Maatschappijleer is er om de leerlingen te laten functioneren in de samenleving. Een interview met Henk A. Becker
Prof.dr. Henk A. Becker (1933) kijkt opgewekt naar de toekomst. Natuurlijk, ook hij weet dat het er op dit moment niet alleen maar rooskleurig aan toegaat in de samenleving, maar hij ziet de contouren van een nieuwe generatie in opkomst waar hij een positief levensbeeld aan durft te ontlenen.
Auke van der Berg: U noemde een paar keer dat er een schok gaat komen met de nieuwe generatie twintigers. Wat voor schok?
Henk Becker: Dat ze, bijna alle leden van Generatie Z, ongelooflijk meer kennis en vaardigheden ten aanzien van het hanteren van computers hebben dan de vorige generaties.
Daar kunnen ze feitelijk gebruik van maken bijvoorbeeld door ook in het Engels te werken terwijl ze in Nederland zitten. Je kunt je brood verdienen. Of denk aan de jonge Roemenen die programmeren voor Nederlandse ondernemingen. Wat voor die Nederlandse ondernemingen uiteraard belangrijk is omdat de salarissen daar aanmerkelijk lager zijn.
Dat is een praktische vertaling. Het is ook de generatie die op grote schaal de mogelijkheid heeft om op verschillende manieren kennis tot zich nemen. Wat voor invloed heeft dat?
Daardoor zullen ze veel meer dingen kunnen uitvoeren. Op een andere manier geld verdienen dan vorige generaties. Dat studenten via digitale communicatiemiddelen eenzame ouderen begeleiden. De mogelijkheden om je maatschappelijk nuttig te maken, om geld te verdienen, zijn enorm uitgebreid.
Is daar uw optimisme op gestoeld? Ondanks deze warrige tijden.
Ja, omdat de mogelijkheden om actief te zijn, om je geld te verdienen om een reputatie op te bouwen, zo ongelooflijk zijn toegenomen. Daar zit het positieve in.
Maar dit is ook de tijd waarin we worden geconfronteerd met een overvloed aan informatie, op allerlei niveaus. Wat voor invloed heeft dat op ons gedrag?
Dat is onderzoek voor specialisten. Maar voor iedereen in de samenleving, die bijna iedere dag het woord generatie tegenkomt, is het één van de denkwerelden waarmee hij zijn omgeving begrijpt. En waarmee hij op die omgeving inspeelt.
Hoe leer je daarmee om te gaan?
Door te kiezen voor maatschappijleer. Maatschappijleer is er om de leerlingen te laten functioneren in de samenleving. Het moet één van de belangrijkste vakken worden.
Het vak is op de achtergrond geraakt omdat het relatief makkelijk is op het eindexamen. Wis- en natuurkunde is moeilijk omdat het moeilijk is. En de scholen gebruiken het om discipline af te dwingen.
U bent één van de belangrijkste gezichten van het vakgebied Generatie sociologie. Wat is dat, Generatie sociologie?
Generatie sociologie is een onderdeel van de empirische sociologie. Door generaties in te voegen komt er de tijdsdimensie bij in de discussies en publicaties.
Het boeiendste beeld om aan te geven dat er een tijdsdimensie is, is dat van de python. De slang die een groot aantal konijnen ingeslikt heeft. Langzamerhand schuiven die konijnen door dat slangenlichaam heen. Wat betekent dat de kenmerken van een generatie in de loop van de tijden veranderen omdat de leden ouder worden. Dat proces moet je in de gaten houden.
Het vakgebied kreeg voet aan de grond door het essay Das Problem der Generationen van de Hongaars-Duitse socioloog Karl Mannheim. Mannheim stelde dat een generatie een objectieve sociale formatie is, een aanwijsbare groep in de samenleving. Een gezamelijk beleefde historische gebeurtenis zorgt voor binding binnen een leeftijdsgroep. Zijn essay was het antwoord op allerlei esoterische gedachten over de Zeitgeist die toendertijd in zwang waren. Van Generationsimpuls naar Generationszusammenhang zou je samenvattend kunnen zeggen.
Generatie sociologie is boeiend, maar ook gecompliceerd. Je hebt niet één beeld van een generatie dat hetzelfde is. Je moet denken aan een doos waarin meerdere beelden zitten die langzaam in de tijd opschuiven. Daar zitten ook vaak de vergissingen in het weergeven van de zaak.
