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CHRISTIANITY AND THE INVENTION OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN, 1963–1967*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2016

SAM BREWITT-TAYLOR
Affiliation:
Lincoln College, Oxford
Corresponding

Abstract

This article argues that the myth of ‘the sexual revolution’, increasingly accepted in Britain's national media between 1963 and 1967, played a central role in causing the real transformation of British sexual culture that occurred from the late 1960s. It also argues that Christian agency played an important role in the framing and the legitimation of this myth. Until 1963, British debates about sexual morality had been dominated by Christian arguments. In 1963 and 1964, the existence of a rapid, widespread, inexorable, secular, and antinomian transformation of sexual mores was prominently proclaimed by Christian commentators, who thought it an inevitable consequence of ‘secularization’, whereas secular commentators usually objected that this narrative was insufficiently evidenced. After its initial discussion in the mainstream media in 1965, the ‘sexual revolution’ narrative was increasingly articulated without explicit reference to Christianity, but it usually retained theologically inspired structural features inherited from earlier religious discussions. In the late 1960s, elite perceptions of inexorable sexual liberalization decisively legitimated rapid decensorship, wider access to the pill, and the reimagination of ‘normal’ sexual behaviour, thereby importantly shaping real popular change. In this way, Christian clergymen made a significant, early, unwitting, and hitherto unacknowledged contribution to Britain's sexual revolution.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Footnotes

*

I am most grateful to Matthew Grimley, William Whyte, Alana Harris, Robert Saunders, Otto Saumarez Smith, this Journal's referees, and seminar participants at Oxford University and Plymouth University for their comments on this material, and to Lambeth Palace Library for permission to quote from the Robinson archive.

References

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29 Mount to Robinson, 13 Dec. 1966, Lambeth Palace Library, Robinson papers, MS 3542, fo. 72.

30 Brewitt-Taylor, “Secular society”?’, pp. 329–30, 343–5. Tellingly, the major counter-example originated across the Atlantic: P. Halasz, ‘You can walk across it on the grass’, Time, 15 Apr. 1966, pp. 32–42.

31 This transformation is described in Weeks, World we have won, pp. 15–20; Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 292–6.

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38 Langhamer, English in love, pp. 3–7, 207–8; Collins, Modern love, p. 90; A. Harris, ‘Love divine and love sublime? The Catholic marriage advisory council, the marriage guidance movement, and the state’, in A. Harris and T. Jones, eds., Love and romance in Britain, 1918–1970 (Basingstoke, 2014), pp. 188–224, at pp. 188–9.

39 Langhamer, English in love, pp. 158–60; Collins, Modern love, pp. 93–4; Szreter and Fisher, Sex before the sexual revolution, pp. 312–13.

40 K. Fisher, Birth control, sex, and marriage in England, 1918–1960 (Oxford, 2006), pp. 111–13.

41 Bingham, ‘The K-Bomb’, pp. 166, 178; Hall, Sex, gender, and social change, p. 146.

42 Weeks, World we have won, pp. 39–47, 55.

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44 L. Colley, Britons: forging the nation, 1707–1837 (London, 2003), pp. 368–9.

45 C. Field, Britain's last religious revival? Quantifying belonging, behaving, and believing in the long 1950s (Basingstoke, 2015), p. 18.

46 Field, ‘Another window on British secularization’, p. 213.

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48 Gallup, Great Britain, 1937–1975, i, p. 545; Brown, Death of Christian Britain, p. 192; Kirby, ‘Ecclesiastical McCarthyism’, p. 188.

49 Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, p. 328.

50 For the interwar assumption, see McKibbin, Classes and cultures, p. 330. For a 1960s example, see E. and M. Eppel, Adolescents and morality (London, 1966), p. 6.

51 ‘Faith and morals’, Times Educational Supplement, 9 Nov. 1962, p. 607.

