Women’s Mass-Observation Diaries: Writing, Time & ‘Subjective Cameras’
Salter, Andrea Clare
This thesis concerns women’s wartime diaries written for the radical social research organisation Mass-Observation (M-O) between 1939 and 1967, treating these as ‘social texts’ informed by social and temporal practices which also influence what ‘a diary’ is more widely perceived to ‘be’ as a genre of writing. It analyses the centrality of time and temporality to these social practices, to the relationship between writing and representation, and also to what it was to write a diary specifically for M-O and thus to position oneself as a ‘subjective camera’. Chapter One overviews the genesis and activities of M-O, its co-founders’ research perspectives and how these influenced activities in Worktown and the Economics of Everyday Life project and also in Blackheath, London. Blackheath activities are examined in detail because M-O’s Directives and Day-Diaries were organised from there, the latter providing the material for Jennings and Madge’s (1937) May Twelfth, the basis for their conceptualisation of ‘subjective cameras’ and also the starting point for the wartime diaries. Chapter Two discusses the origins of the wartime diaries, and analyses anthologies compiled using this material, the individual M-O diaries that have been published, and two attempts in the 1940s to produce M-O books from the diaries, discussing how previous uses have influenced my own analytic approach. Chapter Three examines the complications that M-O diaries make to popular understandings of the diary form, in particular by the multiple and diverse influences impinging upon writing a diary for M-O. A key example concerns overlaps between M-O diaries and letters, showing that epistolary conventions and practices are extensively drawn on by M-O and its diarists and that inscription of times and dates are central to this. Chapter Four examines temporal aspects of the diary-genre and analyses their writing ‘over time’ by focusing on the long-term diary written by Nella Last, what she did with time in its pages, and how the methodological approach I utilised for sampling and analysing it impacts on interpretation of temporal matters. Chapter Five analyses diary-entries written by different women for the same dates, exploring discrete specific temporal points to examine what is happening with time in relation to this, again reflectively commenting on the interpretational consequences of methodological strategies. The Conclusion considers M-O’s idea of diarists as ‘subjective cameras’ and theorises its connections to time and diary-writing.