Het is een enorm breed terrein waar je je mee bezighoudt. Je hebt gedetailleerde beschrijvingen, bijvoorbeeld van het Centraal Planbureau of het Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. Daarnaast heb je vereenvoudigde beelden, zogenaamde idealisaties. Wat je in de kranten tegenkomt, zijn meestal idealisaties. Dus de kenmerken van een groep.
In het algemeen spraakgebruik kom je het woord generatie dagelijks tegen. Of de vereenvoudiging, leeftijdscategorieën. De dertigers, veertigers, enzovoorts. Iedereen die in de samenleving functioneert, is in zekere mate generatie-socioloog, zou je kunnen zeggen.
Bonus chapter 2016 – 1
Short alert concerning the discussion about generations
Bonus chapter 2016 – 2
The ICT-generation, also Virtual Generation
Bonus chapter 2016 – 3
Generations and the future of distance workers
Bonus chapter 2016 – 4
Life-history of a workaholic, autobiography of the author
Supplement concerning: Henk A. Becker: ‘Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs, strategies for assertive growing up, active ageing and intergenerational solidarity up to 2030’. Amsterdam 2011, Rozenberg Publishers. Paperback and e-book.
We come across the word ‘generation’ nearly every day, in various places. In discussions, in the media, in books. Often we know immediately what it is about, which is odd, as generations are extremely complex phenomena. This complexity causes discussions about generations in social sciences to remain fierce. This short alert is an attempt to give a concise summary of the discussion.
Starting point for this alert is the book Generaties van Geluksvogels en Pechvogels (Generations of lucky dogs and the unfortunate), which I had published in 2011. As the pattern of generations changes continuously, I made this book a ‘living document’. This implies that I frequently publish supplements to this book. These supplements appear on the website of the publisher of the book.
In this short alert I summarize the current discussion. This summary is particularly important as the pattern of generations is about to change intensively worldwide. By the end of July 2016 a report will be published, indicating in what way recent innovations in the IT sector influence the pattern of generations.
As this concerns extremely complex phenomena, it is essential to involve three areas of knowledge in the discussion. The first knowledge area are the descriptions of the generation pattern and are dynamics. This is mainly about the research reports and scientific reflections. The second knowledge area ensure the necessary idealisations. Especially a typology of generations is indispensable. The third knowledge area informs us about the discussion with regard to generations occurring in our society. What do TV, newspapers and magazines bring forward?
2. Descriptions of the pattern of generations
Our society has over one hundred years of birth. The higher the age of the people involved, the smaller the ‘cohorts’. This clearly applies for the members of society who are over one hundred years of age. The more than one hundred cohorts shift in time annually. Often this shifting is accompanied by changes in the structure of the cohorts. These processes are for example shown as the movement of a rabbit that was eaten by a snake. Slowly the rabbit sinks into the bowels of the snake, while it is being digested.
In addition it is important that every time some cohorts cluster into a generation. Such clusters are formed under the influence of great social changes (‘major events’). There is no official acknowledgement of generations. As a result the social and scientific discussion decides about the question whether there is a generation. In any case these debates ensure an extensive flow of books and articles.
3.Idealisations of the pattern of generations
Studying and discussing such complex phenomena does not only require detailed scientific and generally social texts. In addition simplified models are essential. Therefore a typology of generations is available. A stereotype of every generation within the typology is assimilated.
The idealisations of the pattern of generations changes over the years. After all they are required to correspond with the changes that the generations themselves undergo each time. In connection with these changes I adjusted the typology of generations time after time in my book. Below I indicate how I presented the typology in 1992 and in 2011.
Cohorts born between 1910 and 1930
Name in 1992: pre-warGeneration
Name in 2011: pre-warGeneration
Cohorts born between 1930 and 1945
Name in 1992: Silent Generation (During the Cultural Revolution of the sixties, and later the struggle was between the mature adults and the rebellious youth over the heads of the Silent Generation. The Silent Generation largely remained silent).
