Leonard J. Barnes and youth work

Leonard J. Barnes and youth work. Leonard Barnes championed experimentation, facilitation and spontaneity in youth work – and criticized inculcation. We explore his thinking and impact.

contents: introduction · leonard barnes – life and work · leonard barnes on the purpose of youth work · youth work and spontaneity · character-building or growing personality? · conclusion · further reading and references · links · how to cite this article

Leonard John Barnes (1895-1977) produced two important reports for the King George’s Jubilee Trust: Youth Service in an English County (1945) and The Outlook for Youth (1948). His analysis of the current state of youth work in the latter – and his suggestions for the future development of voluntary organizations – provided a refreshing and challenging agenda for youth work. In particular, his concern with the cultivation of spontaneity and in the possibilities of experimental work within voluntary organizations open up some interesting possibilities. Unfortunately, the debates that ensued did not generate quite the light that would have been hoped – partly, perhaps, because of some of the oppositions he sets in his work, and his critique of traditional approaches and organizations.

Leonard Barnes – life and work (1)

Leonard John Barnes was born in London on 21 July 1895. Educated at St. Paul’s School in Hammersmith, he served in the First World War in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was wounded three times and awarded the Military Cross with Bar. At the end of the war, he went to University College, Oxford and upon completion of his degree entered the Colonial Office. However, Leonard Barnes was only in the Civil Service for a brief period. He then went to South Africa, where he worked as a farmer, and later as a journalist in Cape Town. In 1932 he returned to England and wrote The New Boer War documenting his experiences overseas. Barnes focused a great deal of his writing on colonial and development issues. At this time these included Zulu Paraclete (1935), The Duty of Empire (1935), Empire or Democracy (1939) and Soviet Light on the Colonies (1944).

In 1936 Leonard Barnes was appointed lecturer in education at the University of Liverpool. He got married in 1943 to Margaret (Peggy) Blackburn. As well as undertaking the two studies for the King George’s Jubilee Trust, Barnes was a member of the Carr-Saunders Commission to Malaya in the late 1940s to enquire into education provision and the foundation of a university. In 1947 Leonard and Peggy Barnes moved to Oxford following his appointment as Secretary and Director of the Delegacy for Social Training at Oxford University (later the Department of Social and Administrative Studies) at Barnett House. (Barnett House was established in 1914 as a memorial to Canon Barnett, former warden of Toynbee Hall). It was to be a centre for the study of social and economic problems, and the education and preparation of young men and women for social work or social research). Barnes succeeded Miss C. V. Butler, who since 1919 had been Director of Social Training – and the department grew to employ four full-time tutors by the time he retired in 1962.

Upon his retirement, Leonard Barnes visited Central and East Africa several times under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission. He worked as a consultant to examine how African countries were coping with modernisation and sociological problems and this resulted in several books (e.g. Barnes 1969). Kenneth Kaunda also invited him to report on Zambia’s political and economic problems (see Barnes 1973). Some of these books are available from the Internet Archive. He also wrote poetry and biographical material (Barnes 1961; 1935b).

Leonard Barnes died in Oxford on 10 March 1977. He had listed as living at Crocks, Great Haseley, Oxford.

Leonard Barnes and purpose of youth work

Leonard Barnes’s key contributions to youth work come in two areas: the careful study of youth work in one particular area (1945) and a report to the King George’s Jubilee Trust (1948). This report explored the future scope of agencies in the youth service concerning changes following the 1944 Education Act; and the specific contribution that voluntary youth organizations can make. He argued that the old distinction between official and voluntary agencies was in the process of breaking down as far as youth work was concerned. ‘Voluntaryism can no longer be defined in terms of self-constituted private enterprise, financial self-sufficiency, or freedom from official guidance’ (Barnes 1948: 120). There still was a case for voluntary organizations, he argued, but it did not lie in their structures. Rather, Leonard Barnes suggests, ‘the real voluntary bodies are pilot organizations which concentrate on… exploration and development (1948: 121).

