The Me-Generation in a Post-Collectivist Space

Dilemmas in a Time of Transition

by Krystyna Szafraniec (Author) Jarosław Domalewski (Author) Krzysztof Wasielewski (Author) Paweł Szymborski (Author) Marcin Wernerowicz (Author)
©2018 Monographs 392 Pages


As a result of ongoing political transformation, post-communist countries are opening up to a global world and its influence. This poses new challenges and complicates the socialisation process of young people. In this book, the authors ask what orientation changes can follow, when they are determined by the resources of innovativeness of a young generation and structural limitations of a system. The basis of analyses were different types of national and international sources, collected in reference to nine post-communist countries in Europe and Asia. The comparison leads to a surprising conclusion: It is difficult to perceive representatives of the first generation, whose growing up has taken place only in the new political system, as «the drivers of the change».

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction (Krystyna Szafraniec)
  • Chapter 1. Structural dimensions of the political system transformation (Jarosław Domalewski, Paweł Szymborski)
  • 1.1. The multiplicity of transformations or the transformation of “multiplicity”?
  • 1.2. How the New Order was established
  • 1.3. Between shock therapy and procedural changes
  • 1.4. Economic transformation: dictates of neoliberalism
  • 1.5. The structural dimensions of transformational changes
  • 1.6. The demographic background of transformational transitions
  • 1.7. External and internal migrations as an element of transformational changes
  • 1.8 Conclusions
  • Chapter 2. Socialisation contexts and life orientations of the youth (Krystyna Szafraniec)
  • 2.1. Why the socialisation perspective?
  • 2.2. The new logics of constructing a local socio-cultural space
  • 2.3. Postmodernity and global culture as an unavoidable context
  • 2.4. Messages sent by the main socialisation agendas
  • 2.4.1. Market and the media
  • 2.4.2. The State and public space
  • 2.4.3. Religions and churches
  • 2.4.4. School
  • 2.4.5. Family
  • 2.4.6. Peers and new media
  • 2.5. Young people: new challenges and life orientations
  • 2.6. Conclusions
  • Chapter 3. Education: functions and meaning during the transformation of the political system (Krzysztof Wasielewski)
  • Methodological remarks
  • 3.1. Changes in the education system: orientations and consequences
  • 3.1.1. Changes in the philosophy of education
  • 3.1.2. Education spending
  • 3.1.3. Changes in the level of education and its perception
  • 3.2. Changes in the mainstream education system
  • 3.2.1. Pre-school education
  • 3.2.2. School: schooling rates and youth attitudes
  • 3.2.3 Higher education
  • 3.3. Quality of education and student competencies
  • 3.4. Conclusions
  • Chapter 4. Reaching adulthood: work, privacy arrangements and living standards (Krystyna Szafraniec, Paweł Szymborski)
  • 4.1. Employment and entering the labour market
  • 4.1.1. Preparations and barriers: the specificity of the post-communist countries
  • 4.1.2. Expectations concerning employment
  • 4.1.3. Transition from education to employment
  • 4.1.4. Economic activity and employment
  • 4.1.5. Unemployment and occupational inactivity
  • 4.1.6. The temporary employment market
  • 4.1.7. Sectors and conditions of employment
  • 4.1.8. Status of the labour market: risks and dangers
  • 4.2. Family and living arrangements
  • 4.2.1. Leaving a family home
  • 4.2.2. Marital status and living arrangements
  • 4.2.3. Fertility, women’s employment and tensions between the roles
  • 4.3. Standard and quality of living
  • 4.4. Conclusions
  • Chapter 5. The young in the public sphere (Krystyna Szafraniec, Marcin Wernerowicz)
  • 5.1. Political changes in countries which had experienced communism
  • 5.1.1. Main axis of changes in the political system
  • 5.1.2. Meanders of the political transformations: analytical and interpretation problems
  • 5.1.3. Subjective interpretations and objective measures of democracy
  • 5.2. From authoritarianism to democracy
  • 5.2.1. Totalitarianism and communism in the awareness of the youth
  • 5.2.2. Political socialisation and lack of citizenship education
  • 5.2.3. Emotional attitudes towards the old and the new order
  • 5.3. Preferences concerning the social order
  • 5.3.1. Preferences concerning political solutions: democracy or strong leadership?
  • 5.3.2. How much should the state intervene in the economy?
  • 5.3.3. Civil/individual rights and community rights
  • 5.3.4. A materialist or post-materialist model of society?
  • 5.4. Civic engagement of young people
  • 5.4.1. Interest in politics and feeling of political impact
  • 5.4.2. Trust towards the institutions and political elites
  • 5.5. Civic behaviour and style of the presence in the public sphere
  • 5.5.1. The minimum citizen: indexes of participation in the elections
  • 5.5.2. Alternative forms: petitions, protests and demonstrations
  • 5.5.3. Alternative forms: the Internet
  • 5.6. Conclusions
  • Chapter 6. Dividing lines, new challenges and threats to social cohesion (Krystyna Szafraniec, Jarosław Domalewski, Paweł Szymborski and Krzysztof Wasielewski)
  • 6.1. Divisions and social inequalities within the life space of the youth and amongst the youth
  • 6.1.1. The rich and the poor: the most grievous division
  • 6.1.2. Divisions between the countryside and the cities
  • 6.1.3. Ethnic and regional divisions
  • 6.1.4. Inequality in education
  • 6.2. Perception of the future and social challenges
  • 6.3. Mental characteristics of the youth
  • 6.4. A “turn to the right”?
  • 6.5. What about the protests and contestation by young people?
  • 6.6. Conclusions
  • Conclusion (Krystyna Szafraniec)
  • References
  • Biographical Notes
  • Series index