Name 2011: Silent Generation (The name remained unchanged)
Cohorts born between 1945 and 1955
Name in 1992: Protest generation (See above about the struggle during the Cultural Revolution)
Name in 2011: Early Baby-boom generation (Protests have escaped the attention. Baby-boomers are currently relatively very confident. The start of their working life went relatively favourable. Gradually the extent of their cohorts has shown relatively many social effects).
Cohorts born between 1955 and 1970
Name in 1992: Lost Generation (The term ‘lost’ could imply ‘losing the way’ but also it mean ‘prospectless’, for instance in terms of finding a job).
Name in 2011: Late Baby-boomgeneration (Less great effects on the great extent of cohorts, therefore: Late).
Cohorts born between 1970 and 1985
Name in 1992: Pragmatic Generation.
Name in 2011: Pragmatic Generation, Generation X
Cohorts born between 1985 and 1995
Name in 1992: Generation Y;
Name in 2011: Unlimited Generation, Generation Y
Cohorts born after 1995>
Name in 1992: None
Name in 2011: ICT-Generation (Also: Generation )Z. By the end of June 2016 it will become clear from which year this generation can be observed).
As far as the ‘Patatgeneratie’ (Fish ‘n Chips generation) is concerned, I refer to Wikipedia. I, myself do not use that name.
4 Generations in society
Time after time research takes place, based on the question: what generation names are recognized by members of society? Investigating generations and drawing up typologies of generations is systematically done in accordance with these society customs wherever possible.
A fascinating example of this is the article ‘Vrijheid blijheid voor altijd’? (‘Freedom and happiness for always’). This appeared in Elsevier magazine on 21 May 2016. The youngsters in the article, presented as an illustration, are all between 17 and 30 years old. In secondary school they were prepared by means of the idea: ‘Do whatever you like, and you will be alright. Follow your heart. The world is at your feet. You can be whatever you want to be’.
In the ‘Introduction’ to this alert it was announced that soon the generation pattern worldwide will experience a shock. By publishing the effect of the break-out of the IT-revolution on youngsters, who are at that time in their formative timeframe. Think about the grandsons of grandfathers, who give their granddads the required assistance while dealing with a computer or another digitally functioning device. This will concern a cluster of young cohorts of such an apparent feature that the generation sociology will finally obtain a categorically convincing example of the emergence and survival of a generation.
Ever since the rise of the generation sociology some hundred years ago, this specialism has been facing continuous fierce criticism. In our day and age we still hear the statement: ‘Henk Becker’s generation sociology is too vague’. The generation sociologists should not only refute the criticism, but also benefit from it as much as possible. The attention for generation sociology are very much alive, due to fierce debates. This attention will also be retained because of the aforementioned announced break in the trend and the consequences in society.
Henk A. Becker (1992).’Generaties en hun Kansen’.Amsterdam: Meulenhoff
Henk A. Becker (2011). ‘Generaties van Geluksvogels en Pechvogels: Strategieën voor assertief opgroeien, actief ouder wordenen intergenerationele solidariteit tot 2030’. (Met een Woord Vooraf van Paul Schnabel).Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. Paperback en e-book. Sinds 2011 als ‘living document’ beschikbaar, op de website van de uitgever. (rozenbergquarterly.com/category/europe generations).
Idem, ‘Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs: Strategies for assertive growing up, active ageing and intergenerational solidarity up to 2030’. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. Paperback and e-book. As ‘living document’ available on the website of the Publisher.
Frits Spangenberg en Martijn Lampert (2011). ‘De grenzelose generatieen de opmars van de B.V.IK’. Amsterdam: Nieuw Amsterdam.
Over de onmisbaarheid van idealisaties zie: Broer, H., J. Van de Craatsen F. Verhulst (1995). ‘Chaostheorie: het einde van de voorspelbaarheid?’. Utrecht: Epsilon Uitgaven.
In the Netherlands about one thousand schoolchildren are sick and have to stay at home. An organisation called ‘Classcontact’ is responsible for the communication between the healthy and the sick members of the classes. All members of a class communicate with eachother by video conferencing. This arrangement aims at avoiding that the sick children feel lonely and that they get excluded from the lessons.
This arrangement is possible because these schoolchildren belong to cohorts that have experienced the ICT-revolution during the formatieve period in their lifecourse (1). The children belong to the ICT-Generation’, also called virtual generation (2). Members of this generation have in this period profited from a relatively high level of intelligence and a relatively high memory capacity. They will profit from these experiences during the rest of their lifecourse, although the impact will shrink and the content will change somewhat in the course of time.
