Time and Place 1937: Mass Observation (V1442)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

This module explores the diverse ways in which the everyday lives of so-called ‘ordinary people’ were documented and analysed across the middle years of the twentieth century. The module spins around a case study of the British group, Mass Observation, an organisation established in 1937 with the aim of creating ‘anthropology of ourselves’. Its approach was eclectic but included social investigation, often based in particular localities, the accumulation of diaries, and the collection of responses to a monthly questionnaire called a ‘directive’.

Following the establishment of the Mass-Observation Archive at Sussex University in the 1970s, a new Mass-Observation Project emerged which continues to generate life histories up to the present. Taken as a whole this material offers mediated access to the ways in which individual men and women experienced, perceived and remember the profound social cultural, political and economic shifts of the twentieth century. It also demonstrates clear shifts in the value attached to lived experience and allows us to explore the interrelatedness of social research practices and historical context.

Throughout the module the research practices and findings of Mass Observation are set alongside the work of documentary filmmakers and photographers, journalists, state-sponsored organisations and social scientists. What does their work tell us about the changing nature of mid-twentieth century Britain and who, ultimately, has the authority to represent the lives of ordinary people?

Teaching and assessment

We’re currently reviewing teaching and assessment of our modules in light of the COVID-19 situation. We’ll publish the latest information as soon as possible.

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 24 hours of contact time and about 126 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

This module is running in the academic year 2021/22. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. However, there may be changes to this module in response to COVID-19, or due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.

It may not be possible to take some module combinations due to timetabling constraints. The structure of some courses means that the modules you choose first may determine whether later modules are core or optional.


This module is offered on the following courses: