Thursday, 9 October 2008

A Revised History of Youth Culture

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by Kathryn Hadley

A new study entitled Youth Culture in Modern Britain, c.1920-c.1970, by University of Cambridge historian, David Fowler, published on Monday has challenged previous studies of the origins of youth culture in Britain. Fowler argues that a novel youth culture did not develop in the 1960s and 1970s inspired by rock bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but instead originated forty years earlier with a number of long-forgotten youth communities founded by middle-class students in the 1920s.

He claims that the chanters of phrases such as “we all want to change the world” were, in reality, not interested in being a mouthpiece for young people; instead, they were primarily motivated by commercial development and exploited youth culture in order to sell their music. He explains this common misconception of the origins of youth culture by arguing that it has been mistakenly identified with the Beatles merely because of the mass popularity of such bands.
According to Fowler’s study, in the 1960s and 1970s, the mods inspired a greater cultural movement than rock bands. They originated in the northern suburbs of London and in three years, from 1964 to 1967, spread across Britain empowering both young men and women.

He ultimately traces the origins of youth culture in Britain further back, however, to the 1920s, which saw the rise of various international movements spreading beyond class and gender boundaries. These movements were subsequently destroyed with the outbreak of the Second World War.
He singles out Rolf Gardiner as the leader of one these forgotten youth communities. Rolf Gardiner, the father of the conductor Sir Eliot Gardiner, was a youth pioneer. He was a language student at St. John’s College, Cambridge, from 1921 to 1924 and formulated ideas of a “cult of youth” in which young people should have greater freedom of expression and to challenge their elders. He was inspired by the Jugendkultur, which was developing in Weimar Germany at the time, and organised a visit to Germany for the members of his organization. He also sought to cross the boundaries of high and peasant culture by taking his fellow students to the mining communities of northern England.

Fowler argues that the development of a youth culture was hindered in the 1960s by the lack of networks to support such a culture. The only possible network was that provided by universities; nevertheless, less than 6% attended university at the time. In Fowler’s words: “there’s no doubt that [Rolf Gardiner] is just as important as Mick Jagger”.


Derek Wall said...

is another view on Gardiner...far right radical in my view.

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Daniela said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing.

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