Krystyna Szafraniec


This book, which we have created for readers everywhere, is the result of work by teams from nine countries, all of which participated in the project from 2014 until 2016, thanks to a grant from the National Science Centre (Harmonia Competition). This book examines the role of the young generation in processes of systemic transformation in the countries which have experienced communism1. In our analyses, we focus on describing the life situation of today’s youth, as well as their developmental potential and the framework conditions (socio-economic, political and cultural), in which generational socialisation takes place. We are interested in social space of a very specific nature. Despite having to deal with social trauma linked to their departure from the old order, (post)communist countries are creating a new order and are opening to the global world and its impact. This becomes a source of new problems and complicates the context in which socialisation of youth takes place. However, it was neither the youth nor curiosity about their world that was the sole reason for such vast analyses. We are interested in the direction systemic changes take: if they are to be determined – on the one hand – by innovation reservoirs of the young generation (their competence, aspirations, and life orientations) and – on the other hand – by structural opportunities created by the system; with its numerous internal deficiencies and difficulties, as well as pressure exerted by global impacts. Can the processes of systemic transformation in these countries count on a supporting contribution from the young generation, or is this the source of the problems?

The subject of youth, although it may seem distant from the questions of macroprocesses and macrostructures, is in our opinion a very good point of departure for observations of what is happening to the society in general and the one subject to unusual changes in particular. It is similar to a lens focusing on various problems and tensions of the system. It serves as a barometer of changes and social moods. The situation of young people, their perception of the world, aspirations, ← 9 | 10 and life pursuits are measures of changes which have already happened and problems which are to be (or will be) solved. Naturally, a diagnosis concerning young people forces us to think about the future, and introduces a type of intellectual practice without which pursuing an enlightened and far-reaching policy is impossible – it is a natural benchmark for forecasts. One cannot discuss youth without mentioning the future, and the future cannot be discussed without taking youth into consideration.

