Young lives on the Left

Sixties activism and the liberation of the self

Celia Hughes
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Young Lives on the Left is a unique social history of the individual lives of men and women who came of age in radical left circles in the 1960s. Based on a rich collection of oral history interviews, the book follows in-depth approximately twenty individuals, tracing the experience of activist self-making from child to adulthood. Their voices tell a particular story about the shaping of the English post-war self. Championing the oppressed in struggle, the young activists who developed the personal politics of the early 1970s grew up in a post-war society which offered an ever-increasing range of possibilities for constructing and experiencing the self. Yet, for many of these men and women the inadequacy of the social, political and cultural constructions available for social identity propelled their journeys on the left. The creation of new left spaces represented the quest for a construction of self that could accommodate the range of contradictions concerning class, gender, religion, race and sexuality that young activists experienced growing up in the post-war landscape.

An important contribution to the global histories of 1968, the book explores untold stories of English activist life, examining how political experiences, social attitudes and behaviour of this group of social actors (as teenagers, apprentices and undergraduates) were shaped in the changing social, educational and cultural landscape of post-war English society. The final chapters include attention to the social and emotional impact of Women’s Liberation on the left, as told from the perspective of women and men inside the early movement.

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‘Hughes’ book provides ballast for the ongoing historiographical project of moving beyond the hackneyed caricatures, slogans and images that still form our primary points of reference when discussing the 1960s. This makes Young lives on the Left a worthy addition to the growing body of work that’s serving to build up a richer and more nuanced picture of the changes that took place during the mid-20th Century.’
Josh Allen, Journal of History and Cultures, Vol. 7, 2017
May 2020

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