In this bonus chapter I will first discuss the charateristics we can expect of the ICT-generation in the future, looking at a number of areas in society. Second, I will look at the strategies that will have to be applied. Third, the perspectives for the ICT-generation will be explored.
2.Areas of activities
The first area to be discussed is education. All members of the virtual generation will profit substantially from the experiences during their formative period. They have learned much about virtual communication and about handling computers. They have also acquired a relatively high level of communicating in English.
They will profit much from distance learning. An example of this kind of education are the Open Universities active in many countries in the Western World. Also distance learning will enrich the opportunities on the labour market for youngsters in developing countries a soon as they try to find a job in a developed country. These opportunities will lead to government meaures to keep them in their home country and to avoid migration to a developed country. If they live in a safe area, there will be no reasons for emigration. We are confronted here with a structual reduction of mass migration towards developed countries.
Also training and coaching will have an important impact upon the lifecourses of the ICT-generation. The members of this generation will try hard to acquire knowhow about practical activities. In particular coaching will improve their opportunities on the labour market. An example of coaching in schools was presented at the beginning of this bonus chapter.
The opportunities involved are present in particular in the area of administration. Already in our time many enterprises in the Netherlands and other Western countries engage administrative workers in countries like Rumania and Slovacia in programming in the sector of administration and bookkeeping.
Furthermore medical care presents many examples of distance work suited for members of the ICT-generation. As an example we can take handling of care-robots at a distance. This activity requires knowhow about robotica. This kind of knowhow the members of the ICT-generation can acquire without too much trouble.
As a last example we will take a look at surveyance. For instance surveyance by cameras.
In the next five to ten years of its existence the ICT-generation will have to design and practice strategies that
first, provide optimal profits of the abilities of its members in handling ICT,
second, lead to optimal profits from distance workers worldwide,
third, lead to optimal cooperation with members of other generations,
fourth, reduce mass migration of economic refugees living in safe areas.
In the area of education in the next five to ten years the members of the ICT-generaion will not have yet enough training and experience to act as high-quality teachers. The members of this generation will contribute assistance that requires strategies that will be inspired by the practices described in the beginning of this bonus chapter, dealing with the support of schoolchildren that have to stay at home.
The same kind of strategies is required in the area of training. Members of the ICT-generation need strategies to act as assistants. For instance training in handling knowledge and know-how regarding the pattern of generations. This training will be supported by the book Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs.
With regard to coaching the members of the ICT-generation will in the next five to ten years already be able to act on a high level. As an example we can take the coaching of economic refugees that are admitted to developed countries. Distance work based on ICT will take place worldwide.
Next administration requires our attention. In bonus chapter 2016-3 experiences with distance programming are described. Young experts living in a country in the East of Europe contibute programming to enterprises situated in the Netherlands, England and other countries in the Western World.
In the area of medical care members of the ICT-generation can support patients that have to stay at home. They will supervise these patients and organize social contacts.The same kind of distance work can be practiced to support senior citizens living alone and in need of social contacts. These activities require strategies inspired by activities already existent.
Also surveyance will have to be contributed by members of the ICT-generation. In particular surveyance based on cameras. For instance camera surveyance in the centers of our large cities. In Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs examples of Amsterdam are presented.
These strategies require a lot of support. For instance if the producing position or the receiving position cannot be reached by daylight. Often night shifts will be require.
We may expect that the European Commission will stimulate pilot studies and will contribute to the finances required for these activities.
We also expect that distance work will grow fast in the next years. Furthermore we expect that the book Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlcky Dogs will contribute substantial to these developments.
A lot of problems still require attention. For instance we need safeguarding of the copyrights of specific texts published in a living document.
First. I will send this version of Bonus Chapter 2016-2 to a translation bureau to correct my mistakes in the use of the English language.
Furthermore, I will supplement Bonus Chapter 2016-3 with new information.
Also, I will add new information to my autobiography.
(1) Henk A. Becker (2011) Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. Page 33.
(2) IT Generation, Barendrecht.
