To tackle the question of communication practice through the generational prism is to think about the notions of age and the notions of life cycle (childhood, youth, old age and the transition between those periods) (Bahuaud, Deval et Pecolo, 2011). A generation sets itself apart the previous generation (it constructs itself by opposition) because of specific cultural and ideological markers; in that sense, it becomes a generation only if it is aware to be one (Attias-Donfut, 1988) even though medias and marketing use and abuse of nicknames to determine a generation. In that sense, to combine communication and generations allows to analyse communicational practices by crossing the impacts of age and of generational profiles. Indeed, it allows considering communication beyond sexual, ethnic and social differences.
Toward a behaviour, an attitude, a conflict, the intergenerational approach is trying to capture the origin, by asking at least two questions: is that because of an “age effect” or more specifically a “generation effect” ? (Bahuaud et Pecolo, 2010)
The effect of age presupposes that some practices can be associated with life cycle, likely to disappear or appear with age. It can be a practice that we leave while growing up or that we adopt while getting older. The “generational effect” explains an attitude through habits that we have since youth and which will last while getting older. To have twenty years old in 2000 or in 1960 isn’t neutral for an individual who is necessary marked by his/her life context. Indeed, society, at a time being, conveys its representations, attitudes and behaviours, as well as functions, at various stage of life. To cross communication and the notion of generation doesn’t mean to divide population in generations (to oppose them in order to distinguish them), it means to focus on what can create social bond, in a communicational point of view.
The intergenerational concept exists since 1980 in conferences about “old age” (Krémer, 2001), and since 1990 in political and social speeches. It refers to others, to the encounter with others, younger or older; it makes each of us an heir or a messenger of memory, of history, of knowledge or even of heritage. (Quéniart et Hurtubise, 2009 ; p. 8).
Beyond the perception of one’s own age or of one neighbour’s age (we are all older or younger than somebody else), the definition of “elderly people” or “youngsters” is subjective. The old age, as well as youth, is only a word, and the social representations of ages go with habits and customs that are assigned to each category. (Pecolo, 2009)