In the late 1960s, the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, who worked in the fields of culture and personality, published Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation
Gap,1 in which she constructed a typology about how new and old generations interrelate. She coined the expression “postfigurative” or slow transformation to refer to a society
in which young people learn not only about religion, but also local cultural aspects from adults; “configurative”, to refer to a society of moderate change, in which new and old
generations learn from each other; and “prefigurative”, which is future-oriented or an accelerated transformation. Citing Mead, “it will be the child—and not the parent and
grandparent—that represents what is to come.”
In its time, this study was provocative but no less interesting for that, and was very forward-looking. On the back cover of the first edition of Mead’s book, published by the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1970, we read: “In 1968 a fifteen-year old boy wrote: ‘There is a mass confusion in the minds of my generation in trying to find a solution for ourselves and the world around us. We see the world as a huge rumble as it swiftly goes by with wars, poverty, prejudice, and the lack of understanding among people and nations. Then we stop and think: there must be a better way and we have to find it.’ He was expressing the thoughts of articulate youth the world over who comprise the post-World War II generation. Heirs to a legacy of war, prejudice, and economic and political injustice, their task is to rebuild a society convulsed by its sudden burst into the electronic age. Today, because the whole world is caught in the same electronically produced, intercommunicating network, youth have an experience that their elders never had.”
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