Observing everyday life
Observational work has been central to the Mass Observation project since its inception in 1937. In addition to collecting personal writings from volunteers, MO wanted to undertake an anthropological survey of British life, using observational methods employed by a team of paid ‘Observers’.
Paid observers were first used in the ‘Worktown Project’ of 1937, an anthropological study which aimed to create a documentary account of everyday life in Bolton and Blackpool, as experienced by everyday people.
The paid investigators attended political and social meetings, sporting and leisure activities, and observed and interviewed their subjects in the street and at work. They were asked to record what they saw in great detail and were even instructed to listen in on people’s conversations!
Mass Observation personnel investigated and observed a number of topics from 1937 onwards. These investigations often spanned years, and the resulting material is organized as a series of Topic Collections. Not only did volunteers and staff write down observations, they collected and collated all sorts of different documents and ephemera, from drafts of surveys and internal MO correspondence to posters and cinema tickets.