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Mass Observation

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Mass Observation was a fascinating major project begun in the 1930's to document the detailed features of ordinary everyday lives and cultures in the UK. In my view, it emerged out of the convergence of several developments: a] the turning of anthropology towards the West iself, b] the growth and widening of the concept of culture to map the practices, ideas, knowledges and styles of Western non-elites, c] the realization in a world of fear and foreboding that we did not know ourselves and that we could be as strange, deviant, eccentric, simple or primitive as so-called primitve cultures. and d] the growing sense that a welfare state or social administration had to know more about its citizens' lives if it was to meet their needs.

Origins of Mass Observation, 1937-50s

The Archive results from the work of the social research organisation, Mass Observation. 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. Find out more about the original Mass Observation project.

The Archive at the University of Sussex, 1970

In 1970, the Archive came to the University of Sussex and was opened up as a public resource for historical research. The Archive holds all the material generated by Mass Observation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s and 1960s.

The Mass Observation Project

The original Mass Observation idea of a national panel was revived from the Archive in 1981. Through the press, televison and radio, new volunteer writers or 'Mass Observation correspondents' were recruited from all over Britain.

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