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Génération(s) santé


Laurence Corroy et Daniel Raichvarg

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1Generational effects are widely reported in the media, sometimes accompanied by comparisons between men and women. They concern all sectors of activity, among which health appears in a prominent position. According to a study by the think tank Health Foundation, “Y” generation, i.e. those born in the 1980s and 1990s, could be the first to be in poorer health in mid-life than the generations that preceded them in the XXe century. The study, which was widely reported in the media, also claimed that this generation was more anxious than its elders. Other periods of life are also the object of attention: adolescence, perhaps even more so than childhood, because it is traditionally considered to be an age of fragility, an age of identity crisis that can lead to mental illness, addictive behaviour, and an unbalanced diet... Cancer screening campaigns also reflect the need for a generational norm, an age threshold at which citizens must be cared for because they are considered to be more likely to develop chronic diseases.

2Discussing generations therefore raises the question of implicit or explicit norms of good health for each age of life, while it also normatively breaks down these different periods of life (puberty, menopause, etc.). The issue is not just to be able to live as long as possible - remember that in France, for example, life expectancy increased by almost 40 years for women and 35 years for men between 1900 and 2020: it is now a question of living in good health as long as possible. More than ever, we need now, to age well and, possibly, to “die well” (Véron, 2006). Defining good health is, for example, at the heart of the debate on the threshold effects for retirement, since life expectancy is no longer considered the only factor to be taken into consideration, the primary criterion being social inequalities depending on socio-professional categories (Cambois, Barnay, 2009). Health issues, together with the question of whether they should be extended to well-being, occupy an important place in the public debate and make headlines in the media.

3But as a consequence, and as Jacques Véron also points out, “the average life span is getting longer and longer, and the relationships between age groups and between generations, which in fact have always existed, are constantly changing and becoming more and more divided. Let us remember the 1980s which was marked by AIDS, a public health issue that became a major concern in the public arena for a particular generation. Whether it be the flu vaccine and its generational targets (young vs. seniors) or the measles vaccine and the long-term impact of its “presence-absence”, fault lines occur along the continuum of life, which make sense when considering health. But could the same issues create links between people at their different periods of life? There is a need for both generational and inter- and trans-generational reflection.

4Do media generate gaps or convene bridges? Does digitalization emphasize fractures in collective and individual spaces, and between generations? As the physical and digital communication hybridization is now prominent in field of Health, do variants and invariants exist when considering generations(s)? How are our research objects to be configured or reconfigured in light of generation(s) when discussing spaces such as nurseries, nursing homes, The Good Doctor or MeMo?

5This issue “Generation(s) & Health” is not limited to any specific health topic nor to digitised health or healthcare organizations. It seeks to explore how health issues, whether transgenerational or, on the contrary, marked by identified ages, are addressed and questioned in the media and, more generally, in any situation of communication. In short, the papers for this special issue question how generations, and the notion of generation itself, contribute to the larger field of health information and communication.

6As our societies are more and more digitalized, and as knowledge circulates with vertical communication strongly competing with horizontal communication, the way expert and lay knowledge appears and is portrayed in the media is the main choice for the researchers who contributed to this specific issue. They discuss the instances of mediation as well as the identified mediators of this circulating knowledge.

7Focussing on a popular French series - Les Bracelets rouges -, Marie-France Chambat-Houillon explains how adolescence, as a period of life, allows to develop a conception of illness and the sick, which moves away from the clichés of the medical TV fictions. The age of young patients helps to shift from the classic diegetic, thematic and narrative approaches where patients serve as a foil to the expert knowledge and the doctors. Young people talk about their illness, but, mainly, insist on their active involvement in the healing process so that this illness is “a painful moment to be overcome and left behind”. Information about serious pathologies, hospital care, nursing staff’s involvement, etc. is passed without forgetting the main diegetic argument. Illness as well as adolescence are both times of crisis during which problems centring on identity and otherness crop up and get solved.

8Children and teenagers are not only considered as bodies to examine. They are also involved in a mediation process and considered as “input vectors” of medical discourses in the families. In an historical perspective, Aude Chauvat shows how, in anti-liquor campaigns, children prepared public opinion to prohibition in the United States. A privileged ally of public health communication, the “compassionate”, “victimhood” and guilt-inducing figure of the child is pragmatically used for intergenerational purposes: prevention campaigns seek to reach parents as a target.

9Expert and lay knowledge is also expressed through sociotechnical mediation bodies. Evelyn Y. Ho, Eileen Fung and Genevieve Leung, examine Chinese-Americans’ intergenerational sharing of important family soup recipes in audio/video-recorded cooking sessions. Thanks to food choices and meal preparation, Chinese-Americans wrestle with a long history of discrimination while they simultaneously question the authenticity and “Chineseness” of food, carving out space for newer generations though intergenerational practices.

10Forums and social networks play an important role in intergenerational exchanges of “good” health practices, experiences of patients and family carers, testimonials depending on different kinds of illnesses. Karine Berthelot and Juliette Charbonneaux discuss one particular type of cancer, glioblastoma. Their analysis first shows how the architects of the forums promote the emergence of an intergenerational figure; then, it focuses on the variations of two major types of exchanges carried out, between generations, within these digital frameworks, marked by: a relation to illness experienced as an extraordinary upheaval, and the accompaniment of the disease in the very ordinary frame of everyday life.

