Governing through nature: Camps and youth movements in interwar Germany and the United States

Kenny Cupers
Cultural Geographies, 15: 2, 2008

Focusing on youth camp development in Germany and the United States during the interwar period, this article argues not only that such camps played a crucial role in the ways in which national societies dealt with their youth, but also that their history forces us to rethink relations between place-making, nationhood, and modern governing. First, the article addresses the historiography of youth movements in relation to current debates about spatiality, nationalism, and governmentality. The main part of the article examines organized camps, in particular by the German Bünde, the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth), and the American Boy Scouts, focusing on their transition from relatively spontaneous activities of particular social movements, to objects of professional design, national-scale planning and intricate management in the interwar period. This development demonstrates how in the seemingly trivial activity of camping, nationalism is interwoven with the project of conducting youth through contact with nature. Despite divergent contexts and political ideologies, youth camp development in this period constituted a set of practices in which the natural environment was deployed to improve the nation’s youth, and to eventually reproduce them as governable subjects.

Camp planning by the Boy Scouts of America, 1927

governance, landscape, environment, Germany, youth, social movements

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