The Spirit of the Time, or the Spirit of our Age, underlines the cultural context of each period. Stuart Mill in the 19th century already underlined that change was a key concept to understanding the current times. Today, change is still paramount to our dynamics and to the processes in which structures take place. From Johan Gottfried Herder in the 18th century (1769), passing through the 19th Century – where Arndt, Hegel, Carlyle and Mill wrote about the spirit of the time -, not to mention the contributions in the 20th century, many authors have explored this idea of a general cultural context. Raymond Williams in 1961, following a long tradition, also underlined the concept of a structure of feeling. This article reflects our efforts and contribution to map the current Spirit of the Time and to follow sociocultural changes that affect it.

The conceptual revision of the state of the art regarding this topic suggested the importance of the approach proposed by Gick and Gick (2007) – in termos of an axis model adapted from a CBS model – and McCracken (2015) – in conceptual terms regarding fast – slow culture and the dichotomy between cool and status -. It is also very important to underline the contributions in terms of cultural mapping by the works of Stock and Tupot (2015), which help to contextualize a cultural diagnosis and inform the process, and even other networks like What´s Next by Richard Watson, with a perspective more associated to forecasting. However, instead of a more statistical and mathematical approach used by these authors, we want to pursue a more critical and qualitative approach.

Following  these references, and others, we built a visual representation of the Zeitgeist 2017, following the evolving work of N. Gomes, S. Rech, P. Alves and S. Cohen, that can be applied in the identification and understanding of Sociocultural Trends, but also in the generation of innovation insights of a strategic nature. By understanding this macro context, it is possible to build better solutions and discourses for the audiences.

This study was based on an exploratory inquiry to over three hundred Portuguese, Brazillian, Spanish and Dutch students of graduate and post-graduate students in the fields of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, with the objective to identify the major key-words and concepts that define our time in a European and South American context.  A panel of experts, based and inspired on the Delphi Model approach, positioned the topics on a cultural map. This is based on an axis proposed by Evelyn and Wolfgang Gick (2007), in which 0 represented a conservative perspective and 1 an avant-garde one. Based on this proposed, we took in consideration the ideas of Trends Studies, as well as the cultural dichotomy proposed by Grant McCracken (2011) between the Status and Cool concepts, or slow and fast culture.  As such, Trends Observer, in 2016, created a new revision of the Zeitgeist Segmentation Model, as it had been proposed in the Trends Research Center at 2012. Today, this 2017 approach takes all theses contributions into account, articulating an axis where, as we already underlined, 0 represents a traditional perspective, associated to the idea of status, slow culture and a conservative view; while 1 represents an avant-garde perspective, associate to the idea of Cool and fast culture.


The Process //

It starts with group reflections – inspired by focus group methods -, where individuals discuss what are the Topics (key-words/themes) that, for them, reflect the spirit and the main concerns of our time . The gathered information is articulated with a) semi-structured interviews within a group of heterogeneous individuals; b) field research inspired by (fast) ethnographic practices.
After data is systematized in sets of related topics, a panel of experts, professors and PhD students analyse each proposed topic and confirm if it is representative of the zeitgeist -this is important to rule out overlaps or misinterpretations. Inspired by the Delphi Model, the same group places each topic/keyword on the model.
At the end of this stage, the canvas (the cultural contextual representation) is ready to be applied in the study of phenomena, objects or structures. For this, each study´s object DNA is analysed. Again, the group creates a scale that critically analysis the pertinence of each topic for the particular object. The most relevant topics allow for the positioning of the study object in the map. Juxtapositions allow for the comparison of elements of different natures.

The following image shows an articulation of the zeitgeist topics with Macro Sociocultural Trends:


Stages //

2012 – Generation of the Methodological Proposal and first Mapping.
2016 – Review of the Model with two axis and a dual analysis of the topics. Full mapping of the cultural topics and international research.
2017 – Review of the Model, going back to a single axis in a more inclusive and circular approach.
2018 – Methodological Review, adding and applying semi-structured analysis and ethnographic inspired practices to former methods.

Main contributors of the study // Nelson P. Gomes, Sandra Rech, Paulo Alves, Suzana Cohen.


Main References //

CARLYLE. T. (1829). “Signs of the Times” in Edinburgh Review, 49.

GICK, Evelyn and Wolfgang Gick (2007). “Why the Devil wears Prada: The Fashion Formation process in a Simultaneous Disclosure Game between Designers and the Media”. Working Paper Series #147, Center for European Studies (Harvard University).

MCCRACKEN, Grant (2011) [2009]. Chief Culture Officer. How to create a living, breathing corporation. New York: Basic Books.

MILL, John Stuart (1986). The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII – Newspaper Writings December 1822 – July 1831 Part I, ed.  Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

STOCK, T and M. L. Tupot (2015). Mapping Culture. New York: ScenarioDNA inc.

WILLIAMS, Raymond (1961). “The analysis of Culture” in The Long Revolution. London. Chatto & Windus.


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