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Encyclopedia > Mass Observation

Mass-Observation was a United Kingdom social research organisation founded in 1937. Their work ended over the early 1950s, but was revived by the University of Sussex in 1981.

Mass-Observation aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of around 500 untrained volunteer observers who either maintained diaries, or replied to open-ended questionnaires on a regular basis. They also paid investigators to record people's conversation and behaviour at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings, and sporting and religious events.

The early prime movers behind Mass Observation were anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet Charles Madge and the film-maker Humphrey Jennings. Other collaborators in this work include: William Coldstream and Graham Bell (both painters), Julian Trevelyan (collagist), and Humphrey Spender, a photographer.

The original work ended after criticism from academics that such subjective work lacked validity. Changes in attitudes lead to its relaunch in 1981.


A number of publications are also available from the University. The following selection of titles also gives some idea of the scope of Mass-Observation's work:

  • Attitudes to AIDS
  • Bolton Working Class Life
  • Children's Millennium Diaries
  • Everyday use of social relaxants and stimulants
  • Gender and Nationhood. Britain in the Falklands War
  • Health, sickness and the work ethic
  • Looking at Europe: pointers to some British attitudes
  • Researching women's lives: notes from visits to East Central Europe
  • Mass-Observation: des 'capsules' de vie quotidienne
  • One Day in the Life of Television
  • Sex surveyed, 1949-1994
  • The Pub and the People
  • Weeping in the Cinema in 1950

External links

  • University of Sussex Mass-Observation site (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/library/massobs/)

See also



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