Call for Papers: A European Youth Revolt in 1980/81? Amsterdam, 15-17 May 2014. Organized by the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam, Institut für soziale Bewegungen, Bochum, and Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg

Sparked off by urban conflicts on youth centres and squatted houses, youth revolts unfolded in April/May 1980 in Amsterdam and Zurich, and soon spread to West-Berlin and other West-German cities. Simultaneously, cities such as Copenhagen and Vienna also witnessed a rise of confrontations between youth and the police, while in Great Britain so called ‚race riots‘ broke out in more than thirty cities in the early summer of 1981.

This far from complete enumeration tends to lend weight to the impression that the second youth revolt – as it was often called at the time – was above all a Northern European phenomenon. Did other European countries also witness an upturn of youth protests in the early 1980s, which was not solely linked to house occupations and structural urban conflicts? Can specific patterns of youth protests be discerned, that rise above nationally focused discourses? Can we speak of an international protest attitude among young people in the early 1980s?

These questions will be central at this conference, which aims at gaining a European perspective on the 1980/81 youth revolt as well as more in-depth insights into its specific aspects. The question of how youth and social movements in the 1980s related to each other has not been answered yet. Were, for example, the conspicuous locality of youth movements and the rejection of theoretical analyses the result of activists‘ negative experiences during the 1970s, or are we dealing with a generation that was not interested in history and wanted to create its own future? Similarly, the social composition of the youth movements is an issue that has not been researched in-depth. Were the protests mainly carried by deprived youth and students who had only enrolled formally but used the university not for educational purposes but as a laboratory for new life styles? Was the percentage of high school and working class youth significantly higher than during the protests in the late 1960s? Can the youth protests be explained as a side effect of a European wide development towards longer and more extensive education schemes or was the economic downturn and youth unemployment a primary cause for the protests?

The goal of the conference will be to achieve an overview of developments in Europe that moves beyond the descriptions of spectacular confrontations. We aim at embedding the youth revolt of 1980/1981 in a broader context of European post-war history. How can disparities be explained? Were the youth revolts mainly reactions to state repression and police violence, as was often claimed at the time? Or were the protesters‘ motivations less specific and their actions more generally directed at a society which was deemed rigid and cold? With these questions we hope to uncover new traces, which may lead to a new understanding of the youth revolt. The revolts and (partly) new groups and scenes of the 1980s were connected to a radical form of subjectivity, which can be linked to more general social trends such as
secularisation, individualisation, and pluralisation of life styles. This development can also be observed in the ‚differentiation of youth subcultures‘ during the early 1980s, with the rise of punks, skinheads, teds, and mods as well as other youth counter cultures. Was this differentiation an international phenomenon?

The effects of the revolts need to be discussed as well. The autonomous movements and squatters of the 1980s can be seen as heirs of the 1980/1981 youth revolts, even though they remained a quantitatively marginal group already at their time. The revolts were also expressions of the search for new forms of socialization and small, manageable social spheres. How did those involved develop after 1980/81, and which effects can be observed nationally and trans-nationally? The ’silent revolution‘ thesis of Ronald Inglehart, which claims that the values held by youth created a path for societal development, can be countered by an interpretation that interprets the development of the protests mainly as a story of de-radicalization and adjustment. This raises the questions which aspects of the youth cultures were carried on and which were put aside.

Another field of interest are the political and societal reactions to youth’s unruliness. Did critical social scientists write sympathetic reports, partly based on their own experiences? Did their expertise and publications influence political decision making, or, for example, change the conduct of the police? How did politics and society react to these challenges?

The years 1980/81 are to be understood as the conference’s point of departure, not as a limitation. Up to now, few historical works have been published on the subject. The protests have traditionally been the topic of contemporary sociological studies on youth, focusing on the changes of values and attitudes amongst youth during the 1980s or on deviancy and confrontation. As the 1980s are now gaining importance as a topic of historical research, the conference should contribute to the historical analysis of the youth protest wave.

At the conference, we want to explore if 1980/81 was the accumulation point of a set of international developments or rather the outflow of local and national political opportunities, by paying attention to specific countries and systematic comparisons. The contributions should be based on historical source material and embedded in a social-cultural history of post-war Europe. We especially welcome proposals that highlight the following four questions/perspectives:

  • Which events and social groups shaped and characterized the youth revolts of 1980/1981?
  • Which political programs were articulated or can be discerned? Did these build forth and/or were they taken up by other societal currents?
  • What were the political and societal reactions to the youth revolts?

How did these revolts influence or impact more general social developments, if at all?Proposals for 25-minute-presentations consisting of a one-page abstract, a short CV and a list of publications should be sent to Knud Andresen [Andresen(at)] and Bart van der Steen [bart.vandersteen(at)] until June, 1th, 2013. Conference language is English. Publication of the proceedings is intended.

Details on the conference website