52 E. Chesser, Is chastity outmoded? (London, 1960), pp. ix–xiv.

53 Collins, Modern love, p. 173; Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 283–4.

54 McLeod, Religious crisis, pp. 84–99.

55 P. Ferris, ‘The technology of faith’, Guardian, 28 Oct. 1962, pp. 22–3.

56 A. Lunn and G. Lean, The new morality (London, 1964), pp. 132–3; Ferris, ‘Technology of faith’; C. Driver, ‘The morality of Harry Williams’, Guardian, 22 May 1963, p. 9.

57 Quaker Home Service, Towards a Quaker view of sex (London, 1990, facsimile reprint of revised 1964 edition), p. 45.

58 Roodhouse, M., ‘Lady Chatterley and the monk: Anglican radicals and the Lady Chatterley trial of 1960’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 59 (2008), pp. 475500 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 491. See for examples ‘Yes, Christians ought to read it’, Daily Mirror, 28 Oct. 1960, p. 7; ‘Attempt to portray sex as “something sacred”’, Times, 28 Oct. 1960, p. 6.

59 G. Carstairs, This island now (London, 1962), p. 50.

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61 Qu. in E. Patey, Young people now (London, 1964), p. 31.

62 Gallup, Great Britain, 1937–1975, i, p. 700.

63 Cook, Long sexual revolution, p. 286; M. Proops, ‘TV doctor's amazing sex talk’, Daily Mirror, 15 July 1963, p. 24.

64 Savage, M., ‘Against epochalism: an analysis of conceptions of change in British sociology’, Cultural Sociology, 3 (2009), pp. 217–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 222–3; Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, pp. 344–5. See for examples R. Hoggart, The uses of literacy (London, 1957), pp. 65–6; F. Zweig, The worker in an affluent society (London, 1961), p. 209.

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66 M. Jarvis, Conservative governments, morality, and social change in affluent Britain, 1957–1964 (Manchester, 2005), pp. 30–2; Ministry of Education, The youth service in England and Wales (London, 1960), pp. 15–19.

67 See for examples A. Barton, ‘Rough justice’, Guardian, 10 Apr. 1965, p. 8; ‘Violence without motive’, Times, 4 Aug. 1964, p. 9.

68 Bingham, Family newspapers, pp. 118–20.

69 Qu. in S. Maclure, ‘Teenage morals in an age of uncertainty’, in S. Maclure et al., Teenage morals (London, 1961), pp. 4–10, esp. pp. 4–5.

70 D. Eccles, ‘Foreword’, in ibid., inside cover.

71 Ibid., p. 2.

Ibid

72 Ibid., p. 3; Maclure, ‘Teenage morals’, p. 10; G. Gorer, ‘Anthropologist’, in ibid., pp. 11–13, at p. 13.

Ibid

73 W. Watson, ‘Sociologist’, in ibid., pp. 19–21, at p. 19.

74 L. Weatherhead, ‘A nation in danger’, Times, 20 Sept. 1961, p. 13; for a summary of responses, see A. Vidler, ‘Religious belief today and its moral derivatives’, in W. Niblett, ed., Moral education in a changing society (London, 1963), pp. 78–95, at pp. 81–2.

75 Carstairs, This island now, p. 51.

76 B. Wootton, ‘What would Lord Reith say?’, Guardian, 16 Dec. 1962, p. 9.

77 A. Halsey, ‘Another island’, Guardian, 17 May 1963, p. 7.

78 G. Carstairs, ‘People bite professor’, New Society, 30 May 1963, pp. 23–4.

79 Ibid., p. 24.

Ibid

80 ‘How the U. S. sees Britain's “barrage of frankness about sex”’, Evening Standard, 21 Mar. 1963, p. 7. See for examples ‘Are virgins obsolete?’, New Statesman, 4 Jan. 1963, pp. 8–9; Bingham, Family newspapers, p. 120; Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 283–4.

81 F. Mort, Capital affairs: London and the making of the permissive society (London, 2010), pp. 332–3.

82 J. Freeman, ‘A time for austerity’, Queen, 25 Sept. 1963, p. 67; qu. in Mort, Capital affairs, p. 332.

83 ‘Refuge for illegitimates’, New Society, 19 Dec. 1963, pp. 19–20.

