Chris Brickell

University of Otago

Latest Book

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand

Published in 2017, by Auckland University Press.
ISBN: 978-1-86940-868-8.

From the 'masher', 'dude' and 'dudine' of the nineteenth century, to the 'flapper', 'bodgie' and 'widgie' of the twentieth, the history of New Zealand's young people evokes a colourful cast of characters. This cultural history project investigates the changing nature of New Zealanders' 'transition to adulthood' between 1800 and the mid-twentieth century.

It is often assumed that the moral panics of the 1950s ushered in the era of the 'teenager'. Born in the milk bars, this new breed went on to parade its nonconformity in front of a conservative society. In partial contrast to this received wisdom, this project seeks to put the 1950s moment in its wider social and historical context.

By exploring the intricacies of New Zealand's past alongside international work on the history of the teenager and the young adult, it aims to flesh out and explain the local situation in its global context.

A range of sources will flesh out the history of young people in New Zealand's past: oral histories, the records of youth groups, diaries and letters, theses and dissertations, published work, pamphlets and ephemera, media reports, government inquiries, archival case files, and family histories. Although I am exploring a wide range of records, young people's own words and opinions are the project's focus. What did adolescents think about their own lives?

This 80,000 word volume features 230 illustrations, many in colour.


'A wonderful teeming sense of past lives and sensibilities' - Melissa Bellanta, Author of Larrikins: A History.

'This is a social panorama with so much breadth and yet so much fascinating detail' - Marianne Tremaine, New Zealand Heritage.

'This particular collection of "everyday stories" is a cracker. Brickell writes with affection and empathy about young New Zealanders negotiating a difficult path from childhood into the adult world' - Grant Smithies, Sunday Star Times.

Now available at Genre Books

Research Profile

Much of my research focuses on the connections between sexuality and gender, especially in relation to masculinity and homoeroticism. My other interests include cultural politics, consumer culture, affect, objects, and the history of adolescence. I draw heavily from sociological and cultural history approaches, and from recent scholarship in cultural geography as well. I'm interested in the connections between time, space, subjectivity and social worlds, which is why my work is interdisciplinary. There are fascinating fractures and continuities between these aspects of social life, just as there are between the disciplines that examine them. The links between the personal and the social are also revealing: how do private lives tell about public issues? Photographs, as well as texts, afford us insights into intimate worlds past and present, and I have become more and more interested in the visual.

I serve on the editorial boards of the journals Sexuality and Culture and Journal of the History of Sexuality, and on the Editorial Board of Otago University Press.

Research Projects

James Courage's Diaries

James Courage, author of A Way of Love, is one of New Zealand's most overlooked gay writers but he was one of our best.

Queer Objects

What is a 'queer object'? This highly illustrated edited collection will have an international focus and explore the historical, political and social significance of LGBT material culture.

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand

When was the New Zealand teenager invented? This project unearths the voices of generations of young people from the start of the nineteenth century.

Two-by-Two: Men in Pairs

Connections between men take many forms; this handmade book project explores the complexities through a survey of 100 New Zealand images taken between 1880 and 1960.

Manly Affections: The Photographs of Robert Gant 1885-1915

What happens when we peer into the emotional and erotic same-sex cultures of small-town nineteenth century New Zealand? Something like this.

Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand

A bit about the philosophy behind the research project that led to the book, published in 2008. And a link to a one-page essay written for the programme of the play that happened afterwards.

Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures.

Southern Men documents men's lives, travels, friendships and leisure in the years before gay liberation, showing men at war, at home and at the beach.