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  1. Lise Butler* University College Oxford1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Michael Young, the Institute of…
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  • 1. Lise Butler* University College Oxford1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Michael Young, the Institute of Community Studies, and the Politics of Kinship Abstract This article examines the East London-based Institute of Community Studies, and its founder, Michael Young, to show that sociology and social research offered avenues for left-wing political expression in the 1950s. Young, who had previously been Head of the Labour Party Research Department during the Attlee government, drew upon existing currents of psychological and sociological research to emphasize the continuing relevance of the extended family in industrial society and to offer a model of socialist citizenship, solidarity and mutual support not tied to productive work. Young and his colleagues at the Institute of Community Studies promoted the supportive kinship networks of the urban working class, and an idealized conception of the relationships between women, to suggest that family had been overlooked by the left and should be reclaimed as a progressive force. The article shows that the Institute’s sociological work was informed by a pre-existing concern with family as a model for cooperative socialism, and suggests that sociology and social research should be seen as important sources of political commentary for scholars of post-war politics. Introduction After the general election of 1950 Michael Young felt drained and disillusioned. Young, Head of the Labour Party Research Department, had been tasked with reinvigorating the party’s policy programme for the 1950 election. Though he had also been primarily responsible for the *E-mail: 1 I warmly thank my supervisor Ben Jackson, anonymous reviewers for Twentieth Century British History, Jon Lawrence, James Vernon, John Davis, Christina de Bellaigue, Stuart White, Paula Butler, Kit Kowol, and Christina Black for their invaluable comments, suggestions and edits, and remember the help of the late A.H. Halsey. Thanks also to the participants of the Oxford Modern British History Seminar, Oxford History of Political Thought Seminar, and the Berkeley Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought for helping me to shape this article. Twentieth Century British History, 2015, page 1 of 22 doi:10.1093/tcbh/hwu063 ß The Author [2015]. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: Twentieth Century British History Advance Access published February 5, 2015
  • 2. party’s 1945 election manifesto, Let Us Face the Future, which had contributed to the resounding victory of the first Attlee government, he found post-war policy development to be a much greater challenge. Young was not terribly proud of Let Us Face the Future, which, he recalled, had ‘sort of wrote itself’.2 He characterized the document as an intellectual mix of ‘Beveridge plus Keynes plus Socialism’ and the product of ‘centuries of socialist propaganda’, recalling ‘I didn’t think it was particularly good. It wasn’t well written, but nor did it need to be’. But the manifesto was of secondary importance as a policy document: a ‘champagne fizz’ was in the air, a mood of inexorable change had swept politics, and ‘[a]lmost anything the Labour Party said was going to carry them’.3 After the exhilarating election victory of the summer of 1945, Young found the next phase of policy development to be an uphill battle. Labour’s arguments for reconstruction, the health service, social security and post-war housing policy had been developed over decades in opposition, and had crystallized during the war. But after 5 years in government, new policies were more difficult to come by. Young presided over ‘umpteen committees’ seeking fresh ideas and policy solutions to bring to the 1950 election, and eventually produced the somewhat awkwardly titled election manifesto, Let Us Win Through Together, which promised full employment, new homes, more power to local government, a consumer advice service, the promotion of private enterprise and industrial democracy.4 But Young, upon reflection, still thought the 1950 programme ‘a pretty tawdry thing’ devoid of intellectual spirit or substance. He recalled that despite his best efforts, he and his colleagues had failed to find a satisfactory new policy direction.5 Nonetheless, the Labour Party won the election of 1950 by a slim majority of only five seats in stark contrast to its 146 seat majority of 1945, and would go on to be defeated in a second general election 18 months later. Disillusioned, Young resigned from the Research Department after the 1950 election, accepting the Labour Party’s generous offer of a 6-month sabbatical to travel to New Zealand, Australia, Israel, and India. But when he arrived back in Britain, Young returned not to public policy, but sociology. And it was through sociology that he would mount a critique of the post-war settlement. 2 Churchill Archive Center, Cambridge, Michael Young Papers, [hereafter YUNG] 10/ 2, National Life Story Collection: Leading Citizens, Lord Young of Dartington interviewed by Professor Paul Thompson, 12 May 1990, 70. 3 YUNG 10/2, National Life Story Collection, 69; Peter Hennessy, ‘The 1945 General Election and the Post War Period Remembered’, Contemporary Record, 9:1 (Summer 1995), 81, 84; YUNG 10/3, Michael Young interview by Jane Gabriel, Roll 1, 22 March 1994, 16. 4 YUNG 6/39, Let Us Face the Future: A Declaration of Labour Party Policy for the Consideration of the Nation, September 1945. 5 YUNG 10/2, National Life Story Collection, 69. 2 of 22 LISE BUTLER
