This paper revisits Karl Mannheim’s contribution to the sociological understanding of the role of ‘generation’ and ‘youth’ in the processes of change, framing the analysis within his intellectual development. In the first section, Mannheim’s ‘formal’ analysis in his short essay ‘The Problem of Generations’ is presented in the context of his approach to the ‘sociology of knowledge'. Particular attention is paid to the dialectical relationship that he identified between the pace of change and the succession of generations, as well as to the potential contribution of young people to social and cultural change. The second section, moving from the development of his ideas towards a ‘sociology of democratic planning’, considers and discusses the suggestion that youth might be understood as a latent resource and a potential agent of change. This discussion is broadened to consider general issues of youth policies and social education. The overall thrust of the analysis suggests that, more than sixty years after his death, Mannheim’s sociology raises questions and issues still relevant today for the study of generations, youth, and social and cultural change, although many of the issues he illuminated remain unresolved.
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