A distance worker performs his work at the ‘production position’. The results of his work emerge at the ‘outcome position’, at a distance from the production position. An example is a series of guest lectures I presented at the University of Johannesburg. I lectured in Utrecht in a video conference center. The students were located in South Africa. After a few minutes, I forgot that I was speaking to a glass screen. I could see and hear the students’ reactions to my presentation. The male students participated a bit more actively than their female colleagues. To support my lectures, I had distributed a set of handouts in advance.
In this essay, I will first discuss the dynamics of the Pattern of Generations. These dynamics will structure the future of distance workers substantially. I will base this discussion on my research program on generations, active since 1983. Secondly, I will present several examples of distance activities. Thirdly, the future of distance workers will be discussed in detail.
The Pattern of Generations and its Dynamics
The concept of generations has been a part of our cultural heritage for many centuries. We can define a generation as: ‘the clustering of a set of birth cohorts as an effect of one or more major events in society’.  The impact of major events is particularly strong during the formative period of the life course. The formative period is from around age twelve to seventeen. In this period intelligence and memory capacity reach their highest level in the life course. 
In 2015, the pattern of generations can be represented by a number of idealizations.  The ‘Silent Generation’ is birth cohorts from 1930 to 1945. The ‘Early Babyboom Generation’ is cohorts born from 1945 to 1955. The ‘Late Babyboom Cohorts’ go from 1955 to 1980. The ‘Pragmatic Generation’, also called ‘Generation X, is situated between 1980 and 1990. ‘Generation Y’ goes from 1990 to 2000’, and ‘Generation Z’ starts in 2000.
The dynamics of generations are represented by the changes over time that each generation experiences. Take the ‘Early Babyboom Generation’ for instance. In its formative period it experienced the emergence of ICT. In its formative period, ‘Generation Z’ will experience the impact of substantial improvements in ICT, combined with a substantial increase in command of the English language.
Generations can be discussed with the aid of idealizations. Another type of generation consists of the results of empirical research in sociology and related social sciences. Third, we are confronted with the images of generations in everyday life. .
Examples of Distance Workers
First of all, distance workers in education demand our attention. At the start of this essay, I mentioned a series of guest lectures delivered from the University of Utrecht and received at the University of Johannesburg. This is one example of the many kinds of education being provided at a distance. Nowadays, many universities offer their lectures on the Internet. Institutes in higher education increasingly offer online courses. Professors’ discussions with students are held by e-mail or virtual conferences. In most cases the English language is used.
More and more education takes place within developed countries and from developed countries towards developing countries. We also encounter distance workers operating within developing countries, or from these countries towards other developed counties. Often, high level distance workers teach in cooperation with low level distance workers.
Second, we encounter consultation and coaching by distance workers towards their clients. This is provided by e-mail or virtual conferences for instance. In this case also, distance workers operate within a developed country or towards a developing country. And again, developing countries may act internally or towards developed countries.
Third, distance workers are engaged in creating and distributing products and services. Products are created online more and more. Increasingly, the products and services offered can be ordered on the Internet. Distance workers are responsible in these cases for the creation and distribution of these products and services. As a rule, these products and services are accompanied by the availability of a ‘call center’. An experienced distance worker will generally be available at a call center.
Fourth, health care is part of the distance worker phenomenon. This occurs within or from a developed or a developing country. This health care is provided by high or low level distance workers. Cooperation between high and low level specialists is often involved. Care for hospital patients is frequently provided now by large numbers of health robots supervised virtually by a team of distance workers.
As a fifth example, we can mention supervision. For instance, supervision by cameras. What is registered by the cameras is analyzed virtually. The outcomes of the virtual analyses are supervised by distance workers. If required, these distance workers take action.
Distance Workers in the Next Decades
In order to discuss the future activities of distance workers we will start by summarizing the assumptions behind this discussion. Our first assumption is the prediction that the members of younger cohorts, born after 1990, are highly skilled in handling ICT and using the English language. Second, we assume that members of cohorts born before 1990 are able to handle ICT and English as well, but at a lower level. Third, we assume that the members of all cohorts concerned show interest in employment as distance workers. Fourth, we assume that over the next decades the number of safe regions will have increased. These developments can be predicted as a result of military actions against terrorist organizations like IS.
