Negotiating Controls, Perils, and Pleasures in the Urban Night

Working-Class Youth in Early-Twentieth-Century Antwerp


  • Margo De Koster Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


This article is concerned with the night-time activities of youth as they developed in the city of Antwerp in the first half of the twentieth century. In this period, explosive growth of the city’s consumption and entertainment functions altered patterns of urban nightlife, while at the same time, drastic changes in the social positions of working-class youths provided them with new forms of social and financial independence and freedoms. This provoked serious official and public anxieties about ‘loose’ and ‘unsupervised’ activities of young wage-earners, especially about those of girls, as well as attempts to watch their nightlife more closely. The urban night and its associated ‘dark’ amusements such as the dance-halls and movies were considered as primary sources of juvenile misconduct since they offered possibilities to escape from parental and other ‘protective’ supervision.
This article examines how this new problem-definition of youth and night affected the deployment of control mechanisms oriented towards youngsters in Antwerp, looking in particular at the strategies of two central actors in the regulation of youngsters’ access to the night – the police and parents. On the other hand, the article investigates the ways in which the evening and night spaces of the city functioned as an outlet for experimentation among working-class youth with new attitudes of social autonomy and new sexual codes.

Author Biography

Margo De Koster, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Margo De Koster graduated in History and Sociology. She started a research career at the History Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 1998 as researcher of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific research, and obtained her PhD on girl delinquency in the interwar period in 2003. She is currently part-time professor at the Criminology Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, lecturer in Historical criminology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and vice-coordinator of the Belgian research network “Justice & Populations: The Belgian Experience in International Perspective, 1795-2015†(IAP P7/22, Belgian Science Policy Office). She is also an affiliated member of the HOST research group (Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. As a member of CRiS (Crime and Society research group), she is active in both the research domain Security, prevention and policing and that of Youth criminology, with historical-criminological research on juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, girls and women in criminal justice, urban policing, youth and transgressions in urban public space.