Shared Ownership and Mutual Imaginaries: Researching Research in Mass Observation

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The methodologies that might be best used to interpret Mass Observation's distinctive research resources have tended to be considered on a case by case basis by individual researchers and have rarely been the subject of concerted, dedicated scrutiny. During 2009-10, however, the University of Brighton research network Methodological Innovations: Using Mass Observation (MIMO) brought together 150 international academics, archivists, writers and artists to debate and share methods for analysing the materials of the post-1981 Mass Observation Project (MOP) in particular. Through discussion lists and events, a range of disciplinary approaches were brought to bear on core topics of methodological concern, from the 'representativeness' of the writing panel and discussions about sampling and extrapolation, through to debates on the very nature of Mass Observation (MO) material and how it might be defined. This paper draws on these productive discussions and brings them together with previously unanalysed insights and reflections on similar issues by MOP correspondents, for as Sheridan, Street and Bloome (2000) have argued, 'Mass-Observers themselves are as reflective and thoughtful about issues raised, methodological and theoretical as well as ethical and political, as the academic commentators.' Using responses to the MOP directive, 'Being Part of Research' in parallel with MIMO discussions, this paper draws new connections between contributors and users, as two of the core constituent bodies involved in the production of meaning in MO. Through comparative analysis of each groups' discussion of methodology, this paper highlights the often unarticulated but ultimately interdependent relationship between contributors and their readers in order to reveal their shared understandings, mirrored concerns and mutual imaginaries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2014


  • Mass Observation
  • Research
  • Method
  • Methodology
  • Intersubjectivity


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