Children, class and the search for security: writing the future in 1930s Britain

Barron, Hester and Langhamer, Claire (2017) Children, class and the search for security: writing the future in 1930s Britain. Twentieth Century British History, 28 (3). pp. 367-389. ISSN 0955-2359

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This article is based on 269 essays written in 1937 by Middlesbrough schoolboys aged 12-16 on the topic ‘When I leave school’, which were collected by the social research organisation Mass Observation. The essays provide a counterpoint to social scientific surveys of ordinary people and allow us to work with the boys’ own understandings of the world they inhabited. They offer an alternative lens on a period which, at least in relation to the industrial areas of Britain, is often characterised by poverty and unemployment. This representation is largely absent from the children’s essays: instead, an overwhelming sense of possibility characterises their writing, from their wildest fantasies to their most concrete plans. Most dreamt of lives that would be long, fulfilling, domesticated and happy. This is not to say that they were oblivious to the world around them; indeed an emphasis on security and planning suggested an implicit awareness of material context. Nonetheless these boys expressed a marked determination that their lives would be better than those of their parents. As such, they embodied the educational and occupational aspirations that are more often seen as characteristic of postwar Britain. Their essays illustrate emergent and widely-held expectations of social mobility and dreams of cradle-to-grave security in the years before the Second World War, articulated – as they were being lived – by a generation which would go on to elect the 1945 Labour government.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Mass Observation; Children; Britain; Class; Security
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain
Depositing User: Claire Langhamer
Date Deposited: 02 May 2017 11:37
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2017 12:35

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