Their diagnosis is never kind to the social system and authority. This is fairly obvious; of particular note is the marginal position of the youth within the social structure, clashing between stimulated ambitions, the limitations of their own (unstabilised) position, and the typical social system which people of young age must adhere to. Indeed, this mixture rarely results in positive assessments of the reality. In the eyes of politicians, the youth usually turn out to be too impatient and not understanding; they see the world in flat black-and-white colouring and are not equipped with practical wisdom – they see neither the shades of grey nor “the other side”. However, the youth have – as emphasised by Leszek Kołakowski – the other quality. While adults perceive things as so complicated that they even feel helpless themselves, young people – because of their age – keep their perceptions simple and are able to make seemingly impossible things happen. In places where young people are a minority, there is a threat of stagnation, inability to take risks, and an unwillingness to make sacrifices in the name of uncertain intentions (Kołakowski, 1999, pp. 63–64). Understanding the youth and taking their needs and problems into consideration enforces a more critical approach to the previous achievements and reveals other, unconsidered points of view.

We are interested in young people from post-communist countries – representatives of the first generation, who have grown up intellectually within a new system; indeed, this, in a sense, constitutes their common generational experience and distinguishes them from older citizens. This generation includes both very young people who were born in a new political reality and those who were born earlier and grew up under the new system conditions. However, this is not the only circumstance that determines their specific character. In terms of the question of who they are and what their function is in their countries, the global context is also significant. Ever since the end of the 80s, the countries from behind the Iron Curtain have started to open to the world, and this means that young Polish, Latvian, Chinese, and Russian people have been growing up halfway between different social and cultural worlds. This “in-between” existence creates new quality of life and complicates different matters. On the one hand, it stimulates societies and cultures, and does not allow for a dogmatic perception ← 10 | 11 → of the world; on the other hand, it involves many risks and threats. Living with an awareness of the border-like character of the surrounding world means finding a pretext for inquiries and criticising reality; it also generates anxiety and inspires behaviours which are not conducive to changes – conservative, xenophobic, and prejudice-inducing solutions.

The world which post-communist countries are entering is a world of very expansive, dynamic democratic capitalism, which also involves many internal contradictions. While scholars often call this world imperfect, it remains the best one available, with no alternatives to choose from. Presenting this world as one able to constantly develop and guarantee a better future – through educational, media, political and marketing messages – stimulates the young generation and encourages them to formulate increasingly ambitious plans for life. In the meantime, however, this democratic and colourful capitalism environment, in which young people are socialised, often experiences significant crises and tests the aspirations of the young. Although these crises are rooted in economic issues, the most common receiver of claims is the state – the only “visible” subject which can be held responsible for ill-managed reality. Simultaneously, for the state, interfering in economic issues and correcting the effects of free-market play are difficult tasks, and it faces limitations, despite its strong will. Problems also occur when relations with the global economy are controlled by statist-minded states (China, Vietnam and, to a great extent, Russia). The dilemma of “how much can the state interfere in the economy?” is one experienced by the leaders of most countries.

In documents and reports prepared by international and supranational organisations concerning developmental strategies, the youth are treated as a natural reservoir of innovation and change. However, at the same time, they are also treated as a social category, the future of which – because of economic conditions – is very uncertain and can endanger the stability of the social order. The greatest fears are related to the possibility of the emergence of the so-called “lost generation” – namely young, well-educated people who are excluded from the job market and who devote all their energy to solving their own problems. In order to reduce this threat, wealthy countries undertake systemic solutions regarding employment, family life policy and education, which make it easier for young people to join the main stream of social life (ILO, 2010, p. 1).

For those countries with a communist past, the prospect of a globalising world, which increases the level of competition and decisive risk experienced in every country, brings with it two challenges. The questions of which direction these countries could go and where they will be able to go are questions as intriguing as they are important. We assume that interesting answers to these questions can be ← 11 | 12 → provided by observing the situation of the young generation, who are considered in the sociological tradition as an important factor of social dynamics and change.