Experimentation, the trying out of new methods, the opening up new fields, the training and testing of new hypotheses – these are the activities which not only evince the vitality, but can permanently guarantee the indispensability, of the voluntary youth organization. (Barnes 1948: 120)

Over the last couple of decades, there has been more than a grain of truth in this analysis. Much of the innovation in English youth work, for example, has come from voluntary organizations. His argument that the barriers between organizations, with the benefit of hindsight, was somewhat off the mark. The development of initiatives like Connexions in recent years has brought to the fore debates about the independence of voluntary organizations and the extent to which governments are defining their work and agendas.

Barnes viewed youth work as a form of constructive social medicine providing ‘a cultural health service’ (Barnes 1948: 18).

It is one part among many parts of the systematic effort which our society makes to stop the transmission to the new generation of the cultural disorders of the old, while at the same time securing the continuity of the main tradition and facilitating its further development (op. cit.)

In particular, Leonard Barnes was worried about the impact of advanced industrialization – and the extent to which it is destructive of spontaneous solidarity and human well-being. He also had a strong desire to counter any resurgence of Fascism. His analysis was influenced by the work of psychoanalysts and social commentators like Erich Fromm (1942) and L. L. Whyte (1944).

The main social avenues are thought to be three. It is possible, in the first place, for social groups to advance beyond freedom in its negative form of absence of restraint to a positive form of freedom. In the second place, groups may find release from the incubus of negative freedom in blind submission and abject devotion to a leader; this is the method of fascism. In the third place, there is the ‘compulsive conforming to accepted patterns’; some observers find this typical of western democracy and describe it as the ‘automatization of man’.. Both the method of fascism and the method of western democracy may be regarded as emptying the baby out with the bath water, in other words as a shedding of the individual self, an amputation of personality in the hope of finding deliverance from aloneness and impotence. In post-war Britain all three ways are manifestly being tried, though Fromm and his school may be right in thinking that the way of automatism is still commoner than either of the others both here and in America. (Barnes 1948: 23)

Youth workers, Barnes argued, need to be able to distinguish between these three influences – and ‘should possess some skill in neutralising the last two and in building up a system of preferential tariffs favouring the first’. He argued that youth workers should have ‘a firm practical grasp of the principle that full individual development is impossible except by sharing actively in the development of a self-governing community; that freedom is a phenomenon of co-operation, not of isolation’ (1948: 121). They should also recognize:

No man is the lord of anything,

though in and of him there be mush consisting,

till he communicate his part to others…

Youth work and spontaneity

The suggestion in the study is that mental and spiritual welfare are not to be found except along the line of positive freedom and that the youth service should be concerned with facilitating positive freedom (Barnes 1948: 28). Leonard Barnes focuses on spontaneity – a term which is difficult to define – but by which he means ‘the development of the characteristic form of the individual by means of his participation in the characteristic form of the community of which he is a member’ (1948: 66). His conception of spontaneity is of behaviour that is ‘whole-hearted or whole-natured’. It proceeds from a personality ‘not divided against itself and not disorganised by feelings of guilt, inferiority, isolation or fear’ (1948: 30). Leonard Barnes calls this spontaneous because, ‘it is immune alike from the anxieties of automatism and the obsessions of fascism, and is neither hysterical nor compulsive’ (op. cit.).

This analysis and wish runs close to Erich Fromm’s advocacy of ‘being’ as against ‘having’. It is the first to explicitly and firmly link the practice of youth work firmly into a critical tradition of social theory. (It was some time before it returned in the work of Butters and Newell [1978] and others). The dominant interest of youth work, according to Barnes, is in forms of activity and ‘regions of experience’ which are spontaneous in the inclusive sense described above. Its practical function, ‘is to provide opportunities and encouragement for young people to behave in spontaneous ways’.