Next we will take a look at the hypotheses that predict the outcomes of policy activities in developed and developing countries. First, we predict that inhabitants of safe regions will be effectively motivated to stay in these regions. This primarily because political and economic refugees will largely be disappointed about staying in the countries they are living in. Second, because European countries will successfully refuse economic immigrants because they would do better staying in their original area. Third, because European countries will successfully refuse most political migrants because they would do better going to safe areas in developing countries.
These hypotheses are primarily based on the behavior of distance workers. The working lives of these distance workers involve a great deal of ‘hidden resources’. They could decide on a much larger scale to participate in distance work, as we have argued in the second paragraph and also in the third paragraph.
This essay is supported by ‘existential proof’ (Existentsbeweis, in German). Distance work in education already takes place on a large scale in many countries. As a next step, more distance work can be explored in other areas, such as commercial activities, health care, etc.
The emergence of distance workers is already on its way, although at a low speed. National and international governmental strategies could substantially speed up the rise of distance work. Nevertheless, it will be many years before the reduction of economic and political immigration towards European countries is sufficiently reduced. 
Henk A. Becker
 Henk A. Becker (2012). Generaties van Geluksvogels en Pechvogels: Strategieën voor assertief opgroeien, actief ouder worden en intergenerationelesolidariteit tot 2030. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. Periodieke aanvulling met bonushoofdstukken. Zie: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/caterogy/europegenerations. Paperback and e-book. Also, Henk A. Becker (2012). Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs: Strategies for assertive growing up, active ageing and intergenerational solidarity up to 2030. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. Periodically supplemented by bonus chapters. Seehttp://rozenbergquarterly.com/category/europegenerations. Paperback and e-book.
 Shu-Chen Ki, Ulman Lindenberger Bernhard Hommel, Gisa Aschersleben, Wolfgang Priz, and Paul B. Baltes. ‘Transformations in the Couplings Among Intellectual Abilities and Constituent Cognitive Processes Across the Life Span’.Psychological Science, Volume 15-Number 3, 2004.
 Henk Broer, Jan van de Craats en Ferdinand Verhulst (2008). Chaostheorie: het einde van de voorspelbaarheid? Utrecht Epsilon Uitgaven. Page 141 e.v.
 See Note 1.
Workaholic as a self-image
This autobiography revolves around the question of how the development as a workaholic has proceeded. It also discusses how this pattern of behaviour has persisted. This autobiography mentions family members only in passing. This should protect their privacy.
My roots (around 1880 – 1932)
The figurehead of my ancestry is Simon de Vries. He was the son of a carpenter from Westzaan. At the VU University he became ‘mr. in de rechten’, Master of Laws. He graduated during a time when the VU could not yet give academic titles. So he continued his studies with the University of Amsterdam, where he became a Doctor of Laws. Dr S. de Vries Czn founded a law firm at Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. From 1916 to 1920 he was the Minister of Finance for the Anti-Revolutionary Party. That was during the second cabinet of Ruys de Beerenbroek.
My grandfather opted for a systematic existence. Parsimony, thrift and ambition were the pillars of his life. His first wife was ‘Dikkie’, an unmistakable Burgundian. Two sons of the couple were also strongly Burgundian. The youngest son resembled his father in that he was a clear conformist. This means that he observed the rules of parsimony, thrift and working hard. The two daughters, including my mother, were only slightly Burgundian.
Shortly after the First World War the De Vries family was hospitable to a number of German pale-faces. Some time later the daughters of De Vries were invited to stay with the parents of these children in Wesel. One day a neighbour stopped by. My mother, Doppie, and the neighbour, Hans, fell in love at first sight. Many years later they were married.
Early youth (1933 – 1945)
I was born in 1933 in Greifswald. My father was a doctor of theoretical physics and at that time he worked with the University of Greifswald. In 1935 my brother Peter was born. Shortly after, my father was offered a position with the Siemens firm in Berlin. The family moved to an apartment in the district of Berlin-Siemensstadt.
Across from our apartment building there was a primary school. When I was six, I started my educational career there. From the first day on my father always warned me: ‘One wrong word and we’ll all end up in a concentration camp’. He called the then-head of state ‘der Wahnsinnskandidat’. My father has never been in the military and he was not a member of the political party that dominated the scene at the time.
