Introduction: the project of mass observation

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2001 Number 44

Introduction: the project of mass observation
Laura Marcus pages -


This special issue of New Formations has a dual focus. Firstly, it explores the history and the cultural politics of the Mass-Observation movement, the project of bringing ethnographic fieldwork and observation to bear on everyday life in Britain, which came into being in 1937. Secondly, it brings to centre stage the work and writing of Charles Madge, who founded Mass-Observation with the ethnographer Tom Harrisson and the poet, painter and film-maker Humphrey Jennings. Madge has to date been less prominent in the research and writing on Mass-Observation than Tom Harrisson, as Dorothy Sheridan, Head of Special Collections and Mass-Observation archivist at the University of Sussex, notes in her contribution to this issue. In exploring Charles Madge’s writings we intend both to open up the work of an important twentieth-century poet, and to assess the broader significance of poetry and poetics for the Mass-Observation movement. One of the most fascinating aspects of Mass-Observation is the ways in which it negotiated and sought to reshape disciplinary boundaries, and to bring together, as a founding letter-manifesto declares, the artist, the scientist and the mass. Yet the place of ‘poetry’ in the Mass-Observation project was also a contested issue, as a number of our contributors show. The significance of Mass-Observation as project and experiment was not that it reconciled the ‘two cultures’ – art and science - but that it put into play the possibility and the difficulty of their interrelationship, and, in so doing, raised conceptual questions that continue to resonate today.

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To cite this article
Laura Marcus (2001) Introduction: the project of mass observation, New Formations, 2001(44), -

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