Then society opened up and it was supposedly no longer necessary to protest against it. This is not the case with the epochal challenges. The climate crisis will not be gone the day after tomorrow. What war and new geopolitical conditions mean, what pandemic developments mean, social divisions, migration movements: such epochal problems will bind this generation. The young generation is not sure whether the countries or the world society are able to save the world.
The past decades have also been marked by major crises: from the war and the post-war period, from expulsion and refugee movements, from rearmament, the Cold War and the nuclear threat. What is the difference between today’s crises?
You are right, the history of the Federal Republic is marked by crises. But these crises never had such an impact on the perception of the younger generation. Today we have the scenario with the climate development: The world can end. We may not survive the consequences of the climate crisis. Then the war in Europe draws near. And the pandemic shows that people in their own environment are dying of this Corona disease. It is an accumulation of epochal crises that are biographically existential. This is a new crisis constellation without playing down other crises.
How is the younger generation dealing with the climate crisis? With commitment or resignation?
If you ask the young generation about their worries and fears, then the climate and the war are at the top. That applies to a very large majority, including those who don’t take to the streets with “Fridays for Future”. And we tend to have a very small cohort that ignores this and doesn’t want to perceive the complex of problems.
Benno Hafeneger, born in 1948, is Professor Emeritus of Education at the Philipps University in Marburg. He researched youth culture and right-wing extremist movements.
Hafeneger began his career with church youth work, then he went into trade union educational work. In addition to educational science, he also studied psychology.
Is the younger generation ready to draw conclusions from this for their own lives? Many older people complain that the younger ones themselves are not willing to give up prosperity, flights and a consistent change of course.
Here we are in the middle of a process of reorientation, also in the way of life, which emanates above all from the younger generation. Such a reproachful look reveals the old lamentation of adults towards the younger generation. But if really broad reorientations are to take place, then it depends on a process that affects society as a whole and on political control.
There was talk of the “Corona Generation”. How did the restrictions and experiences during the pandemic affect you?
We now have more than 200 studies related to Corona. Sometimes you don’t believe what kind of hasty shots were produced. There are several publications with the heading “Generation Corona”. It is talked about like a “generation crisis” or a “lost generation”. Such negative labels are downright a pathologization of an entire young generation. But there are also very serious results. The educational divide created by homeschooling has become very apparent. In almost all studies, the young people state that they were not asked and not included in the state strategies for dealing with Corona. They learned that co-determination and participation were propagated everywhere, but that they were not asked about the crisis situation. You can see the young generation’s deep frustration with this Corona policy. But no one knew how to do it differently. For this reason, the political handling of the Corona crisis was largely approved at the same time.
In your book you show that a negative image has been drawn of the respective “today’s youth” for thousands of years. Why is that?
We know: There is no such thing as youth. There are youths in a duplication. But there is obviously a social need, also a scientific need, to identify an overall trend and assign it to the younger generation. A negative image of youth has repeatedly been drawn.
They warn against truncation, but in the newspaper we have no choice. What should we write about this interview?
“Generation crisis” is obviously already happening.
( Hesitates. ) I would say: “Youth between crisis and confidence”. One would have to indicate the arc of tension in which the young generation has to move today, because the circumstances and conditions of growing up are like that. In my scientific practice, I have had great experiences with the younger generation, which gives me confidence. The younger generation votes far below average for the AfD. It is interesting that, despite the crises, we are not seeing nationalization or a nationalist youth movement like there is in other countries. There is no “Germany first” phenomenon among young people, thank God.
Interview: Pitt von Bebenburg