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Rejuvenating France: The creation of a national youth culture after the Great War

Barbara Curtis Fox, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the new emphasis on childhood in France that came from the destructiveness and trauma of the First World War. After the Great War, the French sought to rebuild their nation by redefining both young people's social responsibilities and adults' duties towards children. Politicians, educators, scientists, a social activists sought greater control over what seemed to be an increasingly valuable and potentially volatile social group. From 1918 to 1949, I argue, in public debates about the fashioning of a new, post-war youth culture, traditionalist, idealist, and scientific conceptions of childhood were competing alternatives. Each of these ways of thinking and talking about the social and cultural role of the next generation expressed different visions of the French nation in response to national crisis. Through the schools, family legislation, and leisure culture such as youth groups and the children's press, the younger generation assumed a new social and cultural position. French youth began to be seen as a national community, set apart by their age status from the rest of society, yet reflecting patriotic ideals and deeply-rooted French values. The new and distinct youth culture developed as part of post-war recovery served to mediate young people's relationship the nation, circumventing the earlier primacy of family relationships as the basis for social identity. During this time, French children were pulled out of the more private space of the family. This increased the sense of the power of youth as a collective entity, which also contributed to new fears of youth rebellion. These underlying tensions, between tradition and science and between heroism and rebellion, also led to the implementation of official regulation of French youth culture, notably through the passage in 1949 of a law censoring children's periodicals. Throughout this period, with state support, scientific theories gained the greatest authority over constructing the French child's world, but this new public space retained a deep-seated connection to adult-envisioned national ideals. In reforming the role of the younger generation after the war, the French found grounds for hope and national rejuvenation. ^

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|European history

Recommended Citation

Fox, Barbara Curtis, "Rejuvenating France: The creation of a national youth culture after the Great War" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3039356.