84 See for example W. Young, ‘VD and doctors’, Guardian, 11 Mar. 1964, p. 20.

85 Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, pp. 340–3.

86 Brown, Death of Christian Britain, p. 9.

87 E. James, ‘Robinson, John Arthur Thomas (1919–1983)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography. See for examples ‘I believe, or not as the case may be’, Private Eye, 5 Apr. 1963, p. 7; M. Furlong, ‘The bishop of Woolwich’, Punch, 20 May 1964, pp. 732–4; Flanders and Swann, ‘All gall’, At the drop of (another) hat (1964); J. Gould, Can't buy me love: The Beatles, Britain and America (London, 2007), p. 346; K. Mouat, ‘Theological striptease’, Oz, 1 Feb. 1967, pp. 13, 17.

88 J. Robinson, ‘The debate continues’, in D. Edwards, ed., The Honest to God debate (London, 1963), pp. 232–75, at p. 232n.

89 Robinson, Honest to God, p. 105.

90 E. James, A life of Bishop John A. T. Robinson (London, 1987), p. 169.

91 J. Robinson, ‘Our image of God must go’, Observer, 17 Mar. 1963, p. 21.

92 Robinson, Honest to God, p. 105.

93 Ibid., p. 118.

Ibid

94 Ibid., pp. 116, 120–1.

Ibid

95 J. Robinson, Christian freedom in a permissive society (London, 1970), pp. 49–50.

96 J. Robinson, On being church in the world (Harmondsworth, 1969), p. 8; Robinson, Christian freedom in a permissive society, pp. 130, 240; J. Robinson, The new Reformation? (London, 1965), pp. 51–2.

97 Robinson, Honest to God, pp. 130–1. This assumption was famously challenged by Michel Foucault's History of sexuality (London, 1978); Collins, ‘Introduction’, 34.

98 Robinson, Honest to God, p. 104.

99 See for example Weatherhead, ‘Nation in danger’, p. 13; contrast Robinson, Honest to God, p. 117.

100 Ibid., p. 105.

Ibid

101 Martin, ‘Structuring the sexual revolution’, p. 132; Robinson, Honest to God, p. 115.

102 Todd, S. and Young, H., ‘Baby-boomers to “beanstalkers”: making the modern teenager in postwar Britain’, Cultural and Social History, 9 (2012), pp. 451–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 451–3.

103 D. Fowler, Youth culture in modern Britain c. 1920–c. 1970 (Basingstoke, 2008), p. 173; Mitchell, G., ‘Reassessing “the generation gap”: Bill Haley's 1957 tour of Britain, inter-generational relations, and attitudes to rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1950s’, Twentieth Century British History, 24 (2013), pp. 573605 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. pp. 576, 585.

104 A. Marwick, The sixties: cultural revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958–c. 1974 (Oxford, 1998), p. 75.

105 J. Green, All dressed up: the sixties and the counterculture (London, 1990), p. 86.

106 Marwick, The sixties, p. 466; Collins, M., ‘The pornography of permissiveness: men's sexuality and women's emancipation in mid-twentieth-century Britain’, History Workshop Journal, 47 (1999), pp. 99120 CrossRefGoogle Scholar n. 1.

107 Yates, Love now, pay later?, p. 80.

108 McLeod, Religious crisis, p. 163. G. Tindall, ‘Magazine morality’, Guardian, 21 Oct. 1966, p. 8.

109 Bingham, Family newspapers, pp. 219–21.

110 J. McAleer, Passion's fortune: the story of Mills and Boon (Oxford, 1999), p. 258.

111 Brown, C., ‘The “unholy Mrs Knight” and the BBC: secular humanism and the threat to the “Christian nation”, c. 1945–1960’, English Historical Review, 127 (2012), pp. 345–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 349–50. For examples, see J. Priestley, ‘Random reflections on sex’, New Statesman, 23 Aug. 1963, pp. 222–4, at p. 224; A. Miles, ‘Verdict on the leaders of tomorrow’, Daily Express, 2 Dec. 1963, p. 25.

