RACE, CULTURE, AND EQUALITY 1 by Thomas Sowell
Of course, I am not claiming to have written the definitive book on 20th-century youth culture and I am already at work on a follow-up volume that covers the period since 1970; but I have tried to rethink the history of modern British youth culture, and reposition its chronology and texture, and if the main virtue of this volume is that it is innovative and challenging then the book has at least that in common with the White Album.
Home - Notts Youth Football League
What impressed me about the book? First, Fowler displays a refreshing appetite to challenge some questionable interpretations of 20th-century youth which have become normative both in the popular imagination and in some academic historiography. Notably, he contends that the genesis of modern British youth culture occurred much earlier than the traditional focus on the 1950s and 1960s has led us to believe. There are some particularly good discussions of the way that the myth of the ‘novelty’ of youth culture was established by academic sociologists and cultural commentators in the 1950s and 1960s (including such luminaries as Richard Hoggart and Bryan Wilson), some of whom had very little first-hand experience of their subject-matter. Fowler argues that even those scholars who did engage in serious primary research often failed to historicise their accounts, leading them to overlook points of continuity with the youth cultures of the early 20th century, and earlier pioneers who blazed a trail for youth. As Fowler rightly notes, middle-class youth have received scant attention from historians of youth culture. Consequently, the book devotes considerable attention to higher education, particularly in the 1920s and 1960s (the expansion of which is suggested to be concurrent with, and influential upon, the appearance of new youth cultures) and the role of students in fermenting youth movements. Chapter two is devoted to the intriguing figure of Rolf Gardiner, Cambridge graduate, prolific writer and morris dancer, sometime activist for the Kibbo Kift Kindred (a more folksy, less regimented rival to Boy Scouts and Boys’ Brigade) and later Nazi sympathiser. Fowler credits Gardiner as architect of one of the earliest attempts to frame youth culture as a distinct counterculture and philosophy of life in the 1920s. One might argue that in a comparatively short book such as this, Gardiner receives a disproportionate amount of attention. However, as a case study, the chapter certainly persuades that serious attempts by young people to create distinct youth cultures predates the explosion of youth cultures in the 1950s and 1960s.
Given that the growth in the cultural prominence of the young was one of the most remarkable features of western society in the 20th century, serious historical studies of youth culture do not come along as often as they should. For this reason I was very pleased to be asked to review David Fowler’s new book, which contains much original archive research. Chapters cover such diverse topics as the flapper cult of the 1920s, experimental youth movements of the inter-war period, youth culture and juvenile delinquency in Northern Ireland, the emergence of the academic study of youth culture in the 1950s and 1960s, student culture in the 1960s, mod culture and pop culture. In so doing, Fowler considers both the ways in which young people talked about themselves and the ways they were viewed by adults. The book is chronologically broader, but thematically narrower, than its title suggests. Despite the focus on the years between c.1920 and c.1970, we are treated to an opening chapter on Edwardian cults of youth from the boy labourers of urban Britain to the Cambridge Neo-Pagans, along with a closing postscript on the Spice Girls. By contrast, although chapters cover a variety of episodes in modern youth history, there is no overarching narrative of youth culture by which to contextualise the individual case studies (more of this later). Nevertheless, Fowler has drilled some fascinating bore-holes into the history of 20th-century British youth, and the breadth and variety of examples discussed are a welcome and indeed important antidote to the historic tendency to focus on the post-1950s period. Fowler is cautious of imposing too heavy a grand narrative on his material, but ultimately concludes that ‘Central to that history are the youths of the middle classes’ and that