Mass Observation - the Science of Ourselves

This appears to be a record of some early public history or public opinion research. Browsing through a university library, I picked up Britain by Mass Observation, a small Penguin book that reported on the results of "man on the street interviews," day surveys and personal diaries compiled by volunteers.

It's an interesting read: one third about the Munich crisis, some thoughts on wrestling and local fetes, and big chunk on the bloody lambeth walk.

(Here's a newsreel from the time, chopping up film clips of Nazis marching to have them dance the Lambeth Walk. The National Archives has more on the reel.)

The Mass Observation movement seemed a little too casual and non-too rigorous to qualify as public opinion research or market research - as we consider it today.

"...Young, confused, and vigorous, Mass-Observation sought to understand something that anthropology and sociology still took largely for granted: the everyday life of ordinary people...(New Yorker, nice long article about the "movement.)

Still, this one book is chock-a-block with direct quotes and observations from a variety of classes and generations. Some of the observations are likely more honest and frank than you would expect from a poll today.

For example, here's a woman of 38, speaking to a pollster about horoscopes:

"I read them every Sunday, many a time it's been true, but they don't give you so much bad news. When it was my birthday they said I should get a surprise. I got one. It was a good 'un, mister. No, I'm not telling you what it was, that's my business."

[tags] mass observation, polling, public opinion research, 1938, Munich crisis [/tags]