112 For an overview see McLeod, Religious crisis, pp. 83–90.

113 There was already a considerable Christian tradition of asserting the secularization narrative. Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, pp. 337–43.

114 J. Wren-Lewis, ‘The passing of puritanism’, Listener, 30 Jan. 1964, pp. 175–6.

115 R. Lloyd, The ferment in the church (London, 1964), p. 102.

116 D. Rhymes, No new morality: Christian personal values and sexual morality (London, 1964), pp. 19, 29–30.

117 James, Life of Robinson, p. 78.

118 Rhymes, No new morality, pp. 19, 29, 46, 48.

119 Ibid., p. 51.

Ibid

120 See for examples ‘Ease sex “code”, says canon’, Daily Mirror, 11 Mar. 1963, p. 10; ‘Canon seeks new moral code’, Daily Express, 11 Mar. 1963, p. 11; ‘Summary of the news’, Church Times, 15 Mar. 1963, p. 3; Lunn and Lean, The new morality, p. 133.

121 ‘Note of fear from noisy moralists’, Times, 26 Feb. 1965, p. 7.

122 D. Goodhew, ‘Introduction’, in idem, ed., Church growth in Britain: 1980 to the present (Farnham, 2012), pp. 3–22, at p. 19.

123 P. Howard, Britain and the beast (London, 1963), p. 55.

124 G. Bentley, God and Venus: an essay on sex (London, 1965), pp. 4, 9.

125 G. Bentley, ‘The new morality: a Christian comment’, in R. Sadler, ed., Sexual morality: three views (London, 1965), pp. 33–61, at pp. 39–40.

126 See for examples ‘Morals: bishop tells of church's neglect’, Daily Express, 5 July 1963, p. 5; ‘The defenders’, Daily Express, 9 Sept. 1963, p. 8; ‘Morality: “Army” general hits at new evils’, Daily Express, 1 Nov. 1963, p. 16.

127 Harris, Faith in the family, pp. 159–69.

128 Newburn, Permission and regulation, pp. 18–19.

129 J. Pilger, ‘Face to face’, Daily Mirror, 29 Nov. 1965, pp. 16–17.

130 Weeks, Sex, politics, and society, pp. 253–4; ‘Refuge for illegitimates’, New Society, 19 Dec. 1963, pp. 19–20; ‘Sex and young people’, New Society, 30 Sept. 1965, p. 23.

131 G. Godber, The health of the school child, 1960 and 1961 (London, 1962); qu. in E. Eppel, ‘The adolescent and changing moral standards’, in Niblett, ed., Moral education, pp. 112–37, at p. 117.

132 R. Fletcher, ‘A humanist's decalogue’, New Society, 2 May 1963, pp. 17–20, at pp. 19, 17.

133 A. McGlashan, ‘Sex on these islands’, Encounter, July 1963, pp. 100–4, at p. 101.

134 Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 286–7.

135 A. Comfort, Sex in society (London, 1964), pp. 99–101; Weeks, Sex, politics and society, p. 253.

136 A. Comfort, ‘Of lustinesse’, Guardian, 30 July 1965, p. 7.

137 M. Laski, ‘Facts of life’, Guardian, 25 July 1965, p. 3.

138 Whitehorn et al., ‘Living with sex’, p. 21; W. Young, Eros denied (London, 1965), p. 13.

139 Chesser, Unmarried love, pp. 25–7.

140 ‘Symposium’, Penthouse, Mar. 1965, pp. 11–14, at p. 12.

141 D. Sandbrook, Never had it so good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles (London, 2006), pp. 106, 433ff, 517ff.

142 See for examples ‘Morals: the second sexual revolution’, Time, 24 Jan. 1964, pp. 42–7; ‘Sexplosion’, Christian Century, 29 Jan. 1964, pp. 136–8.