In proportion as people develop a generalised trait of spontaneity, two series of consequences will tend to make their appearance. In the first place, the individual will move towards unitary, undivided personality himself; as a person he will not be split, crippled, or lop-sided. He will have a distinctive multi-dimensional identity authentically his own, and will not take shape as a fake-arrangement of mirrors, an equivocation of the fiend that may lie with some semblance of truth, but can yield only a hollow man who is no more than a bundle of reflections of other hollow men. In the second place, the individual will begin to form one substance with a community which in its turn is coming to be possessed of positive freedom. In the complete system of individual-community the social quality of positive freedom and the individual quality of spontaneity mutually express and guarantee each other. (Barnes 1948: 66)

This orientation entailed youth workers looking at the world differently – and requires a different form of organizational base. His solution was the development of a planned and coherent service. Just whether it would lead to quite the result he envisaged is another matter. ‘Coherent services’ don’t necessarily mean that they either act in the interests of young people or that they promote the sorts of democratic freedoms and flourishing that Leonard Barnes sought. We know from the current experience of ‘joined-up thinking‘ within the English Connexions strategy that the dominant mode of thinking comes far closer to what Fromm saw as having rather than being.

Character-building or growing personality?

Perhaps the element of Leonard Barnes’ analysis that stuck within the literature and discourse of youth work is his distinction between character-building (inculcation) and growing personality (facilitation).

Inculcators are the spiritual descendants of the great Dr. Thomas Arnold, who held “that boyhood was a naturally depraved and inferior state, and that true Christian morality must be imposed on the young from above by their superiors.” They are by disposition and by conviction hammerers-in and drivers-home of principles known on unimpeachable authority to be sound; they stand above the young, making laws for them and enforcing those laws on them. They may launch a direct assault on the citadel of the young spirit and try to reduce it by main force; or they may be gentle-seeming, tortuous, and cunning beyond the dreams of serpents, playing with endless virtuosity on all the stops of hope and fear, beguiling the young spirit with the one into seeking what it should cleave to, and with the other steering it clear of what it ought to avoid. Methods of approach and types of pressure vary indefinitely; what is constant is the stress on duty, obedience, loyalty, service. (Barnes 1948: 46)

His portrayal of character-building looks to the transmission of established and, for them, eternally valid principles of life. As Barnett (1951: 39) commented, by implication. ‘the inculcator would appear to view his subjects less as young persons than young things who may be hoped to emerge into persons after the indoctrination process has been completed’.

In contrast, for Leonard Barnes, the facilitator proceeds in quite a different fashion. For them ‘the starting point and the goal alike are unity’.

The facilitator, discerning throughout nature a general tendency towards whole-making, thinks it an hypothesis worth testing that human personalities follow the same law, and can and do become whole, given appropriate conditions. A main part of his task, therefore, is to grade as many actual and possible conditions as he can in an order of appropriateness from the standpoint of personality growth. He does this by observation and experiment, no unimpeachable authority having vouchsafed him a pre-view of the answers.

The facilitator proceeds from the further assumption (until he encounters evidence inconsistent with it) that personality is a creation… The young person is always striving to make sense of himself and to be in good form, without, however, being able to say beforehand precisely what the finished meaning should be, any more than a composer at work can predict what his symphony will be like by the time it is written. He moves forward step by step, guided in his new adjustments and his choice of new goals by their congruence with past and present interests, satisfactions, and successes; in a word, his form keeps continuity as it develops. (Barnes 1948: 48-9)

The emphasis on wholes, experimentation, and seeking to create the sort of environment that might allow learning to flow from experience seems to come straight from John Dewey (Dewey is not acknowledged) and from Maria Montessori (she is acknowledged). Setting inculcation against facilitation in this way is problematic – as Barnett (1951: 40-1) notes. A similar emphasis on facilitation as against teaching (by writers like Carl Rogers) has also been exposed as involving significant issues.

Barnes has presented us with a thesis and its (in his judgement) correct antithesis. What we are left to inquire is whether in the first place any synthesis is even desirable, and if so, whether it is in fact possible. Barnes leaves us in no doubt as to his own answer. You can be an inculcator or you can be a facilitator. But you cannot conscientiously and wittingly be both.

