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Youth, Generations, and Collective Action in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Italy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2014

Niall Whelehan*
University of Edinburgh


This article examines concepts of youth, maturity, and generations in nineteenth-century Ireland and Italy and perceived connections between young people and political and social unrest. I demonstrate that, rather than being consistent, the involvement of younger generations in radicalism was uneven, and varied significantly with historical contexts. I argue that the authorities frequently exaggerated associations between young people and radicalism as a subtle strategy of exclusion, as a means of downgrading the significance of collective action and portraying it as a criminal, emotional, or even recreational matter rather than a political one, a tendency that has often been reinforced in the historiography. Descriptions of youth and maturity should not be understood as merely reflections of age. They were not value-free, and served as indicators of individuals' social standing and political agency or lack thereof. Yet fighting in a rebellion offered an alternative to marriage, owning property, or education for the achievement of “manhood,” or adult status and political agency. The article also investigates how the Great Irish Famine shaped generational consciousness in the second half of the nineteenth century through an analysis of the participants in nationalist and agrarian violence. In all, over four thousand participants in collective action in Ireland and Italy are examined.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2014 

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