1st Edition

The Milltown Boys at Sixty The Origins and Destinations of Young Men from a Poor Neighbourhood

By Howard Williamson Copyright 2021
    228 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Milltown Boys at Sixty is a story like no other, giving both an insider and an outsider view of the ‘Milltown Boys’, exploring the nature of an ethnographic relationship based on research about their experiences of the criminal justice system.

    A group classically labelled as delinquents, drug-takers and drop-outs, the Boys were also, in many different ways, fathers, friends and family men, differentially immersed in the labour market, in very different family relationships and now very differently connected to criminal activity. Williamson has written books capturing their experiences over the fifty years of his continued association with them: about their teenage years; and twenty years later, in middle-age. This book is about them as they pass the age of 60, providing a personal account of the relationship between Williamson and the Boys, and the distinctive – perhaps even controversial – research methodology that enabled the mapping of their lives. It provides a unique and detailed insight into the ways in which the lives of the Milltown Boys that started with such shared beginnings have unfolded in so many diverse and fascinating ways.

    These accounts will be of interest to the lay reader curious about the way others have managed (or failed to manage) their lives, the professional who works with those living, often struggling, on the wrong side of the tracks, and the academic researching and teaching about social exclusion, substance misuse, criminal justice transitions and the life course. 


    Part One

    1. Marty’s Funeral

    2. Getting Started (again)

    3. Methodology

    Part Two

    4. Origins and Destinations

    5. Employment

    6. Family and Relationships

    7. Crime

    8. Health

    9. Housing

    10. Beliefs

    11. Leisure

    12. Closer than Family

    13. Identity and Self-Image

    Part Three

    14. Looking Back

    15. Some Final Thoughts



    Howard Williamson is Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of South Wales. His academic work has focused on youth, social exclusion and public policy. He recently completed the editing of a seven-volume History of Youth Work in Europe, published by the Council of Europe.

    "In The Milltown Boys at Sixty, the indefatigable Howard Williamson provides a masterclass in ethnography that offers a nuanced scholarly commentary of what it is like to grow up and old(er) in lives that began on a social housing estate. Williamson does a superb job of allowing some of the ‘The Boys’, whom he first met when they were 13 or 14 and who are now 60, reflect back across the years on lives lived mostly on the margins, whilst offering social commentary on the institutions - labour market, criminal justice service, and social and health services - that repeatedly failed many of them, then and now. The inclusion of themes such as who has succeeded and what success means, who counts as family, the role of belief systems and identity, and the far-reaching effects of mental health struggles make this account relevant and timely. A story of young lives - their origins and destinations - told across nearly fifty years is rare, but then so is Howard Williamson – a reflective and compassionate youth worker, youth policy expert and youth sociologist who has spent his entire career in the service of young people. The Milltown Boys at Sixty challenges us to change our approach from youth studies to life histories, our academic gaze from distant to intimate, and our analysis from a single lens to that of a kaleidoscope. Congratulations Howard, we are very proud of you!"

    Sharlene Swartz, President, Sociology of Youth Research Committee, International Sociological Association, Professor of Philosophy, University of Fort Hare, South Africa

    "With this book Howard Williamson returns to the story of the ‘Milltown Boys’ as they reach the age of 60. First met as teenagers, that Prof Williamson has retained close contact with these men over such an extended period is a very rare, perhaps unique sociological achievement. The twists and turns of the lives of ‘the Boys’ – family lives and friendships, encounters with crime and the criminal justice system, with jobs and unemployment, experiences of ageing and bereavement - are recounted with sensitivity, care and humour. This is not a typical academic book – not least because it is extraordinarily engaging! It rings with ethnographic truth. It should be relevant to a range of university courses in sociology, criminology, youth studies, youth work and research methodology. I can imagine students reading this book with great enthusiasm." 

    Robert MacDonald, Co-editor in Chief, Journal of Youth Studies, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom

    "The Milltown Boys at Sixty studies the same group of boys and men for a period of nearly 50 years. This extensive qualitative longitudinal study examines themes such as growing up, working, maintaining friendships, getting older and even facing the inevitable brevity of human lives. Professor Williamson’s reflections on research ethics and building relations with the people he studies are distinctive and immensely interesting. The book looks at life courses from the inside, and connects them to relevant themes in youth sociology without colonising the richness of the everyday with too much theory. The book offers narratives that are simultaneously a contribution to social science and evocative examples of long lives well lived, filled with beauty and dignity."

    Tomi Kiilakoski, Leading Senior Researcher, Finnish Youth Research Network, Adjunct Professor, University of Tampere, Finland

    "Understanding people’s lives requires genuine empathy with others, sociological sense and sensitivity, and methodological imagination. It takes wit and it takes time. This book, in itself an autobiographical narrative account of how "strange fascinations" change over time, is an example of these qualities. It is a reminder of the social and sociological reflexivity and honesty that comes with studying youth and beyond. This third act of the 'Milltown Boys' is an inspired and inspirational piece of sociological storytelling." 

    Magda Nico, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Research Methods of ISCTE-IUL, University of Lisbon, Portugal

    "Howard Williamson has done it again! Professor Williamson is a masterful storyteller, and has once again written a fascinating page-turner. This time he has produced a one of a kind longitudinal ethnography, spanning the lives of ‘the Boys’ over five decades, a group of social disadvantaged (young) men with whom he became closely acquainted in his own youth. Williamson’s attention to detail in his close personal relationships with his respondents comes out on every page. Written in a conversational style, he shows how his own biography is intertwined with ‘the Boys’ he studied for those five decades, as his life course paralleled—but contrasted—their varied life courses. Indeed, the detailed narrative of the ethnographer’s experiences is as interesting as the personal narratives he has documented from his respondents. This third edition of The Milltown Boys is must-read for youth studies researchers, but also scholars from many disciplines, especially those studying offenders—young and old alike—including sociology, social work, criminology, psychology, and psychiatry."

    James E. Côté, Professor of Sociology, University of Western Ontario, Canada

    "H, it’s fantastic; it brought it all back. You put yourself in there - that’s what you had to do. You weren’t like that Roundhouse bloke, who couldn’t go back. It was all about trust, H, trust - that’s why we let you in in the first place, H, we trusted you. And we still do. That’s the thing, H, it was never about money; we knew you didn’t care about money, we knew you were interested in us. I cried, H, I laughed, it brought back so much. You’ve got it all in there. It’s special, H. I bet there’s nothing quite like it. Because nobody’s done it before. Not stuck around with Boys like us for as long as you have…"
    Gary, one of the Milltown Boys

    "It’s great, H. I’ve really enjoyed reading it. I don’t like everything you’ve said about me, but there you are – warts and all! And you’re in it, like you should be. We wanted you to be more like one of the Boys, more included, more visible. And that’s what you’ve done, H, that’s what you’ve done."
    , one of the Milltown Boys