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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Marcus Collins, The Permissive Society and its Enemies: Sixties British Culture (2007)

I was rather underwhelmed by this volume, which is not anything like as useful for my purposes as I hoped it might be. There is a useful chapter by Alison Oram on lesbian politics in the 60s before the rise of the Gay Liberation Front. Matt Houlbrook's chapter doesn't really say much more than what one can glean from Queer London about class issues and respectability in homophile campaigns up to 1967.

Generally, there seems a perspective to most of the chapters which is straight male, and I don't think giving a passing acknowledgement to the sexism, sexual exploitation and misogyny going on in subcultures/counter-culture entirely absolves from doing things like seeing whether/how women were engaging with those phenomena (e.g. c.f. Caroline Coon and the establishment of Release) - before the frustration of so many came to a head and was one of the driving forces behind the new militant revived feminism of 'Women's Liberation'. Yes, some of the male figures around were giving lip-service to equality, but no, we don't really have a sense from these chapters of how compromised that was in practice (and was possibly more about abdication of responsibility than acknowledgement of women as actual equals).

There are also some very odd omissions when considering what subcultures were actually around in the 60s. E.g. Mod culture and issues of male dandyism and subversion (or not) of conventions of masculinity.

I found the categorisation of 'civil disobedience' and 'direct action' as 'moral rather than political campaigns' (p. 101) really odd - given that the inspiration there was Gandhi! In fact one of several places where I felt distinctions were being made more hard and fast than the fluid reality must have been.

Okay, edited volumes are always dependent upon who can be persuaded to contribute and is available to do so and working on questions of pertinence to the theme, and this one came out of a conference, which may have added in additional limitations on what could be covered. But I still felt that the choices here were a bit odd.

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