143 Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, p. 331.

144 For context, see Collins, ‘Pornography of permissiveness’, p. 99. The Pirelli calendar was not a magazine.

145 B. Inglis, ‘Sex and society in the sixties’, King, Winter 1964, pp. 11–15.

146 Ibid., p. 15.

Ibid

147 P. Phillips, Contesting the moral high ground: popular moralists in twentieth-century Britain (Montreal, 2013), pp. 110–16; I. Hunter, Malcolm Muggeridge: a life (London, 1980), pp. 219–20; New Statesman, 2 Apr. 1965, p. 517.

148 Muggeridge, ‘The sexual revolution’, p. 527.

149 Whitehorn et al., ‘Living with sex’, p. 21, and Observer, 13 June 1965, p. 21.

150 K. Whitehorn, Selective memory: an autobiography (London, 2007), pp. 3, 12–13.

151 Whitehorn, et al., ‘Living with sex’.

152 Robinson, Honest to God, p. 119.

153 P. Mortimer, ‘Living with sex’, Observer, 6 June 1965, p. 21.

154 Robinson, ‘Living with sex’.

155 See for examples B. Alan, ‘Afterthought’, Spectator, 30 Apr. 1965, p. 581; ‘Lessons for writers’, Times Literary Supplement, 29 June 1965, p. 331; ‘Break-through for birth control’, Economist, 29 May 1965, p. 1036; M. Tippett, ‘The BBC's duty to society’, Listener, 26 Aug. 1965, p. 302; ‘Dreams and responsibilities’, TLS, 30 June 1966, p. 575; C. King, ‘The British press: a Financial Times survey’, Financial Times, 25 July 1966, p. 1; T. Szamuely, ‘S*x behind the curtain’, Spectator, 12 Aug. 1966, p. 200.

156 Marwick, The sixties, p. 466.

157 See for examples Mortimer, ‘Living with sex’, p. 21; ‘Mere anarchy or new freedom?’, Guardian, 7 Oct. 1967, p. 1; Weeks, Sex, politics, and society, p. 249; see for example ‘Tories will campaign on law and order’, Observer, 1 Feb. 1970, p. 1.

158 C. Peters, ‘The sex revolution’, TLS, 30 June 1966, p. 577.

159 L. Grant, Sexing the millennium: a political history of the sexual revolution (London, 1993), pp. 85–6.

160 M. Drabble, ‘The sexual revolution’, Guardian, 11 Oct. 1967, p. 8.

161 P. Larkin, Collected poems: edited with an introduction by Anthony Thwaite (London, 2003), pp. 146, 207.

162 A. Bingham and M. Conboy, Tabloid century: the popular press in Britain, 1896 to the present (Oxford, 2015), p. 155; Bingham, Family newspapers, pp. 121–2.

163 K. Waterhouse, ‘The cool four million’, Daily Mirror, 29 Nov. 1967, p. 14.

164 People, 14 Apr. 1968, p. 1; qu. in Bingham, Family newspapers, p. 122.

165 News of the World, 28 Sept. 1969, p. 14; qu. in Bingham, Family newspapers, p. 122.

166 Sun, 22 Nov. 1969, p. 2; qu. in Bingham, Family newspapers, p. 122.

167 Eppel and Eppel, Adolescents and morality, pp. 14–18.

168 Chesser, Unmarried love, pp. 11–21.

169 ‘Playboy panel: religion and the new morality: leading liberals of the clergy debate the church's role in today's sexual revolution’, Playboy, June 1967, pp. 55–78, at p. 56.

170 Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, p. 347.

171 Sidenote to J. Wilson, ‘What kind of morality?’, Guardian, 25 Oct. 1967, p. 8.

172 ‘Priests and prophets of permissiveness’, Guardian, 12 Oct. 1967, p. 9.

173 As it has seemed since: Szreter and Fisher, Sex before the sexual revolution, pp. 48–9.

174 As Timothy Willem Jones observes, this forgetfulness is also a feature of later historiography: Jones, Sexual politics in the Church of England, pp. 6–7.

