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Leisure, the young working class and urban space in Britain, c. 1870–1939
Author: Laura Harrison

In neighbourhoods and public spaces across Britain, young working people walked out together, congregated in the streets, and paraded up and down on the ‘monkey parades’. This book explores these sites of leisure and courtship – the streets, public and neighbourhood spaces of towns and cities across Britain – telling the story of young people and developing youth cultures from the perspective of their spatial occupation and behaviours. It argues that the beginnings of a distinct youth culture can be traced to the late nineteenth century, and that the street and neighbourhood provided its forum. The book draws together the actions of adults with the experiences of young people from the later years of the nineteenth century through to the interwar period, considering the continuities in young people’s leisure lives and reflecting on the development of an increasingly conspicuous youth culture that became more clearly linked to commercial leisure opportunities. Drawing on an extensive range of sources, from newspapers and institutional records to oral histories and autobiography, the book enriches our understanding of young working people by narrowing the focus on their spaces and sites of social interaction, and argues that exploring the relationship between the young working class and urban space allows for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the lives of young people.

Laura Harrison

This chapter focuses on how the young working class engaged with neighbourhood space, drawing out the ways youthful identities were initially formed within the overlapping spaces of home and neighbourhood. The chapter also provides a detailed analysis of one working-class district, the Hungate and Walmgate neighbourhood of York, offering a consideration of the rhythms of place at the micro level of a working-class community. Drawing together the representation of young people with their own lived experiences, this chapter considers how the young working class experienced and understood their home and neighbourhood space, and how they interacted with both the physical conditions and outsiders’ perspectives of their community.

in Dangerous amusements
Abstract only
Laura Harrison

This introductory chapter sets out the key themes of the book and argues that through an understanding of how young working people engaged with their sites of social interaction, and with the adults who intervened in these spaces, we are able to gain a fuller picture of working-class youth at a time when they were experiencing increasing opportunities for leisure and sociability. It outlines the study’s methodology, namely, an analysis of the social lives of young working people, reading documentary sources and oral testimony through the prism of space, and outlines the primary research questions addressed in the book. The introduction further situates the study within the existing literature on youth, leisure and working-class lives, and the relevant theoretical literature. Finally, the introduction discusses competing definitions of youth, recognising its transitional and flexible nature.

in Dangerous amusements
Laura Harrison

This chapter examines the lifestyles of young working people in Britain across the period, exploring in particular the role of work, leisure and courtship in their lives. It considers the way gender and generation shaped the experiences of the working class, and discusses material, moral and gender constraints on access to leisure. As an integral aspect of young people’s leisure across the period, the chapter also examines the role and meaning of courtship in the lives of young people. Drawing upon a range of sources, including published and unpublished personal accounts and oral history testimony, the chapter addresses changes in experience across the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, from the very first stirrings of a distinct youth culture in the 1870s to the increasingly conspicuous consumption of the interwar years.

in Dangerous amusements
Streets and public space
Laura Harrison

This chapter contrasts the image of the street as a site of danger and disorder with a sense of how streets were actually used and viewed by the young working class: primarily as a site of sociability and fun. The chapter examines how the street was invested with meanings that both reflected and structured social practices, and is based on a close study of the actions of the police and civic authorities, the groups who largely enforced regulations concerning the social and physical environment of the street, and the young people who they attempted to control. The second part of the chapter builds on this analysis to focus on the gendered nature of street surveillance and regulation. Expectations and concerns about working-class use of space reflected the prevailing gender ideology, and the public presence of women was persistently identified with disorderly sexuality. The chapter considers the gendered regulation of the streets, focusing on attempts to define and control the behaviour of young working-class women, while also drawing out their responses to such controls.

in Dangerous amusements
Rational recreation
Laura Harrison

This chapter explores how the young working class engaged with the range of leisure opportunities available to them, and utilises the records of churches, religious groups, philanthropic organisations and employers. The chapter traces both the ‘wholesome influences’ the and ‘dangerous amusements’ on offer, firstly noting the concerns of moral reformers and some religious groups that young working people were not using their leisure time profitably, before considering how reformers attempted to use leisure as a means to shape the attitudes and behaviour of young people. These efforts demonstrate both the importance placed on the leisure of the young working class across the period, and how it was through their leisure activities that the working class were increasingly differentiated by age. The chapter ultimately argues that young working people were not passive consumers of leisure: they made active choices and took advantage of the range of opportunities open to them.