During my whole life at school there was an air alarm every night. Every time we had to hide in the underground shelter below the apartment building. When we heard the whistling of falling bombs, we knew they wouldn’t fall on us. If they’d fall on us, we would not hear them coming.
For several months my mother, my brother and I resided in a village in Bavaria. My fellow classmates hated people from the north. They called me ‘du Saubub du dreckiger’.
Some years later we were evacuated to the village of Bernstein, east of the Oder in what is now Poland. Towards the end of the war this area was occupied by Russian forces. The victors behaved in a horrible way, especially by raping. I still think back occasionally to the local apothecary wife. She and her children had committed suicide. After they drugged themselves, the 16-year-old daughter was the only one to wake up. She hid with a group of women and children to which we also belonged. She was disguised as well as possible as a very young girl. A couple of Russian soldiers discovered it. In my mind I still hear the desperate sobbing of the girl as the soldiers dragged her away. We never saw her again.
I also remember the rape of a woman by a Russian officer. Panicked, she tried to jump down from a second floor window, but she was caught up in the bars. Screaming loudly she was pulled back in. The further course of the encounter is not hard to guess.
Finally my mother, my brother and I returned to Berlin. We travelled partly by foot, partly by train. At one point Russian and Polish soldiers were shooting at each other, right through the train. Despite everything, we managed to reach Berlin. In the middle of the night we stood before our apartment building. In our flat at the first floor, a light was burning. When we reached the front door and knocked, strangers answered. We were told that my father wasn’t there anymore.
My father had been at work with Siemens when in the room next to his a colleague was tortured by Russian soldiers. Later that day my father committed suicide in our flat. The colleague was taken away by the Russians shortly after that. No one has ever heard from him again. These events have led me to conclude that my father was wise to commit suicide.
After we returned to Berlin, we returned to our apartment. We lived there for some time. My mother worked as a secretary with the Dutch Military Mission with the ‘Allied Control Council’. Some months later we could go to the Netherlands. My grandfather had been remarried and lived in Wassenaar. ‘Oma Betje’ was not a Burgundian, but a conformist, like my grandfather.
My school years (1946 – 1953)
Just after the war it was wise to hide that you were German. To have my brother and me integrate as quickly and thoroughly as possible, my grandfather came up with a trick. He kept us off the streets in Wassenaar for a few months. During those months we were taught Dutch every day. The texts we read discussed the Dutch language, Dutch history and Dutch topography. Finally we had to copy the corrected texts. This allowed me to learn the Dutch language well enough to pass as a native within a few months. After about half a year my brother and I were sent to the Christian MULO in Wassenaar. I graduated within four years.
One day my grandfather told two of our uncles: ‘My grandchildren are not worth anything’. This made me furious. It was a frustration that had me in its grip for a long time. I see this remark of my grandfather’s as the first seed for me becoming a workaholic. My direct response was that I started looking for a job. First I became the youngest assistent ever in a large law firm in The Hague. Just a month later I worked my way up to solicitor clerk. Many more jobs followed in the administrative industry. In evenings and on weekends I followed a course for the national HBA-A exam. In the classroom I sat all the way at the back. When I was about to fall asleep, my head would knock against the wall. I passed the national exam in 1953. It was a result that hooked me.
Studying years (1954 – 1959)
After that my life changed dramatically. I moved to Leiden to study law. My mother and a cousin of hers provided me with the necessary monetary means. My new life included membership with one of the main students’ association of Leiden, the Leidsch Studentencorps. I started with participating in the so-called green time. Unfortunately the evenings in the Minerva Society displayed quite some similarities to my time under Russian occupation. A relatively high percentage of senior society members divulged in drunkenness and sadism. There was a ‘committee of support’ to represent the greenlings, but it didn’t do much. One specific evening springs to mind. The members of the committee were completely drunk and dancing on a table. One of the members waved about wildly with his walking cane. He hit me with the iron tip of the stick, right above the eye. So I just barely dodged being blinded in one eye. To be able to defend myself after my green time, I took boxing lessons. When I completed the course, I could have defended myself against the sadists. Instead I started to wonder: do I actually like this? My answer to that question was negative. I stopped my membership of the LSC.
