Deconstructing Scandinavia's

Deconstructing Scandinavia's "Achievement Generation": A Youth Mental Health Crisis?


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In this book, Professor Ole Jacob Madsen analyses the implications of Scandinavia's current concern for the mental health problems of adolescents, said to be struggling in the face of increasing demands for achievement and success. It critically examines our understanding of this so-called “achievement generation”, questioning whether today’s youth are really worse off than previous generations and how we have come to believe that this is so.

The author’s wide-ranging investigation draws on a large body of research, as well as considering socio-political, historical and regional factors that might be affecting the resilience and mental health among young people. It also provides original psycholinguistic studies of popular media concepts associated with these issues including: “the achievement generation”, “pathological perfection” and “the good girl syndrome”.

Deconstructing Scandinavia’s “Achievement Generation” presents an engaging contribution to key debates around therapeutic culture and society in the 21st century. It will appeal to students and scholars of critical and social psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy; as well as to those working in education, social work and mental health.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9783030725563
Publisher: Springer Nature B.V.
Publication date: 04/16/2021
Pages: 310
Product dimensions: 5.83(w) x 8.27(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ole Jacob Madsen is Professor of Cultural and Community Psychology at the University of Oslo, Norway. His previous works include: The Therapeutic Turn: How Psychology Altered Western Culture (2014), Optimizing the Self: Social Representations of Self-Help (2015) and The Psychologization of Society: On the Unfolding of the Therapeutic in Norway (2018) and The Routledge International Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures (2020).

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction

What’s new?. 8

How are we, really?. 9

The circle and the line. 11

Left and right 12

A diagnosis for us – a diagnosis for you. 13

The organization of this book. 14

Chapter 2 - The Pathologies of Modernity. 16

Nietzsche’s last human. 17

Marx’s alienation. 18

Durkheim’s anomie. 18

Weber’s iron cage. 19

Freud’s discontentment within culture. 20

Adorno and Horkheimer’s Enlightenment 22

Fromm’s contentment in culture. 22

Rieff’s therapeutic turn. 24

Erikson’s identity crisis. 25

Mitscherlich’s fatherlessness. 25..........................................

Conclusion: the tragic view of life. 26

Chapter 3 - The Pathologies of Late Modernity. 28

Ziehe’s society of choices. 29

Beck’s individualization. 29

Bauman’s liquid modernity. 30

Rosa’s social acceleration. 30

We are not thriving in late capitalism.. 32

Dufour’s anthropological mutation. 33

The market as a new “God”. 34

Between the guilt and the shame. 36

Failure to thrive in the new millennium.. 37

Conclusion. 41

Chapter 4 - Young, Privileged and Sick. 43

Illness experiences from life in late modernity. 45

Norway: “I get so afraid of missing out on myself.”. 45

The road to depression. 46

Self-realization’s exhausting downside. 49

Optimization of the self. 51

Sweden: “You should really make the most of what you’ve received.”. 53

Denmark: “You bloody well better perform well in this society, right?”. 54

Where are we now?. 55

Somewhere over the rainbow.. 57

Conclusion. 58

Chapter 5 - Youth Under Pressure. 60

Suicide in Norway. 61

Suicide among young people. 61

Suicide internationally. 62

Suicide and psychological disorders. 63

Psychological disorders and complaints. 63

Psychological complaints in young people. 65

Why the increase in the reporting of psychological complaints?. 67

Which group of young people is hardest hit?. 68

Use of medication. 69

Self-harm.. 70

Externalising behaviours. 71

The new digital existence. 73

Generational differences. 75

Conclusion. 78

Chapter 6 - Social Representations. 79

The achievement society. 79

The achievement generation. 85

Good girl 90

The good girl – a media history. 91

The good girl syndrome. 93

Conclusion. 101

Chapter 7 - Self-fulfilling Prophecies. 103

The problem without a name. 105

When the meriracy came to Norway. 108

Finally somebody who understands us. 110

Proceed with caution. 113

Students provide a causal explanation. 113

Identifying with the research. 114

Talking about it 115

Conclusion. 116

Chapter 8 - The Paradox of Health. 117

Cultural Oblivion. 118

Scientific myths. 119

British resistance. 120

How does infection occur?. 122

The illness epidemic in Sweden. 125

Reaping as we sow.. 126

Professional whistleblowing systems. 129

Double reflexivity. 131

Conclusion. 134

Chapter 9 - Conclusion. 136

Summing up the book. 137

The answer is served. 138

The unbearable distortion of the media society. 139

Media templates. 139

Media favouritism.. 141

Skewed reporting. 141

The Reality 2.0. 143

The generation label 143

Wanted: “The stagnation generation”. 144

Left-wing media?. 145

What must be done?. 146

A good enough society. 146

Different medicine. 147

The disadvantaged among us. 147

We need to talk about it 148

Life sucks. 149

Existentialism, where did you go in the midst of all the chaos?. 150

To the root of the problem.. 151

Silence is golden. 152

Nothing new under the sun – the youth of the past 153

Don’t speak – the young people of today. 154

Generation Screwed – the young people of the future. 156

Conclusion: overloading “young people”. 158

References. 161

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

‘Ole Jacob Madsen’s new book on “the achievement generation” is a major achievement. Based on extensive research from psychology, sociology and philosophy, Madsen develops an eye-opening analysis that investigates alarmism on the one hand, where a generation of young people in Scandinavia is typically depicted as particularly vulnerable and prone to mental illness, and a neglect of young people’s problems on the other hand. There is much to learn from this book for all of us who are interested in the complex relationships between society, culture and mental life.’

—Svend Brinkmann, Professor of Psychology, Aalborg University, Denmark

‘A Scandinavian adolescent of the 2020s—“a good girl”— declares oneself to be profoundly happy and secure in a rich and well-structured society — and then reaches out for an anti-depressant pill. Something is amiss here, and the adolescents are the first to feel this. Growing up in the adult utopia of being the “achievement generation” — made into a social imperative — leaves the developing young person to their own devices to deal with loneliness and fears of social exclusion.

This book is a masterpiece of interdisciplinary social science. In his penetratingly skillful analysis of societal texts of different origins, Ole Jacob Madsen demonstrates how the qualitative scrutiny of the social sciences can cut through the journalistic noise that both evokes beliefs in fake facades of happiness, and the disquiet of the many young people that they must be happy in their “happy society”. The kind of society that the Scandinavian countries have arrived at is best described as a “frozen liquid society” where everything is possible except the possibility to be oneself. The book is a must read for everybody who wants to understand the actual social and psychological processes that are involved in the Scandinavian efforts to reach the goal of an “optimized” society—an impossible undertaking in the open-systemic reality of any society.’

—Jaan Valsiner, Professor of Psychology, Aalborg University, Denmark, and the Estonian Academy of Sciences

In this thought-provoking book, Ole Jacob Madsen makes an original contribution to understanding how therapeutic culture shapes the lives of young people in Scandinavia. Drawing on multifaceted empirical research, he fleshes out the many paradoxes and contradictions behind the so-called “achievement generation”. A must-read for all those interested in understanding how mental health problems are represented, governed and experienced in late modern societies.

—Suvi Salmenniemi, Professor of Sociology, University of Turku, Finland

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