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Politics & Law Series: Announcements

City academic authors new book on left-wing policy maker Michael Young

Dr Lise Butler, Lecturer in Modern History at City, University of London, has authored a new book on the left-wing policy maker and sociologist, Michael Young.

by Matthew Little (Communications Officer)

The text, Michael Young, Social Science, and the British Left, 1945-1970, which is published by Oxford University Press, provides the first in-depth intellectual history of Young’s political thought in the post-war period.Michael-Young-Social-Science-and-The-British-Left

In her book, Dr Butler examines the relationship between social science and public policy in left-wing politics between the end of the Second World War and the end of the first Wilson government.

The text focuses on Michael Young, who was head of the Labour Party Research Department in in the 1940s.

Young was the key architect of the Labour Party's 1945 election manifesto, 'Let Us Face the Future,' which included commitments to public ownership, full employment and a National Health Service.

He left policy making in the 1950s to become a sociologist, writing the classic study of the London working class Family and Kinship in East London (1957) with Peter Willmott , and The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958) which is often credited for coining the term ‘meritocracy’.

He also founded and inspired organisations such as the Institute of Community Studies, the Consumers’ Association, Which? magazine, the Social Science Research Council and the Open University.

Dr Butler argues that Young drew on ideas from the social sciences to challenge the key Labour values he had previously championed, like full employment and nationalisation, and sought to shift the Labour Party’s focus towards relationships, family, and community.

Speaking on the launch of the book, Dr Butler said: “My book on Michael Young offers a detailed portrayal of the political thought of a relatively little known yet highly influential sociologist, policy maker, and social innovator.

“Young’s career reveals how psychology, sociology and anthropology shaped ideas about human nature within left-wing policy circles, and how political concerns shaped the development of sociology, social research, urban planning, and other disciplines.

“From his work and influence we can see that the social sciences were central to social democratic governance and policy making in post-war Britain. This book should encourage historians and scholars to take their role in British politics and political thought seriously.”

Dr Butler’s book, Michael Young, Social Science, and the British Left, 1945-70 can be purchased on Amazon or directly via Oxford University Press.


Online book launch

Dr Butler will be holding an online book launch in collaboration with The Young Foundation on Wednesday 14th October 2020 from 5.30-7pm, featuring Young Foundation CEO, Helen Goulden and other speakers from the world of politics and policy making. You can register for this event here.


About Dr Lise Butler

Dr Lise Butler is a historian of modern Britain, specialising in political history, left-wing politics, and the history of the social sciences.

She is the Programme Director for City’s new History and Politics BA.

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