Whenever we use the terms youth, young generation, or young people, we mean people between the ages of 15 and 30. Indeed, this means that periodisation is happening more frequently in most international studies, the reasons for which are related to young people’s tendency to stay in the education system for longer periods (which was the basis for distinguishing the category of youth even in the 20th century). This increased periodisation is also due to social, economic, and cultural changes happening in the contemporary world which profoundly redefine social roles, disturb well-known rhythms of living, and change developmental standards. The category of youth is becoming a complex phenomenon and are far more problematic than was previously the case (Neugarten, Neugarten, 1987). However, this is an internally heterogeneous category, and includes people at different stages of life, with different needs, problems, and different life experiences. Only one thing holds them together in today’s reality: a lack of life stability and structural difficulties when entering adulthood. Their young age has defined their place in a series of historical transitions, to which the (post)communist countries were subjected. Indeed, these young people were born and raised in a new sociopolitical reality, and are now trying to find their way around it while building their future and career. At the same time, the youth – as a group of marginal location in a society and with aspirations growing beyond existing reality – represents a medium of ferment and change. As such, this group is the perfect subject when it comes to observing changes which have taken and are taking place in the countries we are interested in.

In our analyses, we make use of the classic conception of Karl Mannheim, according to which the young generation have natural innovative potential resulting from their psychological and social peculiarity and from a particular historical context. This context enculturatively “strengthens” the obtained features of youth as features of the generation (Mannheim, 1938). We also adopt another Mannheimean thesis: a thesis pertaining to the role of the young generation as an agent of social change. This is particularly significant when historical tasks of implementing significant reforms are carried out for society (Mannheim, 1943). Both conceptions correspond with a new theoretical paradigm in sociology – the so-called “third sociology”, which – departing from previous determinants (structural and subjective) – places a focus on interactivity of subjects and structures, on reality becoming social in explaining a social process (and history). As Piotr Sztompka (1991) emphasises, in this process, people (individuals, groups) generate and reproduce through their actions the context of their own existence: ← 12 | 13 → flexible and changeable social structures which become initial conditions (limiting or stimulating) for further actions. Here, a society is an interactive individual-structural field within which its subjectivity is realised: its potential ability of self-transformation which is a “resultant” of abilities, skills, motivations and aspirations of people and structural conditions they act in. According to this conception, people themselves create their society and history. However, they do not do it of their own accord but in the structural conditions inherited from the past (Sztompka, 1991: 28–29).

These people are also generations. Taking interest in them as a significant component of the area within which social co-creation of history is taking place, is based on a rich tradition and empirical grounds of the past where generations (especially young ones) openly played a significant political part – in creating new social orders and bringing their crises into light. Today, young people seem to act outside of politics; however, this does not make the questions of their political role unessential. The events in Arab countries, the “outraged” movement (Occupy Wall Street, Indignados), the anti-ACTA protests, and the revival of nationalist and fundamentalist groups whose active participants include young people make it imperative that the phenomenon of youth is observed more carefully. These observations seem to be necessary and legitimate, especially given the fact that the sociology of youth as the scientific subdiscipline has departed from this type of analysis in recent decades. At first, it shifted the centre of gravity of its interests from the historical and sociological perspective (dominant in the first half of the 20th century), to the socio-anthropological perspective (characteristic of approaches to the phenomenon of the youth in the second half of the previous century). At the end of the 20th century, the globalisation trend activated researchers’ interest in expanding and initiating a causative action of cultural patterns: cultural anthropology started to seem indispensable and promising for educators, psychologists, philosophers, economists and sociologists. The parallel intensification of individualisation processes meant that more focus shifted to individuals and thus social sciences paid less attention to the role of large social groups. The youth have started to be perceived as a community (an assembly) of individuals picking over multiple available offers and aiming to contest and, more frequently, adapt to the existing reality. Indeed, of particular note here are the aforementioned turbulent events and protests in which the youth participated, the context of late modernity, the world crisis, and the competing economies. All of this invokes again the validity of questions pertaining to the historical role of the young generation. The aim is not to shift the centre of gravity from the research of lifestyles to the research of political behaviours of the youth. Quite the contrary, ← 13 | 14 → by analysing the situation faced by today’s youth in society, as well as their competencies, preferences, political strategies, and lifestyles, it is possible to answer further questions; such questions relate to social change, social development, and the role of the young generationThe phenomenon of youth has so far directed the attention of sociologists towards developed societies and economies, which have counted on the youth as a substantial capital enhancing their competitive advantages. Developing societies, including poor and those which once created the so-called second world (that have withdrawn or are withdrawing from the communist past and are searching for their own path) have not been similarly studied and addressed. We are interested in whether the peculiarity of the past and the reality of deep systemic transitions (not in isolation from the world but being open to global challenges and influences) make the young generation of (post)communist countries a generation with a unique historical role. We also wish to establish whether this group’s situation can influence the fates and direction of transitions occurring there. We analyse attitudes, life strategies, problems, and behaviours of those who were born right before or during the period of the political transformation and whose social, intellectual, and moral development coincide with times hardly similar to the former system. These are young people whose way of thinking and life aspirations go far beyond their parents’ achievements and older friends’ ambitions. Simultaneously, this is the first generation to experience problems with entering adulthood to such a vast extent. This makes the situation somewhat political, and today, unlike in the past, this is not the youngest segment of youth which is the principal “youth player” and the most significant in the system but the older segment who would not even be considered as the youth by many social researchers some time ago.