One time my brother, Peter, gave me a snippet with an English article on ‘the silent generation’. This article made me curious. I attended lectures by Van Heek, a professor in sociology. In a sociology class I wrote an essay on an aspect of generations. One of the assistants noted: ‘It’s almost as if Henk Becker has been studying sociology for years.’ This experience made me decide to switch from law to sociology. After four years I completed my doctoral exam in sociology with a cum laude assessment. Some years before, I had already accepted a job with the Ministry of Social Work in The Hague. At the Binnenhof I worked with the Research and Policy department.
During my study period I met Johanna Enzlin, a sociology student. In 1959 we married. At Rapenburg we became the managing couple of a house of the Student Housing Association. Every workday I travelled to The Hague by train to fulfil my job as a policy consultant.
The Rotterdam Bank Association had gifted a hundred thousand guilders to the Netherlands School of Economics in Rotterdam to conduct research on the professionalisation of management. The Social Faculty of the School named me the project leader of this study. After four years the project was finished and I was given the opportunity to complete my doctoral degree with the final report. By then I had already been appointed lecturer of policy sociology.
At that time the Utrecht University released an advertisement in which they were looking for a professor of sociology. I gathered the courage to apply for this position. I was incredibly happy to be appointed professor at that university.
Professorship (1968 – 1998)
My title was ‘professor of sociology, especially social research methodology’. So I was given a content-related and a methodological position. I added a third task to this list myself: ‘the state-of-the-art in sociology’. I called this construction a tripod, which had the goal of preventing a one-sided specialisation. I started my professorship during a period that allowed professors quite much space to play around. In a book by Helmut Schelsky this construction was described as ‘Einsamkeit und Freiheit’.
I started my professorship in a turbulent period. The radical left-wing students fought the establishment of professors. Newly appointed, relatively young professors had nothing to do with it and could do little about it. And there were quite many of those. The Netherlands has fought the student revolution of the late sixties of the last century with a relatively costly extinguisher: appointing many relatively young professors.
My first lecture was disrupted by revolting students. In those years I was energetic enough to have strong mental armour. Enthusiastically I helped construct a new course programme for sociology. Many international textbooks were ordered.
My home situation also saw some changes. My wife and I moved to Doorn. We had two daughters. It was easy for me to reach the university area of De Uithof by car. From my office on the thirteenth floor I had a great view of the university buildings and the meadows around them.
When it comes to research, my first major project focused on the careers of academics in university education and research positions. I myself conducted a part of the research with thirty case studies. The second researcher managed a large-scale quantitative research. The sociologist Peter de Rooij was responsible for the third part of the research: a comparative study. He achieved his doctoral degree for his work on this project.
The results of the thirty case studies have been published. But the findings of the large-scale quantitative study have unfortunately remained unused. The researcher responsible faced a writer’s block and refused to publish the data. He didn’t even want to make the data available for processing by third parties. The failure of the second part of the project is the main failure of my empirical activities. Unfortunately I could not prevent this.
At the start of the 1980s I focused on the study of the generational pattern of society. In 1983 my first article was published in an academic journal. In 1992 I published the book ‘Generaties en hun Kansen’ (‘Generations and their Opportunities’). The book was a success. It was the first widely known book on a relatively new topic in our country. The topic of ‘generations’ has occupied a central position during the rest of my professorship in my academic work. I did not just publish on the topic in Dutch, but also in English and in German. In 1997 I was appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion because of my work.
In 1998 my farewell lecture was titled ‘Discontinuous Changes’. The lecture addressed both discipline-focused and policy-focused research. In the academic world it was intended to break the overvalued preference for explanations based on constant variables and variables changing linearly. In the real world it was intended to break the tradition of not responding or responding too late to a turbulent social environment. The new form of research would be able to take these two hurdles best by presenting examples of successful changes. To this, it also applies that nothing breeds success like success.
Emeritus (1998 plus)
When I entered my emeritus period I continued my activities in academics. In 2012 my book, ‘Generations of Lucky Devils and Unlucky Dogs: Strategies for assertive growing up, active ageing and intergenerational solidarity up to 2030’, was published. It has a preface by Paul Schnabel. Available as a paperback and as e-book, in its original Dutch version as well as translated into English.
With its bonus chapters this book has transformed into a ‘living document’. On the publisher’s website there regularly appear complements to the book. The website is easy to find. (rozenbergquarterly.com/category/europe generations)