11Assessing the diagnosis of good health according to age and gender means, often implicitly, expecting information about what is normal for a given generation. It questions the relativity of good health and the way institutional communication deals with that topic. Normative frameworks tell us what is good health and behaviours (weight, food, threshold of ages for cancer screening, disability) according to generations. In this line, Clémentine Hugol-Gential, David Michon, Emilie Ginon and Marie-Claude Brindisi question nutritional standards and show how the development of a tool allowing to measure nutritional well-being in a hospital context necessarily gives rise to organizational, communicational and medical analyzes. As a sensory ritual marking the patients’ life, the meal does not only meet nutritional requirements. It is also a vector of sociability, social ties and socio-cultural symbolic values. The authors rightly take a holistic approach to the meal, which can be considered as an integral part of the care system.

12“Eating well” also means defining the ideal weight, both for adults and children. Delphine Azema studies the development of three e-health tools designed to promote the educational management of children obesity. These tools appear as “mediators and prescribers of standards”, flattening social diversities and individual variabilities. Should e-health be synonymous of progress and empowerment for children and their families, it would still have to be thought out in terms of dynamics with actual family practices and the needs expressed.

13Empowerment is also an issue in the socio-technical controversies surrounding discussions on disability. Building up on the hope raised by the Fablabs where subjects are invited to participate, Amélie Tehel demonstrates how this makes it possible to question the normalized relationships between patients, doctors and usual devices, as well as the normativity of the suffering bodies, while, at the same time, individualizing the relation to the process of care during the development of prostheses.

14To end with, Pierre Mignot and Omrane Dorsaf, by studying cancer prevention policies, show at what point age is a discriminating element, although not sufficiently taken into account by health actors. A moving variable, yet little discussed, it generates, both in patients and doctors, attitudes related to what appears normal or acceptable depending on the subject’s generation. Cancer screening campaigns highlight collective representations of what is accepted by women related to their age. However, the authors also point to other factors such as environmental and behavioural determinants.

15Whether it is about knowledge, standards, mediators and mediations, whether it is about children obesity, glioblastoma, alcoholism, breast cancer, disability, or the moment of death, the authors meet health “extra-ordinary” questions inducing intergenerationality. All these questions are put on the menu of everyday life (a television series with Marie-France Chambat-Houillon, a poster campaign with Aude Chauviat, digital forums with Juliette Charbonneaux and Karine Berthelot), specific situations (meal at home with Evelyn Ho, Eileen Chia-Ching Funget Geneviève Leung, meal at hospital with Clémentine Hugol-Gential, David Michon, Emilie Ginon and Marie-Claude Brindisi, manufacturing a 3D printer with Amelie Tehel, a screening campaign with Pierre Mignot and Omrane Dorsaf).

16Finally, all these questions involve mediators, “communicators”, who, at least at first, were not specifically destined to accomplish this mission: drama actors embodying the sick, parents and children cooking, parents but also children becoming caregivers, fablab makers, and, of course, health staff, from general practitioners (Pierre Mignot and Omrane Dorsaf) to nurses (Clementine Hugol-Gential, David Michon, Emilie Ginon and Marie-Claude Brindisi), whose communication skills emerge as they provide care. Moments, actors, situations: intergenerationality is circumstance-related, it is a question of communication.

17Finally, it is impossible to think about health without having a sword of Damocles hanging over social norms, concerning medical knowledge – acquired or so alleged. How can we study communication in view of the uncertain stability of this knowledge which difficulty circulates among lay people, if not by exploring situations outside traditional frameworks? Research suggests that a new social value may be emerging: Health might (or might not!) produce intergenerational links (a new empowerment?). Paraphrasing Michel Foucault (1963), the living night of communication might dissipate in the light of death.

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Emmanuelle CAMBOIS, Thomas BARNAY, « Espérances de vie, espérances de vie en santé et âge de départ à la retraite : des inégalités selon la profession en France ». Retraite et société, 2009, n° 59, pp. 194-205

Michel FOUCAULT, Naissance de la clinique, Paris : PUF, 1963, p. 149.

Jacques VERON, « Espérance de vie, âges et générations. Les “ systèmes des âges ” en pleine évolution ». Informations sociales, 2006, n° 134, pp. 16-26.

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Laurence Corroy et Daniel Raichvarg, « Editorial »Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [En ligne], 19 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2021, consulté le 01 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Laurence Corroy

Laurence Corroy is senior lecturer at la Sorbonne Nouvelle, director of research group « Education socialization, ages of live (Lab. CERLIS). She is member of the Scientific Council of National Education (France). Last books: Laurence Corroy, Education et médias, la créativité à l’ère du numérique, London, Iste ed. 2016 and, with Philippe Ricaud, Utopies et médias de masse, London, Iste ed., 2019. email :

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Daniel Raichvarg

Daniel Raichvarg is Emeritus professor at University of Burgundy (Lab. CIMEOS), Honorary President of the French Association for Information and Communication Studies. His field of research concerns popularization of sciences and scientific communication (Environment, Health, Science and Society). Last book : Barbe N., Raichvarg, D., dir., 2015. Les vies de la pasteurisation – récits, savoirs, actions (1865-2015), Dijon, Éditions Universitaires de Dijon, 290 p., illustrations (Art, Archéologie, Patrimoine). email :

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