1st Edition

Making-Up People: Youth, Truth and Politics

By Judith Bessant Copyright 2021
    322 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    322 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    This book is about modern politics and young people. Judith Bessant revises some long-standing myths about children and young people’s politics. She highlights the huge gap between the many ways young people and politics are talked about and how they have long been politically active.

    Bessant draws on a relational historical sociology to show how since the nineteenth century certain historical dynamics, political interests and social imaginaries have enabled social scientists, writers, political leaders and policymakers to imagine and ‘make up’ different kinds of young people. Given these representations of childhood, adolescence and youth, everyone knows that young people are cognitively immature, inexperienced, morally under-developed and lack good judgement. For these reasons they cannot possibly be allowed to engage in the serious, grown-up business of politics. Yet in just one of the many contradictions, young people are criticised by many of their elders for being politically apathetic and disengaged from politics.

    Many think recent global warming movements largely led by quite young people are a novel phenomenon. Yet young people have been at the forefront of political movements of all kinds since the French Revolution. Since the 1960s, children and young people increasingly played a major, if sometimes obscured, role in civil rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation, anti-austerity and global-warming movements. This accessible book is rich in theoretical and historical insight that is sure to appeal to sociologists, historians, youth studies scholars and political scientists, as well as to the general reader.


    1. Thinking About Social Representations

    2. A Minor Omission: Children Young People and Politics

    3. ‘The Past is a Foreign Country’: Young People in the Eighteenth Century

    4. Civilising Little Savages: Children and the Dangerous Classes

    5. Girls Politics and Delinquency in the 1950s

    6. Representing Student Politics in the 1960s

    7. The Great Transformation: The Young Precariat and Young Entrepreneur

    8. Making the Waves: Contemporary Youth Action

    9. Answering Back and the Politics of Recognition


    Judith Bessant is a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and a Professor at RMIT University, Australia and writes about politics, youth studies, policy, sociology, media-technology studies and history. She also advises governments and non-government organizations.

    "Youth and politics - in conventional thinking, they don't mix. In this lively and well-informed book, Judith Bessant shows that they do mix, and have been mixing for a very long time. With examples ranging from mediaeval France to 1950s Australia to global climate activism today, Bessant shows that youth engagement and activism, in many different forms, really matter."

    Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney, Australia, www.raewynconnell.net

    "More than ever, the young generation is presented as a source of fear, given its presumed cynicism and disillusion, but also of hope, given inclusive values, progressive visions and broad participation in protests for social and environmental justice. In this brilliant book, Judith Bessant addresses the historical evolution of the mainstream social representation of the young people connecting it with the capitalist development, that has expelled young people from the stable labour market. Building upon a relational approach, the analysis convincingly points at the youth resistance to their recursive stereotypization and at their fundamental political role."

    Donatella della Porta, Director of the Centre on Social Movement Studies, Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy

    "Making-Up People: Youth, Truth and Politics is a cornerstone book for the sociology of youth. With searing insight, Bessant takes the reader to the central issues for contemporary youth sociology and youth studies, challenging many taken for granted assumptions. Drawing on insights about the nature of youth political action in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bessant shows that youth is always represented in ways that are embedded in a specific place and time and that in order to gain some traction on the analysis of young people’s lives, a ‘relational perspective’ is required. She takes the reader through a compelling and highly accessible analysis of the profound transformations occurring in our contemporary world, that ‘change the very nature of reality and human nature’ and place us at a political crossroad. At this juncture, Bessant’s book is signpost to a future in which young people take a key role in decision-making forums and shape new political spaces to address pressing issues of environmental preservation, social transformation and social justice."

    Johanna Wyn, Redmond Barry Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Youth Research Centre, The University of Melbourne, Australia

    "Having written extensively on how young people have galvanised and led recent global social movements and been at the vanguard of new forms of political participation, the prolific Judith Bessant now turns her attention to their involvement over the longue durée. From Joan of Arc to Greta Thunberg, and many more in-between, Bessant is at her best in carefully tracing how young people and children have been represented and how they have in fact shaped our current sensibilities. Written with engaging detail, theoretical acumen and kaleidoscopic insights, Making-Up People: Youth, Truth and Politics is a fabulous contribution to global youth studies."

    Sharlene Swartz, President of Sociology of Youth Research Committee, University of Fort Hare, South Africa

    "Judith Bessant is a leading international authority in the field of youth studies. Full stop. She is also a prodigious writer on the subject. Making-Up People: Youth, Truth and Politics offers another incisive contribution that considers how young people’s lives – and especially their politics – have historically been (mis)represented by professional commentators and casual observers alike. At a time when young people are stepping-up to take the vanguard in global campaigns for environmental and social justice, this book will be of critical importance to serious scholars interested in making sense of their interventions and contributions to social and political life."

    Matt Henn, PhD, Chair of Social Research, School of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, UK

    "In this wonderful new volume, Judith Bessant does a brilliant job of documenting the ways in which we ‘make up’ young people. She details the gaps between reality and representations of youth and politics and the paradox linked to critiques of youth apathy. Youth have spearheaded political movements throughout history, from the French Revolution to 1968, to current protests and sit-ins. This thoughtful and deeply original new book is sure to engage anyone interested in these important issues."

    Maria Grasso, Professor of Political Science and Political Sociology, Queen Mary University of London, UK

    "This compelling and important book will appeal to sociologists of childhood and youth, historians and political scientists keen to attend to the representation of young people in contemporary political life. The book opens a pathway for further work on contemporary representations of young people’s politics, not only for persistent negative representations but also in analysing historical resonances in apparently positive representations."

    Eve Mayes, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University, Australia