Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing

Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing: an Introduction




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'.

Author Biography

T.G. Ashplant, King's College London

T. G. Ashplant is a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King's College London. He is a social and cultural historian, with a research interest in life writings as a source for exploring the construction and transformation of class and gender subjectivities, and their relationship to political identities. He has edited the cluster ‘Life Writing “from Below” in Europe’ (European Journal of Life Writing 7 [2018]); and has co-edited (with Ann-Catrine Edlund and Anna Kuismin) Reading and Writing from Below: Exploring the Margins of Modernity (Umeå: Umeå University and Royal Skyttean Society, 2016). He is author of Fractured Loyalties: Masculinity, Class and Politics in Britain, 1900-30 (London: RiversOram, 2007); and co-editor (with Gerry Smyth) of Explorations in Cultural History (London: Pluto Press, 2001).





Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing