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‘Looking both ways’: place, space, and left-wing activism in Croydon after 1956

Frost, D. (2022) ‘Looking both ways’: place, space, and left-wing activism in Croydon after 1956. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00113102


This thesis places the history of left-wing activism and activists within a specific suburban context. Focusing on Croydon, which predominantly elected Conservative MPs and a Conservative-controlled council until the 1990s, this study contributes to understanding left-wing politics in places where it was not necessarily electorally successful but where many activists grew up, lived, and have returned to. In the process, it explores the ways left-wing activists made sense of, and contributed to, the complex and contradictory experiences of Croydon and the suburban in a ‘suburban nation’ and ‘suburban century’. ‘Writing from within’ and drawing upon a combination of oral history interviews, archival research, and Croydon’s appearances in popular culture, this thesis adds to recent scholarship in contemporary political history and (sub)urban studies and enters conversation with the work of scholars including, but not limited to, Raymond Williams, Henri Lefebvre, and Stuart Hall. Through an innovative fourfold structure, this study presents an activist history of a place which was always in flux, internally fragmented, and understood through reference to elsewhere – whether the leafy suburbs of Surrey, ‘blitzed cities’ like Coventry, the shining skyscrapers of Manhattan, or the ageing ‘inner city’ of its Brixton neighbour. By exploring the processes of hope, frustration, and compromise through which Croydon and the suburbs were formed, this thesis argues that its late twentieth-century left-wing activists were ‘looking both ways’ between ‘town’ and ‘country’, between entering older spaces and opening new ones, and between disappointing pasts and optimistic futures – processes of suburbanisation which have rendered Croydon alternately a site of nostalgia, shame, pride, and mourning. In taking Croydon as its vantage point, it suggests an alternative perspective on the politics and culture of England in the late twentieth-century, highlighting the importance of struggles in and over, but not bounded by, space and place to contemporary left-wing activists.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Worley, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:113102
Date on Title Page:December 2021


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