University of Sussex
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Youth movements, citizenship and the English countryside, 1930-1960

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posted on 2023-06-08, 16:28 authored by Sian Edwards
This thesis explores the significance and meaning of the countryside within mid-twentieth century youth movements. Whilst modern youth movements have been the subject of considerable historical research, there has been little attention to the rural context within which so many of them operated. Moreover, few historians have explored youth movements into the post-Second World War period. This thesis therefore makes an original contribution both in terms of its periodisation and focus. It draws on a rich seam of archival and printed sources focusing in particular upon the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements, the Woodcraft Folk and the Young Farmer’s Club movement. The thesis examines the ways in which the countryside was employed as a space within which ‘good citizenship’ could be developed. Mid-century youth movements identified the ‘problem’ of modern youth as a predominantly urban and working class issue. They held that the countryside offered an effective antidote to these problems: being a ‘good citizen’ within this context necessitated a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with the rural sphere. Avenues to good citizenship could be found through an enthusiasm for outdoor recreation, the stewardship of the countryside and work on the land. Models of good citizenship were intrinsically gendered. Girls were trained for their domestic role within the home, although this was a specifically rural form of domesticity. Chapter One explores the shifting relationship between the urban public and the countryside in the mid-century and argues that the popularity of outdoor recreation developed understandings of citizenship that were directly linked to the English countryside. For youth this country-conscious citizenship could be developed in three spheres: leisure, work and the home. Chapter Two examines the approach of youth movements to youthful leisure across the mid-century and, using concern for the juvenile delinquent as a case study, argues that through physical and mental improvement the countryside could prevent misbehaviour. Parallel to this youth movements instilled an understanding of ‘good’ countryside manners and encouraged members to protect the countryside from the onslaught of urban pleasureseekers. Chapter Three explores the importance of agricultural work in meanings of ‘good citizenry’ arguing that for both urban and rural boys proficiency in farming, particularly in wartime, was considered an important service to the nation. Chapter Four investigates how the sphere of the home remained central to understandings of ‘good citizenship’ for girls and suggests that the distinct nature of rural domesticity should be considered here. It also considers the place of youth movements within the gendered lifecycle, understandings of female deviance and issues of agency in leisure provision for girls in the mid-century. This thesis argues that, fundamentally, the mid-century period should be seen as one of continuity in the training of youth movements. The central role of the countryside in categorisations of ‘good citizenry’ supports recent understandings of a rural national identity in the mid-century. Furthermore, approaches to youth were clearly divided in terms of both class and gender. While concerns over the working classes did shift at this time understandings of innate working class deviance remained. Moreover, the persistence of gendered understandings of citizenship and the emphasis on domesticity for girls suggests that gender remained central to experiences of youth movements in the mid twentieth-century.


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