Working Class Youth and Moral Panic

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Why has the nineteenth century been associated with ‘a persistent panic over working class youth’?

The events of the nineteenth century have often been described as turning points throughout Europe, the subsequent revolutions of the major powers of Europe led to significant change in the countries involved, additionally industrial revolutions and urbanization led to greater city populations. The question about youth firstly must be defined in a manor easily understood. How persistent the panic was is important in addition to this what panic was there. From the latter part of the 19th century these issues can be discussed with greater authority, and effects drawn more conclusively. ‘Moral panic’ is considered being a concern for the threat of social order or values as Stanley Cohen and Jock Young have emphasised.

The context is vital during this period as British output doubled twice in the 19th century between 1830-1852 and 1852-80 which fundamentally changed Britain in a number of ways, before the revolution its estimated ¾ of the population lived in rural parts. Working longer for less in factories and higher living costs in an increasing urban country left many with very little. The relentless path that factory owners were able to take due to the government’s laissez-faire attitude led to another social change the breakdown of family life, safety was not an issue only profit, women and children worked hard and for little income. It is also argued that England was the world’s first urban nation, and urbanization meant that the majority of people lived in urban areas according to the consensus of 1861, an inevitable factor in a growing power. The aspects that caused panic- and/or ‘moral panic’- are also an important aspect as well as what led to the reactions of politicians and how the public reacted to youth, which could often be a product of journalism at the time. It should also be explained there was no distinct youth pre 1850’s, children entered adult life as soon as possible working in the various industries. And now there was a growing consciousness of not only the working class but of a ‘youth culture’ one which was ultimately conscious of itself. With this change in society and as problems occurred newspapers took advantage to emphasise story lines which, arguably in turn would lead to ‘moral panic’ to some degree. And as Eileen Janes Yeo explains that some of these ideas were ‘manufactured’ in the light of politicians creating these problems for them themselves to solve through social reform, creating further panic over the youth of tomorrow. An example of this can be seen by the mugging of an MP in 1862 or Garrotting as they were coined, held a small proportion of crimes but a press campaign resulted from this ‘...Garrotte robberies was tiny, the press created sensations out of minor incidents. Parliament responded with ferocious legislation providing for offenders to be flogged as well as imprisoned.’[1] Later Clive Emsley explains ‘Violence, especially violence with a sexual frisson, sold newspapers. But violent crime in the form of murder and street robbery never figured significantly in the statistics or in the courts.’[2] This therefore verifies the effects that the press had on panic within a social context to some extent. On the other hand Andrew Davies argues differently agreeing with Humphries point of view in his writings ‘I would strongly endorse Humphries' assertion that violent youth gangs were not an invention of the late Victorian press.’[3] It should also be noted that to a degree many Victorian English thought that the Irish or more specifically the poor Irish were responsible for a large proportion of crime in some areas such as Lancashire. ‘With the substantial increase in Irish immigration during the early Victorian period, the host society's widespread belief in the innate criminality of the Irish-and, more particularly, of the Irish poor-formed an integral component of the...
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