  • 3. Michael Young’s ideas have recently enjoyed a small renaissance in Labour circles concerned with devolution and local government. A number of publicly facing and more scholarly accounts have portrayed Young as a proponent of decentralization against the centralizing tendencies of the post-war left, and placed Young’s thought in the context of a longer liberal pluralist or ethical socialist tradition that favoured communitarian and cooperative forms of political association.6 But Young’s ideas should not just be set against dominant intellectual trends within the Labour Party, past and present, but also seen as the products of a sustained engagement with the social research and social sciences of his day, including sociology, anthropology, and psychology. As Stephen Brooke, Martin Francis and Jeremy Nuttall have all shown, a strand of social scientific thought informed debates about the ideological direction of the Labour Party in the 1940s.7 This social science inflected socialism did not disappear with Evan Durbin’s premature death in 1948, or the Labour Party’s election loss in 1951, but blossomed in the realms of social research and sociology. As Ben Jackson has described, sociologists like Richard Titmuss, Peter Townsend, and Michael Young contributed to a mutualist and organicist strand of left-wing political thought in the 1950s. Inspired by the socially transformative experience of wartime, these groups looked to working-class social practices, traditional ways of life, and the extended family for inspiration.8 In 1953 Young founded the Institute of Community Studies (ICS) in the East London district of Bethnal Green and would soon be joined by Townsend and fellow social researchers Peter Willmott and Peter 6 Jon Cruddas, speech to the New Local Government Network, February 2014, http://; Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford, One Nation: Labour’s Political Renewal (London, 2014), 13; David Goodhart, A Post-Liberal Future? (London, 2014); Anthony Painter, ‘A Late Triumph for Michael Young’, in Progress, 12 February 2014. late-triumph-for-michael-young/; Stephen Meredith, ‘Michael Young: A Social Democratic Alternative’ in Peter Ackers and Alastair Reid, eds, Other Worlds of Labour (Basingstoke, 2015). 7 Jeremy Nuttall, ‘‘‘Psychological Socialist’’; ‘‘militant moderate’’: Evan Durbin and the Politics of the synthesis’, Labour History Review, 28:2 (2003), 235–52; Stephen Brooke, ‘Evan Durbin: Reassessing a Labour ‘‘Revisionist’’’, Twentieth Century British History, 7:1 (1996), 27–52; Stephen Brooke, ‘Revisionists and Fundamentalists: the Labour Party and Economic Policy during the Second World War’, Historical Journal, 32 (1989), 157–75; Martin Francis, ‘Economics and Ethics: The Nature of Labour’s Socialism, 1945-51’, Twentieth Century British History, 6:2 (1995), 220–43. 8 Ben Jackson, Equality and the British Left: A Study of Progressive Political Thought, 1900- 64 (Manchester, 2007), esp. 188–91. See also Lawrence Black, ‘Social Democracy as a Way of Life: Fellowship and the Socialist Union, 1951-9’, Twentieth Century British History, 10:4 (1999). MICHAEL YOUNG AND THE ICS 3 of 22
  • 4. Marris. The new organization’s stated purpose was to examine the interaction of the family, the community and the social services. It promised to study the way in which ordinary people interacted with the newly expanded social service sector, and asked whether the organs of the state were in cooperation or conflict with established patterns of family support and mutual aid. Bethnal Green had long suffered from overcrowding and poor housing conditions, and was subject to mass slum clearance and replanning in the decade after the war. By 1958, as Young and Willmott would report in a radio broadcast, something like one family left the area every day, often for the housing estates of rural Essex.9 The Institute’s first and probably best-known book, Young and Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London, contrasted Bethnal Green with the newly constructed Essex suburb of Debden, called ‘Greenleigh’ in the study. Young and Willmott suggested that extended family ties and kinship networks provided an essential web of support for the residents of Bethnal Green, and that those who moved to the suburbs