This phenomenon, absent in Western democracies, takes in an especially acute form in the countries with a communist past. Their situation is undoubtedly specific. All of these countries, not without some difficulty, are departing from former systemic solutions, and imitating Western models to a greater or lesser degree. It is happening at a time when many of these solutions are in crisis and the need for an alternative is felt more than ever. Simultaneously, the countries’ shift from communism is taking place amidst a clash with two other powerful forces. These are, on the one hand, processes of globalisation establishing in the Western world the so-called other, second modernism (Giddens, 1991; Beck, 1992; Bauman 2006) that emanates from the whole world, especially in the economic and cultural sphere. On the other hand, these forces are local peculiarities (local models of transformation), defined both by the history and pre-socialist tradition of these countries, as well as their communist past. Extremely interesting, particularly in ← 14 | 15 → the context of such clashes, is the effect of glocalisation (Robertson 1992, Bauman 1997), which makes the society – similar to many other “global hybrids” developing non-linearly – seem to be on the verge of chaos. This does not build structures but networks; it does not bind but generates symbiotic, irreversible, and unstable relations (Castells, 2008). Simultaneous global and local processes create specific dynamics in which great amounts of resources and flows go both ways. What is more, they form an integral whole and cannot exist separately (Urry 2005, p. 706). In this context, the questions of the extent to which and in what form the global cultural content reaches different countries, and how it determines the socialisation peculiarity of the young generation, gains a new meaning.

Our subjects of interest include the young generation both from the former Eastern bloc in Europe and from Asian countries undergoing a systemic transformation. As a result of the processes of globalisation, the youth in these countries are exposed to similar offers and models, which today are addressed to the youth as a whole; but a lack of one’s own moral code, which has not been developed yet by the processes of transformation, additionally strengthens this effect. At the same time, differing living conditions for the youth, as well as varying developmental perspectives of the particular countries, mean that, in the poorer ones, where processes of changes occur less intensely, the peak of aspirations is surely lower and faces minor frustrations. Nevertheless, here, regardless of local possibilities and conditions, the world of young people’s aspirations shifts the limits of life satisfaction above the standards from the past, and it is becoming both a source of positive change as well as problems, the latter of which frequently stem from the youth’s own native culture. This allows for the presumption that the pressure of the youth on the system will be growing in the (post)communist countries, although it will be different in each of them. We would like to comprehend these processes and describe them, with particular reference to their systemic peculiarity and socio-cultural variety.

