Cultivating an ‘earthly paradise’: nature, informal education, and the contested politics of youth citizenship, 1910s-1940s

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This article discusses contested discourses of youth citizenship in Birmingham, UK, in the early twentieth century. It explores how socially committed Quakers and labour and co-operative activists in the city drew on transnational social and political critiques of the urban, and a powerful discourse of nature as facilitator of a morally and physically healthier citizen, to adopt pedagogic responses aimed at securing a more peaceful and egalitarian world. Taking the British Camp Fire Girls and a local fellowship of the Woodcraft Folk as case studies, the article considers the role of the natural world in the pedagogy of youth citizenship, and how organisational rhetoric at a national level was translated into practice locally. It analyses the political and religious motivations of the adults who developed these initiatives, and argues that suburban south Birmingham provided a very particular pedagogic landscape in which alternative conceptualisations of youth citizenship were possible.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-516
Number of pages19
JournalHistory of Education
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • youth citizenship, informal learning, Quakers, co-operative movement, Woodcraft Folk