suffered from a decline in quality of life as a result of their relative isolation. Invoking a conception of working-class culture rooted in family and neighbourhood, which historians have also associated with contemporary Richard Hoggart’s classic The Uses of Literacy, Young and Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London and Townsend’s The Family Life of Old People challenged a view that the extended family was in decline, and argued that kinship ties provided an important source of community and practical support in Bethnal Green.10 The ICS has been referred to as probably the most widely known social research institute in Britain.11 And the message of its early publications influenced a generation of sociologists and social historians and helped to create a nostalgic picture of urban life that survives today, notwithstanding suggestions that the mutualist spirit observed by Young and Willmott may have had less to do with an ethos of civic virtue amongst the working class, and more to do with ‘the fact that they lacked power’.12 The ICS’ emphasis on the working-class family was in fact informed by a wealth of contemporary social scientific influences. And, as this article seeks to show, Young’s work with the Institute represented a deliberate intellectual and political project to emphasize the continuing relevance of the extended family in industrial society, and to offer a model of socialist citizenship, solidarity and community tied to the family rather than the workplace. 9 Churchill Archive Center Cambridge, Sasha Moorsom [Young] Papers YONG/4/2, transcript of radio program for ‘Families on the Move’, 14 May 1958, 8–9. 10 Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (New Brunswick, 2000). 11 Jennifer Platt, Social Research in Bethnal Green: An Evaluation of the Work of the Institute of Community Studies (London, 1971), 1. 12 Selina Todd, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class (London, 2014), 176. 4 of 22 LISE BUTLER
  • 5. The ICS, Socialism and Sociology The first meeting of the Institute of Community Studies Advisory Committee was held at the Westminster headquarters of the think tank Political and Economic Planning (PEP) on 9 November 1953, and was chaired by London School of Economics (LSE) Professor of Social Administration Richard Titmuss. The Institute’s Advisory Committee initially consisted of the child psychologist John Bowlby, the sociologist Barbara Wootton, and Alan Jarvis, the Canadian Director of the Oxford House social settlement, who would soon go on to become Head of the National Gallery of Canada.13 In the late 1950s and early 1960s the research staff of the ICS would include the historian Raphael Samuel, the medical researcher Ann Cartwright, and the sociologists Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden. And the Institute’s Advisory Board would later include Charles Madge, better known for his work with Mass Observation, the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, and Sir Alexander Carr Saunders, Director of the LSE.14 The Institute was supported by the Nuffield Foundation and the Elmgrant Trust, a fund associated with Dartington Hall, the cooperative community in Devon established by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst to which both Young and Jarvis had ties. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization supplied ‘[o]ne or more typewriters’, and the American sociologist Edward Shils channelled several hundred pounds of his own research funding from the Ford Foundation into the new unit.15 The Institute survives today as the Young Foundation in its original Bethnal Green location. As in 1953, it is non-partisan but retains a strong informal association with the Labour Party: former Associate Director Rushanara Ali is Labour MP for Bethnal and Bow, and its former director Geoff Mulgan was Director of Policy at 10 Downing Street under Tony Blair. Young and Willmott described their focus on the extended family in Bethnal Green as a natural outgrowth of empirical research. In Family and Kinship in East London, they insisted that ‘[w]e were surprised to discover that the wider family, far from having disappeared, was still 13 British Library of Political and Economic Science [hereafter BLPES], Richard Titmuss Papers [hereafter Titmuss] 2/136, Minutes of first meeting of the Institute of Community Studies, 9 November 1953; for more on Alan Jarvis, see Asa Briggs, Michael Young: Social Entrepreneur (London, 2001), 132, and Andrew Horrall, Bringing Art to Life: a Biography of Alan Jarvis (Montreal; Ithaca, 2009). 14 Young Foundation private papers, ‘Institute of Community Studies Advisory Committee Minute Book, 1953–1963’. 15 Titmuss 2/136, Notes from talk with Michael Young, 9 February 1954; Letter to Richard Titmuss from the National Corporation of Old People, 25 November 1953. Young had also considered a funding application to the Eugenics Society, and would unsuccessfully seek support from the National Corporation for the Care of Old People. MICHAEL YOUNG AND THE ICS 5 of 22
  • 6. very much alive in the middle of London’.16 Their Bethnal Green respondents, they claimed, inevitably described their experiences of the social services ‘against the background of the extended families to which they belonged’.17 Young and Willmott presented the Institute’s emphasis upon extended family as a concern that derived from objective, methodologically careful research—they wrote about the extended family, they said, because they had discovered that it was important to their subjects. This was not entirely true. Young would later admit that he and his colleagues had ‘generally lied in a small way when [they] said that [they had] ‘‘stumbled on’’ a kinship system we didn’t know existed when we started work in Bethnal Green’.18 And Jon Lawrence’s recent re-examination of field notes from Young’s 1953 to 1955 interviews in Bethnal Green supports this admission, suggesting that Young and Willmott did not fully acknowledge their informants ‘much more equivocal attitudes towards neighbours, neighbourhood and kin’ and might have seen ‘what their politics wanted them to see’ in Bethnal Green.19 Young and Willmott’s fierce emphasis upon family life in Family and Kinship in East London was not fully the product, as they claimed, of unbiased investigative research, but rather of a pre-existing concern with the family. Most scholars interested in the ICS have focused primarily on Family and Kinship in East London. In his influential study of British sociology, Mike Savage suggests that the Institute represented a distinctive and novel approach to British social research that treated Bethnal Green as a ‘capsule’ where broader processes of social change could be discerned. Contrasting Family and Kinship in East London, in particular, with Norman Dennis’ 1957 study of a West Yorkshire coal mining community, Savage argues that rather than emphasizing the difference, particularity and otherness of working-class communities, the re- searchers of the ICS treated the social changes affecting the lives of their East London subjects as symptomatic of broader processes of reconstruction and modernization.20 Nick Tiratsoo and Mark Clapson have examined the ICS’ relationship with the Ford Foundation, which granted the Institute $70,000 in 1957 to support studies of contemporary 16 Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London (Middlesex, 1968 [1957]), 12. 17 Michael Young and Peter Willmott, ‘Research Report No. 3: Institute of Community Studies, Bethnal Green’, The Sociological Review, (July 1961), 203–6. 18 YUNG 10/3, Michael Young interviewed by Kate Gavron, 22 March 1994, Roll No. 3, 4. 19 Jon Lawrence, ‘Inventing the ‘‘Traditional Working Class’’: a Re-analysis of Interviews from Young and Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London’, History After Hobsbawm Conference, 29 April–1 May 2014, London. 20 Mike Savage, Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940: The Politics of Method (Oxford, 2010), 156–9. 6 of 22 LISE BUTLER
  • 7. British Society.21 Christian Topalov has situated Family and Kinship in an international sociological literature on urban slums and working-class neighbourhoods addressing transatlantic trends towards slum clear- ance, urban redevelopment and suburbanization in the post-war decades. He situates Family and Kinship in East London within an international collection of publications including Herbert Gans’ 1962 study of the Boston West End, and Henri Coing’s 1963 study of the 13th arrondissement of Paris.22 Angela Davis suggests that Young and Willmott’s concern with family should be set in the context of a general post-war optimism ‘about the stability of marriage and family life.’23 And in his biography of Young, Asa Briggs compares the communi- tarian thrust of the ICS to that of Dartington Hall, the alternative community and school run by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst where Young had studied as a teenager, suggesting that though very different, both places offered models of community and belonging that informed Young’s work.24 In 1971 the sociologist Jennifer Platt published the first and only comprehensive study of the Institute. Platt’s assessment was highly critical—as a professional sociologist, she condemned the ICS for its perhaps naı¨vely optimistic view of working-class communities which, she pointed out, could prove stultifying as well as supportive. Most damningly, perhaps, she referred to the Institute as a ‘special sort of pressure group’ more concerned to promote a particular vision of the good society than to conduct empirically rigorous sociological research.25 In a sense, Platt was right: the ICS was a pressure group. But perhaps Platt did not go far enough. The Institute did not aim at empiricism but fall back on dogma: it had been conceived from the start as a public policy think tank. The ICS was explicitly modelled after Political and Economic Planning,
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