In selecting the units / countries we could refer to one of the two classic procedures for benchmarking schemes – to a scheme of the most similar systems or to a scheme of most dissimilar systems (Przeworski, Teune 1983). Sociologists believe that “best samples for comparative studies are composed of the most similar systems” (in our case that would be the countries of communist past under political transformation). According to this scheme, “a multitude of common properties … makes that a possibility of external variables, although unknown and still strong, is considerably decreasing” (Naroll, 1968). Observations in the sample selected in that way are made from the system’s level and the objects of interest are both similarities and differences. Common features are considered control variables ← 15 | 16 → and differences are perceived as “explaining” variables. Inferences assume that if there are some differences between the systems they cannot be explained by the common features (resulting from the communist past and the fact of the political system’s transformation) but another system of variables corresponding with the observed differences (e.g. different transformation models, level of economic development, social stratification). This pattern does not provide one independent variable responsible for the occurrence of differences. Only inference on the basis of accompanying changes is possible.

Another type of analyses and inferences is possible thanks to the pattern of the systems of maximum dissimilarity. Here, the systems are compared from the level of individuals, the selected social group, social community or – as in our case – generation. Since the observed groups represent the same population, systemic factors are not necessary for explaining their behaviour, but that does not mean they are completely unnecessary. They can be omitted as long as it is possible to legitimately formulate general statements without them. The level of analysis changes immediately after we have realised that formulating a general statement, true for all the subgroups, is impossible. Then we ex post facto use the strategy of accompanying changes, and the observed intrasystemic differences are explained by intersystemic differences (Przeworski, Teune, p. 296).

While the first pattern is based on a belief that when comparing similar systems one theoretically finds significant differences between them and that these differences can be used to explain a dependent variable, according to the second pattern, despite intersystemic differences, the observed groups (here: youth in post-communist countries) differ only due to the fact of a limited number of variables of relations and they are therefore generally similar. This is not an easy choice; both schemes (each one in its own way) offer attractive models of inference and analysis. Eventually, we decided to use the pattern of the systems of maximum similarity with regard to a possibility of determining theoretically promising explaining variables related to – most of all – differentiating influence of local models of transformation and also a different level of development or cultural specificity of a particular country.

Treating the post-communist countries as a specific space of common political core, we do not forget that they have taken various transformative paths and have different problems to solve. By transformation we understand – generally – a shift from a less to a more liberal system. This shift may concern the whole system (economy, political institutions, ideology) or only certain areas (e.g. economic principles). These changes may take place with the participation of many social players (state, civil society), or under control of the state. As a result, we ← 16 | 17 → have a model of complete, wide-ranging civic transformation – covering all the spheres of life (economy, politics, culture) and engaging a broad spectrum of equal players; a model of limited statist transformation – implemented from the state’s level and only concerning the economic sphere; and the model of wide-ranging statist transformation – allowing for changes in many spheres, including a political system’s change with a state as a leading player. The model of limited civic transformation is the empty set (see Table 1).

The first model, focused on a vision of democratic capitalism, is represented by post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. There are five of those in our project – apart from Poland, there are Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, and Germany (German Eastern lands). Such a great number of countries included in this category results from different systemic properties and boundary conditions of transformation which can be of interpretative significance. The second, opposing model of limited transformation with a leading role of the party-state and the vision of the so-called national market economy is implemented by Asian post-communist countries, represented by China and Vietnam in the project. The third model is a path taken by Russia which was also selected for the research.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
Young generation Prolonged youth Socialisation Glocalisation Political transformation Post-communist countries
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 391 pp., 8 fig. col., 66 fig. b/w, 49 tables

Biographical notes

Krystyna Szafraniec (Author) Jarosław Domalewski (Author) Krzysztof Wasielewski (Author) Paweł Szymborski (Author) Marcin Wernerowicz (Author)

Krystyna Szafraniec is a professor at the Institute of Sociology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Poland). She leads a team of multigenerational researchers who analyse modern Polish society in terms of socialisation, educational and generational processes. Besides, she manages interdisciplinary research projects about the youth and young adults. The co-authors Jarosław Domalewski, Krzysztof Wasielewski, Paweł Szymborski and Marcin Wernerowicz are associated with the same institute at Nicolaus Copernicus University.


Title: The Me-Generation in a Post-Collectivist Space
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