Discourse of generations: The influence of cohort, period and ideology in Americans’ talk about same-sex marriage
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How does cohort affect discourse about same-sex marriage? Existing research shows that both cohort replacement and intra-cohort attitude change are causing public opinion to liberalize, but it has not explained how and why members of different cohorts develop distinct attitudes or how these phenomena vary within cohorts. This article shows how the cultural analysis of social generational change complements demographic studies of cohort replacement to create a more comprehensive solution to Mannheim’s ‘problem of generations’. Qualitative analysis of interviews with two cohorts of Midwestern Americans shows, first, how discourses emerge based on the interaction of cohort and ideology in an informant’s cultural repertoire. Further analysis shows that cohort shapes attitudes about homosexuality because of the mainstream cultural construction of it that informants encountered when they came of age. Finally, in an analysis of exceptional cases, I show that counter-cultural immersion can insulate cohort subgroups from cultural change and that period effects are challenging older liberals to change their pre-existing worldviews. I argue that the analysis of social generational processes, which distinguish the ‘generation as an actuality’ from the cohort, is an essential complement to demographic analysis in generational theory.
Keywordsgeneration cohort homosexuality same-sex marriage discourse public opinion
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