Rethinking Sixties Britain

My book on Christian radicalism is part of my wider attempt to rethink Sixties Britain.

The standard interpretation of Britain’s ’60s is of a ‘people’s revolution’, an unstoppable wave of change prompted by affluence, economic growth, individualism, and technology. This is problematic for two reasons:

(1) This approach is Eurocentric. It assumes that there is basically only one cultural response to affluence, and only one way of doing individualism: the western model. In fact, of course, we need to think of western culture as one amongst many world cultures, driven by its own local cultural peculiarities, rather than being a ‘natural’ response to economic growth.

(2) It appeals to a 60s social transformation which did not in fact exist. Recent revisionist scholarship has now conclusively demonstrated that mainstream British society did not actually change very much during the 1960s: the major social shifts began in the very late 1960s, and did not become widely influential until the 1970s and 1980s.

As an alternative, I suggest that we should see Britain’s Sixties as a strictly cultural revolution: a transformation of assumptions rather than behaviour. Rather than looking at social indices, I argue, we should be looking at media (newspapers, television, radio, music, and cinema) to track shifts in the way the modern world was framed and interpreted. Since people tend to act out their assumptions, this cultural paradigm-shift of the 1960s could then explain the slow social transformation which Britain experienced in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

In this vein, I have written on the invention and enactment of Britain’s secular society, on the invention and enactment of Britain’s sexual revolution, and on cultural paths into Sixties political radicalism.

In developing cultural explanations for postwar moral change, I’ve come to the conclusion that the discursive strength of Christianity in 1950s Britain was crucially important, because it marginalised secular forms of moral radicalism whilst enabling Christian forms of moral radicalism. For this reason, I think that moral radicalism within the British churches is an important ‘missing link’ in accounts of the ‘moral revolution’ of the 1960s. Hence the book about Christian radicalism.