175 Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 292–3.

176 P. Thompson, ‘Labour's “Gannex conscience”? Politics and popular attitudes in the “permissive society”’, in R. Coopey et al., eds., The Wilson governments, 1964–1970 (London, 1993), pp. 140–1.

177 Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 288–90.

178 A. Leathard, The fight for family planning: the development of family planning services in Britain, 1921–1974 (London, 1980), p. 139.

179 ‘Family planning association’, House of Commons Debates, 4 May 1964, vol. 694, cc. 880–1, c. 881.

180 ‘Prevention as cure’, New Society, 11 Feb. 1965, p. 3.

181 S. Brooke, Sexual politics: sexuality, family planning and the British left from the 1880s to the present day (Oxford, 2011), p. 175; Leathard, Family planning, p. 135.

182 See Leo Abse's comments in ‘National Health Service (Family planning bill)’, House of Commons Debates, 17 Feb. 1967, vol. 741, cc. 935–1020, c. 961.

183 Ibid., c. 996.

Ibid

184 Gallup, Great Britain, 1937–1975, ii, p. 1005.

185 Leathard, Family planning, p. 144.

186 Cook, Long sexual revolution, p. 295.

187 Ibid., p. 293.

Ibid

188 Brown, ‘“The unholy Mrs Knight”’, pp. 351–5. H. Greene, The third floor front: a view of broadcasting in the sixties (London, 1969), p. 101.

189 Ibid., p. 103.

Ibid

190 A. Aldgate, Censorship and the permissive society: British cinema and theatre, 1955–1965 (Oxford, 1995), p. 147.

191 Ibid., pp. 5, 151–2.

Ibid

192 J. Trevelyan, What the censor saw (London, 1973), p. 19.

193 Ibid., title page; qu. Aldgate, Censorship and the permissive society, p. 5.

Ibid

194 D. Sutherland, Offensive literature: decensorship in Britain, 1960–1982 (London, 1982), p. 2; Barker and Hanvey, ‘Facing two ways’, p. 848, table 2.

195 Collins, ‘Pornography of permissiveness’, p. 103.

196 Ibid., p. 100.

Ibid

197 Cook, Long sexual revolution, p. 271.

198 Collins, ‘Introduction’, pp. 18–19.

199 Brown, ‘“Short” sexual revolution’, p. 212.

200 G. De Groot, The sixties unplugged (Basingstoke, 2009), pp. 218ff; Langhamer, ‘Adultery in post-war England’, p. 107.

201 For this transformation, see Cook, Long sexual revolution, pp. 292–5.

202 For the long post-1960s sexual revolution, see Weeks, World we have won, pp. 14–22, 57–63.

203 Brewitt-Taylor, ‘“Secular society”?’, pp. 340–4.

204 For early modern context see N. Cohn, The pursuit of the millennium: revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the middle ages (London, 2004), pp. 148–51, 176–80; M. Weisner-Hanks, Christianity and sexuality in the early modern world: regulating desire, reforming practice (London, 2000), pp. 65–6; Grant, Sexing the millennium, pp. 23–28, 39–40.

205 Brooke, Sexual politics, p. 148.

206 Pace Brown, Death of Christian Britain, p. 176.

207 Pace Brown, ‘“Short” sexual revolution’, pp. 193–5.

208 Herzog, ‘Syncopated sex’, pp. 1298–9; McLeod, Religious crisis, pp. 1–2.

209 Herzog, ‘Syncopated sex’, pp. 1295–7, 1300–1; Leong, L., ‘Asian sexuality or Singapore exceptionalism?’, Liverpool Law Review, 33 (2012), pp. 1126 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 15; C. Brown, Religion and the demographic revolution: women and secularisation in Canada, Ireland, UK and USA since the 1960s (Woodbridge, 2012), p. 134.

210 Alexander and Smith, ‘New proposal for cultural studies’, p. 156; Alexander, Meanings of social life, pp. 3–5.

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