Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing: an Introduction
Keywords:Mass Observation, life writing, 1930s, social enquiry
Mass Observation (MO) was formed in Britain in 1937 as an innovative research project, to develop new methods for accurately gauging public opinion, thereby contributing to a more democratic form of politics and public policy formation. The archive of its first phase (1937-49) was transferred to the University of Sussex in 1970. In 1981 it was revived as the Mass Observation Project (MOP), which continues to the present. The documentation which MO and MOP together generated includes a significant body of life writings. The purpose of this cluster of articles is to introduce the ways in which the interaction between the aims and approaches of MO's founders and its later MOP refounders, and the responses of its contributors, produced specific forms of life writing; and to explore aspects of the 'afterlife' of these texts – their contextualisation, publication, and interpretation. This introduction situates the original, multifaceted and idiosyncratic, MO project within wider political and cultural trends of the 1930s, and then examines MO's methods, which aimed at 'the observation by everyone of everyone, including themselves'.
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