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Sussex historian calls for change in perception of youth culture in new podcast

The existing narrative around youth culture needs to change drastically, according to a leading historian at the University of Sussex.

In a new episode of the Impacted podcast, Professor of Collaborative History Lucy Robinson notes that most people think students aren’t political anymore - but they are.

Professor Robinson said: “I’m just really sick of old punks telling young people that they’re not doing it properly. They’re just looking in the wrong place.”

Her comments come just a week after the Global Climate Strike, a movement which was started by students.

She said: “We have more young people voting than ever before, more young people saying they want ethical jobs, more young people signing petitions, young people taking to the streets… and still the narrative is that youth culture isn’t very radical, is it?”

In a half hour episode of Impacted, a podcast series about research for real change, Professor Robinson told co-hosts Suzanne Fisher-Murray and Will Hood, about the Subcultures Network – an interdisciplinary group of researchers which aims to get youth culture taken seriously.

During the podcast, Professor Robinson shares her route to becoming an ‘accidental academic’, having left school without any qualifications. Crediting her activist background for a lot of her learning, she is now an expert in popular culture and a firm advocate for its inclusion in academia.

She said: “A historian’s role is often to uncover the lost voices in the past to try and make some redress of power balance in the present. There’s a sort of justice to uncovering unheard voices.”

This focus on popular culture came from her earlier studies at Sussex, where she worked on an MA and PhD. Her PhD focused her on a theme that has remained throughout her work as a historian – the relationship between the personal and the political. 

Prof Robinson said: “I guess at the moment now it feels as though all politics is quite personal and emotionally based, but that hasn’t always been the case. That’s a very contemporary understanding, that our politics is about our feelings rather than being something which might be seen as a more objective analysis.

“I was really interested in capturing that moment where what you actually do in your actual life matters as much as or sometimes more than the big political structures.”

During her career, Professor Robinson has also embraced a variety of ways in which to share her research, most notably through documentary films.

For the anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, she co-produced Queerama, which used footage from the archives of the British Film Institute to not only tell the story of gay history, but to disrupt the narrative and create in a queer way.

This disruptive nature is something she tries to encourage in her students. As joint Head of History alongside Dr Christopher Warne, Prof Robinson includes students in every stage of their learning, encouraging them to help develop the curriculum or participate in community history projects.

As a new generation of students embarks on University life, and existing students return to campus over the next few weeks, her advice to them is simple: “Challenge everything.”

Impacted episodes will be released every month and are available to listen to for free from:

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 26 September 2019