Mass Observation was one of the most innovative intellectual projects of the 20th century. Triggered by the Abdication Crisis of 1936, and a sense that the views of ordinary people were not being represented by the media or political system, this social research organisation sought to establish an anthropology of everyday British life through a variety of projects which drew on a range of inventive and original methodologies. The Mass Observation Archive contains the most extensive collection of material on everyday life in the world and is now a major resource for social historians.
This fascinating overview of the organization situates Mass Observation within its historical context, uncovering the true extent and significant it played, with its unique formula of observation of the masses by the masses for the masses, in the formation of postwar Britain. By showing how the founders combined poetical perception and surrealist inspiration with political purpose and anthropological understanding, this study demonstrates how a mass movement can transform society.
A new Afterword examines the contexts for the revived popular and Academic interest in Mass Observation and argues that the profoundly democratic achievement of the project was to show how people's lives can be simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary.