Massive Observation

This New Yorker article is the first I’d heard of Mass-Observation. From the official site at the Unviersity of Sussex

This organisation was founded in 1937 by three young men, who aimed to create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. They recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original work continued until the early 1950s.

A team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations: meetings, religious occasions, sporting and leisure activities, in the street and at work, and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. The material they produced is a varied documentary account of life in Britain.

The National Panel was composed of people from all over Britain who either kept diaries or replied to regular open-ended questionnaires send to them by the central team of Mass-Observers.

An interesting effort; I’m reminded of the variously hyped flavors of Virtual Anthropology that crop up when people see all the pictures of, say, daily life on flickr.


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