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Youth, leisure and identity in the inter-war years
Author: Melanie Tebbutt

This original and fresh approach to the emotions of adolescence focuses on the leisure lives of working-class boys and young men in the inter-war years. Being Boys challenges many stereotypes about their behaviour. It offers new perspectives on familiar and important themes in interwar social and cultural history, ranging from the cinema and mass consumption to boys' clubs, personal advice pages, street cultures, dancing, sexuality, mobility and the body. It draws on many autobiographies and personal accounts and is particularly distinctive in offering an unusual insight into working-class adolescence through the teenage diaries of the author's father, which are interwoven with the book's broader analysis of contemporary leisure developments. Being Boys will be of interest to scholars and students across the humanities and social sciences and is also relevant to those teaching and studying in the fields of child development, education, and youth and community studies.

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Melanie Tebbutt

Introduces the author's father and his diaries. Provides background to the social and cultural climate of the interwar years. Explains contemporary ideas of masculinity, the advent of 'adolescence', employment and spending power, fears around effeminacy, and leisure pursuits. Outlines chapters to follow.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 1 focuses on publications by several well-known youth workers who were also ex-combatants, to suggest the complex commemorative dimension to their work in boys' clubs, where ideas of citizenship, manhood and the rational use of leisure were distinctively fashioned not only by warmemories and experiences but also by heightened post-war awareness of female ‘otherness’ as young women's social and economic visibility increased. The motivations of such writers offer an implicit commentary on older masculinities in the sense that their involvement with these boys suggests the deep emotional legacies of their war experiences andhow these were ‘contained’ not only in writing but in social action.

in Being boys
Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 2 develops the themes of working-class boys andmasculine expectations by examining the inter-war expansion of boys' clubs, which were significantly influenced by the determination to create a movement whose unifying mission was to turn ‘ordinary’ boys into ‘masculine men’. Within the movement, understanding and empathy for their working-class members combined with a desire to reinvigorate masculine values. This shaped a mission whose resonance had broader national implications, given that this ‘most truly working-class youth institution in terms of clientele’ had an authority beyond its size, with many influential supporters contributing to educational and social welfare policy for adolescent males, locally and nationally.

in Being boys
Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 3 compares and contrasts anxieties and concerns which surrounded the clothed and unclothed male body. Male bodies had a powerful cultural resonance after the war, in rehabilitative initiatives and emerging consumer industries. By the 1930s, the physical power of the masses, from the Bolshevik Revolution to images of crowds at play, was informing a national iconography of controlled and disciplined youth, very visible in newsreel footage from the 1930s of the Scouts, BB, boys' clubs, and totalitarian youth movements in Germany and Italy. At an individual level, young men's physical sense of self was coming under the growing influence of visual forms and commercial leisure trends, bringing working-class young men into contact with new models of personal behaviour and social interaction which made many sensitive to style, fashion and appearance. This chapter examines how working-class young men mediated the feminised connotations of consumption in negotiating these new physical images and ways of performing masculinity.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 4 suggests that much interwar social behaviour was more relaxed than before the First World War and the informalising trends of popular culture exposed generational fissures which were particularly apparent in concerns about the cinema's imaginative and sensual impact. Courtship and ‘dating’ were becoming ‘private’ acts of consumption, taking place away from family and neighbourhood venues, in public social spaces such as the cinemaintroduction and dance hall. This distancing stimulated many adult concerns about their inability to supervise adequately young people's leisure, and produced much often ill-informed commentary about how young people's sexual lives were changing. What received less attention were shifting imaginative landscapes and the cinema's catalysing role for emotional tensions between individual and public expressions of masculinity, as the chapter suggests in its exploration of the responses which particular films evoked in some young men.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 5 continues this examination of how these changes affected the emotional landscapes of young men's lives by scrutinising how the ‘male world’ of youthful feeling was expressed through the advice columns of popular newspapers and magazines, which expanded significantly in the 1930s. The chapter samples letters from boys and young men to illustrate a complex interplay of discourse and mediated experience to help illustrate their responses to the period's informalising expectations and changing social relations.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 6 asks how youthful masculinities were performed, constructed and contested in sexualised leisure locales such as the dance hall – like letters to advice columnists, an expressive outlet more usually perceived in relation to young women. It traces the implications of how social dancing changed over the interwaryears, from that of the 1920s, which subverted traditional notions of male physicality, to the shaping effects of the sexualising modernity increasingly apparent in the 1930s. The exhibitions and inhibitions of these dance hall cultures reinforced and contested traditional gender expectations and assumptions. Social dancing presented a disturbing ‘otherness’ of gender, race and class which challenged traditional notions of masculinity and Englishness, as was apparent in the dance profession's attempts to restrain the easy-going ‘oppositional’ spontaneity of dance styles in the 1920s with dignity and manly restraint. Concerns about dancing reflected the same worries about eroding traditional values so apparent in the boys' club movement, and both moral and commercial interests sought to regulate it for their own reasons, although young men's relationship with social dancing was more varied than is often assumed.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt

Chapter 7 enters a very different performance space, that of thestreet and the part that the ‘largely taken for granted world’ of walking played in the formation of adolescent masculinity. Working-class boys and young men enjoyed greater spatial freedoms than their female counterparts, but their occupation of street space was oft en depicted in very passive terms, as in cartoons from the late nineteenth century of scowling, slouching individuals, arms akimbo or hands in pockets, legs apart and a cigarette invariably drooping from the mouth. Assumptions of street ‘loitering’ ignored the dynamic nature of young people's relationships with neighbourhoods and how ‘hanging around’, gossiping and watching the world go by helped to construct male social identity in relation both to their peers and adult society. The role of place in mediating boys' entry into the world of adults is usually seen in terms of neighbourhood territory and gangs. This chapter explores how walking and place-based leisure routines helped to fashion the streets and districts in which working-class boys grew up into a ‘knowable’ landscape, a ‘practiced place’ whose meanings during adolescence deepened and extended into distinctive topographical identities, reinforced by habit, familiarity and the casual rhythms of daily life.

in Being boys
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Melanie Tebbutt
in Being boys