in Dangerous amusements
Abstract only
The monkey parades
Laura Harrison

This final chapter examines how the young working class challenged and changed the meanings of public space, with a detailed discussion of the monkey parades. This popular youth activity saw young people parade up and down the street on Saturday and Sunday evenings, socialising with friends and showing off in front of the opposite sex. Concerns were expressed both about the use of these spaces by young working people, and their behaviour within them. However, this chapter demonstrates that the young working class challenged attempts by moral commentators to regulate their behaviour and in doing so, contested spatial meanings. The street was a space in which authority was demonstrated, yet it was also a space of resistance. Drawing upon press reports, police files and official documents, alongside oral history testimony and autobiographical accounts, this chapter traces competing narratives of surveillance, control and resistance, and argues that young people’s parading was a process of negotiation as competing interests sought to secure access to public space. The young working class were able to actively carve out spaces of their own, despite the ongoing hostility of other residents. Through their repeated social activities, they were able to negotiate a new understanding of this particular public space.

in Dangerous amusements
Roberta Bivins

After the Second World War, major programmes of national recovery and reform across Europe built on pre-war precedents to develop universal systems of medical provision for their citizens. ‘Health’ or at least access to healthcare came to be seen, especially in Britain, as both a symbol of modern nationhood and a tool of social cohesion. The USA, by far the wealthiest and most productive nation to emerge from the war, rejected this approach. Historians and politicians have long sought the origins of this idiosyncrasy and the reasons for its persistence, focusing particularly on political and economic forces. But popular culture too has played an important role in US resistance to state interventions in the medical marketplace. This chapter explores the vexed association in Anglo-American discourse between governmental health provision, ‘socialism’ and the British NHS. Focusing specifically on how the US print media represented the NHS visually and rhetorically to the American public, the chapter suggests that the NHS became synonymous with ‘state medicine’ in US popular culture between 1948 and 1958. It then reflects on British responses, and asks why hostile American visions of a purely domestic British social institution provoked such strong reactions. The chapter argues that fierce British advocacy of the NHS at home and abroad envisioned the service itself as a necessary bulwark protecting the nation from communism in the fervid atmosphere of the early Cold War: welfare, in the form of the NHS, was warfare.

in Posters, protests, and prescriptions
Martin D. Moore

This chapter explores the intensifying political, public, and professional concern with general practice waiting rooms in the first decade of the NHS. It argues that the years after 1948 saw the beginnings of a distinctively ‘NHS’ general practice waiting room emerge in British primary care: a space shaped by the ways in which inter-war professional values and premises were reworked in relation to post-war political promises and the peculiar new dynamics created between state, patient, and general practitioner (GP) under the new health service. However, though GPs’ waiting rooms came in for substantial criticism, material change was neither swift nor immediately radical. GPs retained considerable autonomy over their surgeries and practices. Despite coming under considerable political scrutiny, waiting rooms were only gradually remade while doctors reconsidered how patients’ suspended time in the waiting room could be put to new use. The reflections prompted during this period created the parameters for more incremental change as professional identities and the financial structures of general practice changed over subsequent decades.

in Posters, protests, and prescriptions
Abstract only
Matthew Roberts

This book challenges the assumption - just as alive today as it was in the nineteenth century - that the political sphere was an arena of reason in which feelings had no part to play. Focusing on the popular radical movement for democratic rights, Democratic Passions has explored the affective politics of key radical leaders in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the movement for democracy took off. It has shown how radical leaders were accused of inflaming the passions; how the state and its propertied supporters were charged with callousness; and how radicals grounded their claims to citizenship in the universalist assumption that workers had the same capacity for feeling as their social betters (denied at this time). This book has changed the way in which we look not only at the radical leaders in question and the movements that grew up around them, but much more significantly at the affective qualities of politics itself. This is important for understanding the evolution of democratic politics. This is because one of the keyways in which politicians have sought to legitimate their own politics is by claiming to speak in the name of reason, while denigrating their opponents as creatures of base passion. As historians and citizens, we need to be on our guard when historical actors and contemporary politicians juxtapose their self-proclaimed rationality against emotion as this has often served to delegitimate the politics of dissent. Recognising this, and laying bare the affective basis of politics, is vital to the health of democratic politics. To understand the evolving relationship between politics and feeling, we need to return to the period when democratic politics was born. Doing so casts new light on the relationship between politicians and the people, the state and its domestic enemies, exposing in the process the affective basis of citizenship.

in Democratic Passions