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Young People and the European City: Age Relations in Nottingham and Saint-Etienne, 1890-1940.

Young People and the European City: Age Relations in Nottingham and Saint-Etienne, 1890-1940. By David M. Pomfret (Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004. xii plus 315 pp. $84.95).

A recent addition to a new series of "Historical Urban Studies" that now numbers over twenty volumes, Pomfret's book amply fulfills the assertion by the series's editors, Richard Rodger and Jean-Luc Pinol, that the works they are show-casing are informed by "analytical frameworks ... in a comparative context" (p. viii). Pomfret focuses on two towns, both with industrial bases in the areas of textile production, coal mining, and metalworking, each of which was of medium size in relation to other urban settlements in its respective country--Nottingham having, in 1901, a population of 259,902, while its French counterpart numbered 139,129 inhabitants. He examines conditions and developments within each of them--and also, albeit less systematically, within the countries in which they were located--that pertained to the experiences and roles of city dwellers who had not yet reached adulthood. Continually crisscrossing the English Channel in each chapter, Pomfret takes up a sequence of topics, each of which he treats with regard to most if not all of the half century he has marked out for consideration. In so doing, he depicts a pair of cities both as partly similar and partly contrasting localities and also as sites in which larger developments that transcended both of them can be illustrated.

Arguing that a decline during the period in the percentages of city dwellers who were younger than twenty led to growing rather than diminished concern about the future of young people, Pomfret dwells primarily on efforts by grownups--among them, teachers, clergymen, medical professionals, labor leaders, local authorities, and politicians--to protect, educate, guide, and mobilize them. In the thinking of these individuals, youngsters needed to be rescued from urban threats both to their bodies and to their morals, so that they could be enlisted in larger tasks of urban and national reform and regeneration.

Two of the book's early chapters focus on work. Pomfret offers contrasting accounts of attempts both by members of the middle classes and by labor leaders to prohibit or regulate certain kinds and times of paid labor, with a view to encouraging children to spend daytime hours at school and nighttime hours at home. More successful in Nottingham than in Saint-Etienne, where labor leaders placed a higher priority on enabling workers' families to maximize their incomes, these efforts led in both cities to the overall realization of "a non-working childhood" (p. 51). It thus seemed increasingly sensible for reformers to focus on older segments of the non-adult population, whose members had finished their schooling and taken up work that was still legitimate. The book's longest chapter, on "employment and unemployment" offers (too much) detailed information on labor markets for teenagers and, to better effect, analysis of various ways in which representatives of the state and trade unionists--and to a lesser extent employers--sought to enhance young workers' abilities to work effectively. Doing so, Pomfret points out, entailed among other measures the introduction of better opportunities for on-the-job training in the form of apprenticeships, which further tended to exclude the young from full participation in the world of work and thus to extend their dependence on adults.

In subsequent chapters, Pomfret takes up attempts to ameliorate conditions that impinged upon the young outside workplaces, in public spaces, and parallel efforts to mold and mobilize them symbolically and politically. He has a great deal of interest to say about efforts to promote healthy leisure-time activities in "spaces of regeneration." Arising for the most part out of voluntary impulses, which received much of their impetus in both cities (particularly in Saint-Etienne) from churchmen, such endeavors were motivated by desires not only "to instill religious observance, self-discipline, and moral purity" (p. 113) but also to combat physical evidence of "degeneration." They resulted in support for organizations such as the Boy Scouts and, in France, Church-sponsored patronages that "combined games with ritual" (p. 114), as well as gymnastic societies that evinced a more militantly nationalist orientation. Nationalism also becomes apparent in discussion, focusing on the years that led up to the First World War, of public festivals. For these events, whether on the occasion of a celebrated event in the life of British royalty or on Bastille Day, young people were assembled and deployed (here teachers in public schools played a key role) as collective representatives of the idea of national solidarity and symbolic supporters of a hierarchical status quo. More benignly, would-be saviors of youths also strove to make it possible for them to spend time in natural surroundings outside city centers, whether as members of clubs that engaged in outdoor activities, as visitors to holiday camps, or as emigrants to rural areas. But at the same time--and, as Pomfret shows in his final chapter, increasingly during the interwar years--grownups sought to attract the young to youth branches of political organizations originally established for adults. Particularly pronounced on (although by no means limited to) the left and especially evident in Saint-Etienne, where radical traditions were more deeply rooted than in Nottingham, their organizational strivings succeeded in enlisting only a small fraction of the generational cohort at which they were aimed. They nonetheless underlined the symbolic as well as the practical significance of young people to the futures of the cities in which they were undertaken

Readers who are looking here for a comprehensive treatment of adult responses to the challenges posed by the activities, problems, and behaviors of pre-adults will note several lacunae. Although the desire to enhance education is frequently mentioned, schooling receives little in the way of explicit analysis. Pomfret pays even less attention to such matters as teen-age sexuality and juvenile delinquency, which remain very much in the background, as does the subject of differences between perceptions of males and of females. The impact of the experience of combat in the First World War--which must have tended to work against the growing dependency the author emphasizes as one of his main points--remains similarly unexplored. Clearer delineation of the identities and positions of the actors whose activities Pomfret narrates would also have been welcome. Finally, he might have referred in his conclusion to parallel developments in other countries, particularly Germany. (1) Dealing with such matters, however, would doubtless have entailed writing a substantially longer book, and the resulting sequence of chapters might well have turned out to be less unified than the one Pomfret has produced. In any event, he has written a good volume on an important theme.

Andrew Lees

Rutgers University, Camden


1. See Derek S. Linton, "Who Has the Youth Has the Future": The Campaign to Save Young Workers in Imperial Germany (Cambridge, 1991).
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Author:Lees, Andrew
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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