Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing

'Subjecive Cameras': Authorship, Form, and Interpretation of Mass Observation Life Writings




Mass Observation, life writing


The Mass Observation Archive contains a wealth of different forms of life writing created between 1937 and the mid-1950s, and again from 1981 to the present. This life writing, by contributors with differing intentions and levels of commitment, is fragmentary, dispersed across the archive, and takes varied forms. To make full use of the richness of this writing, it is necessary to know who the authors were, how their texts were generated, what forms of life writing resulted, and how they may be interpreted. This contextualising overview first outlines the specific and distinctive forms of life writing which MO initiated and encouraged; the social profile of their authors, and their self-perceptions of their identities; the writers' motivations; and their relationship to the Archive. It then explores some of the ways in which scholars have used and interpreted this rich material, both as a resource for investigating specific topics, and as a collection of life writings open to comparative analysis as narratives of self-construction and records of biographical trajectories.

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