Staff – University of Copenhagen

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Celia Penelope Hughes

Celia Penelope Hughes


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    Research Overview

    My work examines the individual lives of of young sixties men and women to offer a unique perspective of the post-war self and the social, emotional and political processes of gendered self-making.

    Past Research

    My doctoral thesis was a study of young men and women who came of age within the extra-parliamentary left cultures in Britain in the 1960s &70s. It explored their ‘felt’ experiences & subjectivities to ask wider questions about the dynamic relationship between class, gender, social & sexual relations, and politics & identity in the post-war era. Through these lives it tells a particular story about the shaping of the English post-war self. It explores the English experience of activist life previously neglected in histories of 1968 focused on Western Europe and North America.

    Based largely on fifty oral history interviews I conducted with men and women between 2009 and 2010, my thesis focuses in depth on approximately twenty stories of individuals whose young adult lives became closely interwoven with the activist network that grew up around and out of the metropolitan-based VSC from the mid-1960s. It traces the activist trajectory from child to adulthood to understand how social, political, and emotional life in the Trotskyist and non-aligned left milieu, up to the early 1970s, intersected with specific experiences of social class, family relations, gender, and the changing post-war British society. It explores how radical left cultures in turn shaped everyday experiences of university, political activism, work, family life, and political and personal, social and sexual relations. Placing individuals at the centre of this study, it explores their role as agents of political, social and cultural change during the long 1960s. It considers how young activists mediated between radical and mainstream cultures in their efforts to shape a reflexive, liberated self.

    My work informs the unfolding subjective turn – this is the recognition by historians of the value of looking at individual lives and subjectivities. Through these lives we can gain insight into some of the complex ways individuals in the past have used available cultural resources to find meaning in their lives. It is part of the concern to understand individuals as emotional or affective subjects in dialogue with their material and discursive environments.

    Current Research

    My new project is a study of male subjectivity and selfhood in post-war Britain. The project will examine changing representations and meanings of masculinity in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century and consider how individually and collectively young, educated, white middle-class men were shaping themselves in response. I am concerned with how male selfhood changed over the early life-course, from fifties boyhood to sixties adolescence and 1970s and 1980s adulthood.

    I will be looking at a wide range of personal sources including oral history testimonies, memoirs, diaries, unpublished fictional accounts and poems along with sources of self-expression such as letters written to newspaper and magazine problem pages.

    The project includes specific attention to the cohort of men who in the 1970s and 1980s identified middle-class masculinity as a problematic and political question and one that demanded individual and social change. It asks the question of what, on a subjective level, it meant to be a pro-feminist man in this period in order to illuminate wider, unconsidered social questions about changes in gender roles and sexual relations taking place during the 1970s between young higher-educated men and women. It seeks to examine the role pro-feminist men played as agents shaping new patterns of male identity, social and political life.

    I am particularly interested in exploring the role the men's movement played in opening up new public and private spaces in which to formulate new forms of male selfhood as well as new relationships for men. The project will also study how men who were not part of the men's movement understood 1970s Women's Liberation and their own responses to changing represenations of masculinity in the 1970s and 1980s.

    For details of my new research project, please visit my homepage

    ID: 40096836