Now this, I submit, is not wholly correct… I believe our right attitude should be a real, not imaginary or theoretical, coalescing of the two points of view. We should, and can, be both inculcators and educators (Barnett 1951: 41)

Leonard Barnett, of course, was writing from a specifically Christian viewpoint but the point he makes has a general significance. Inculcation is not necessarily opposed to reason. ‘In the business of Christian character-building’, Barnett (1951: 42) comments, ‘we are at no point called upon either to flee from reason, to disallow its claims, or to set it in opposition to the very process we are endeavouring to facilitate. And we may attempt to communicate the truth about life – an essentially religious truth – to club members, without doing despite to their personalities’. Many years later, Paulo Freire made a similar point about a focus on facilitation.

I am an educator. I am not a facilitator. The act of teaching is not included in the concept of facilitation. As a teacher, I know I have things to teach. don’t need to feel ashamed. If a teacher says he is equal, he is incompetent, or trying to get some favour from the students. But being different from the students does not mean being authoritarian. It means being competent in order to get the respect and support of the students. (quoted by Kirkwood 1991: 43)


Leonard Barnett argued that youth workers had good reason to be grateful to Leonard Barnes ‘for the stimulus he has provided them’. Barnes certainly highlighted an important tension in the work when he set inculcation against facilitation. Under the influence of Carl Rogers, T. R. Batten and others the language and orientation of the ‘facilitative attitude’ became a strong part of youth work. With it came a particular set of problems. Workers often set themselves strongly against being seen as teachers, or as having a particular agenda or expertise. At worst, this was simple deceit – and led to a great deal of smuggling of content. At best it allowed for a concern with process and with conversation – but left the educator with only half the role required.

Barnes’ interest in social theory – and the breadth of his anthropological experience – allowed him to ask fundamental questions about the purpose and nature of youth work, and the society in which it was taking place. His concern with selfhood and the extent to which young people could grow up to be fully rounded and fulfilled individuals in a society increasingly looking to things and in which people are alienated from themselves and each other remains pertinent. Barnes’ emphasis on facilitation, spontaneity and experimentation was both an expression of, and a spur to, some profound shifts within youth work.

(1) These biographical details were taken from outlines at School of Oriental and African Studies Archives and from Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford. Accessed 17 June, 2002.

Further reading and references

Barnes, Leonard J. (1932). The New Boer War. London: L. & V. Woolf.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1935a) Zulu Paraclete. A sentimental record. [A narrative of farming life in South Africa.], London: Peter Davies.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1935b). The Duty of Empire. London: Victor Gollancz.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1939). Empire or democracy? A study of the colonial question. London: Gollancz.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1944). Soviet Light on the Colonies. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1945). Youth Service in an English County. London, King George’s Jubilee Trust.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1948). The Outlook for Youth Work. London: King George’s Jubilee Trust.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1961). The Homecoming. [A poem.], London: Peter Davies.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1969). African Renaissance. London: Victor Gollancz.

Barnes, Leonard J. (1971). Africa in Eclipse. London: Victor Gollancz. / New York, St. Martin’s Press. (1972)

Barnes, Leonard J. (1973). Zambia 1973: Comment and Appraisal.

Barnett, Leonard P. (1951) The Church Youth Club, London: Methodist Youth Department.

Butters, S. and Newell, S. (1978) Realities of Training. A review of the training of adults who volunteer to work with young people in the youth and community service, Leicester: National Youth Bureau.

Fromm, E. (1942) The Fear of Freedom, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kirkwood, G. (1991) ‘Fallacy: The community educator should be a non-directive facilitator’ in B. O’Hagan (ed.) The Charnwood Papers. Fallacies in community education, Ticknall: Education Now.

Rogers, C. and Freiberg, H. J. (1993) Freedom to Learn (3rd edn.), New York: Merrill.

Whyte, L. L. (1944) The Next Development in Man, London: Cresset Press.

Various papers concerning Leonard Barnes are held by School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Archives, University of London [see the Archives Hub].

The Internet Archive has several of Leonard Barnes’s books available to borrow.

To cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2002, 2012, 2024) ‘Leonard Barnes and youth work’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [https://infed.org/mobi/leonard-j-barnes-and-youth-work/. Retrieved: insert date].

© Mark K. Smith 2002, 2012, 2024