‘“You’re tearing me apart!”: Rebel Without a Cause and the creation of Scottish social work

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    In 1955 Warner Brothers released one of the best known films in the juvenile delinquency genre, Rebel Without a Cause. Directed by Nicholas Ray, RWaC starred James Dean in the second of his three starring roles. Although widely regarded as having socially progressive messages, albeit within a very melodramatic plot, the fundamental narrative of the movie can be shown as deeply socially conservative. All of the developed characters in the film – Jim Stark (Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and, ‘Plato’ (Sal Mineo) – have the roots of their rebellion and delinquent behaviour rooted firmly in the failures of ‘traditional’ American – for which, read white and middle-class – parenting. Each of these characters exhibits aspects of family pathology: gender role inversion, for Jim; the emotional rejection by Judy’s father as she becomes a young woman; and the divorce of Plato’s parents, and their subsequent neglect of him. Each of them experiences acute anomie, insecurity, and a lack of meaning in their lives. As a result of which, they ‘act out’ in the form of rebellious and delinquent behaviour. Contemporaneous with the film’s release – which itself came just two years after The Wild One ignited the genre in popular culture – the post-war period had witnessed a rapid growth of interest in juvenile delinquency, both culturally and academically. Work emanating from several sites and research groups in Glasgow, for example, was highlighting the strong statistical associations between a range of factors: poverty, social conditions, school achievement, health and parenting, which began to set the context in which a unified social work profession would emerge. The impetus of the research reached a head with the report of the Kilbrandon Committee (1961-64), led to the creation of the children’s hearing system and generated the momentum, though not the ideas, for the creation of generic Social Work Departments in Scotland. Despite their differences, especially in relation to class, what both of these developments marked was a ‘progressive’ approach to the reinforcement of socially ‘conservative’ ideals, in particular, the defence of the nuclear family. And so on.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2016
    EventAnnual Research and Scholarship Conference - University of Dundee, Dalhousie Building, Dundee, United Kingdom
    Duration: 20 Jun 201620 Jun 2016


    ConferenceAnnual Research and Scholarship Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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