Pacific Sociological Association’s
90th Annual Meetings/Conference
Thursday, March 28 to Sunday, March 31, 2019
in Oakland, California, at the Marriott Downtown/City Center
THEME: “Engaging Millennials: Researching and Teaching about Power, Diversity, and Change”
PRESIDENT: Elaine Bell Kaplan, University of Southern California
VICE PRESIDENT: Kathy Kuipers, University of Montana
PROGRAM CHAIR: Sharon Davis, University of La Verne
The Millennial Leftists Are Emerging: Are Sociologists Ready for Them?
Recently, I filled out a survey that asked me “What is your gender? Select up to two. What is your race/ethnicity? Select up to two.” We have choices here, the questions implied. What a unique idea!
This discussion of Millennials, including the Z generation (born between 1997 and 2000) is part of a new generation who became adults in this millennium/century (Pew Center Research, 2019). To some, the word “Millennial” sounds like a dirty word. The “M” word, let’s call it. Unfortunately, being associated with this word comes with a few negative connotations—whether deserved or not. Often, those connotations extend to the way Millennials are viewed as the “me” generation, who expect more than they deserve. One especially pervasive trope about Millennials is that they’re inherently narcissistic, as documented by their attachment to their phones, their penchant for selfies, and their desire to share every aspect of their lives online. Despite these negative stereotypes, according to my research and that of others, we are encountering a generation that is willing to challenge the status quo.
The theme of the 2019 PSA meeting “Engaging Millennials: Researching and Teaching about Power, Diversity, and Change,” is my attempt to generate research and other work on the Millennial generation. Karl Mannheim’s essay in “The Problem of Generations” (1923) suggests that the notion of generation is widely used in everyday world to make sense of differences between age groupings in society and to locate individual selves and other persons within a historical time.
As Mannheim argues, we need to pay more attention to the significance of each generation by focusing on issues having to do with the relationship between personal and social change: We need to understand the mechanism of social change and the socio-psychological connections of age and knowledge. Social change in sociology means the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure, characterized by changes in cultural symbols, rules of behavior, social organizations, or value systems. A number of studies show that the Millennials are much more progressive than any generation since the early 1960s. This group has been described as being likely to move the country leftward for decades to come (Pew Center Research 2014). President Obama’s election was the first in which the 18- to 29-year-old age group was drawn exclusively from the Millennial generation. In the 2018 Midterm election, more than 3.3 million voters from the 18-29 age group voted early—a 188 percent increase from 2014. In 2020—the first presidential election where all Millennials will have reached voting age—this generation will be 103 million strong, of which about 90 million will be eligible voters.
But there is a critical issue that we should note. Several analysts have suggested that there is a gathering storm. Some Millennials believe, especially those in academia, that social science is tied to old theories and ideologies about race and gender, among other inconsistencies. These old ideas, as they see it, do not resonate with their views regarding equity. This view suggests that Millennials will continue to challenge the status quo. It may be that in the future most surveys will support multiple gender and race identities. Several questions come to mind. How do we, as sociologists with our sense of history and other issues such as racial and gender inequality, help them along the way? Are we ready for this generation? Are they ready for us? —President Elaine Bell Kaplan