The Materiality of Method: The Case of the Mass Observation Archive



New article in Sociological Review Online by Liz Moor and Emma Uprichard:

The Materiality of Method: The Case of the Mass Observation Archive

The Mass Observation Archive presents numerous methodological issues for social researchers. The data are idiosyncratic, difficult to analyze, and the sample design is nonsystematic. Such issues seriously challenge conventional social research protocols. This article highlights a further characteristic of the archive: its unwieldy materiality. Focusing on the sensory experiences of the archive and its particular type of data, the article shows how the experience of getting ‘dirty with data’ plays a real and dynamic part of conducting Mass Observation research. Building on these observations, and drawing on two recent projects that have used the Archive, we reflect on the extent to which these issues are genuinely methodologically problematic, and how far the materiality of method and the sensuousness of data play a part in other research sites and methodological approaches too. In doing so, we emphasize the physical and logistical practicalities involved in engaging with all kinds of data, and highlight the opportunities as well as the constraints that these pose. We draw attention to the sensuous ‘cues’ and ‘hints’ offered by the Archive’s materiality, and explore different ways of responding to these and their likely implications for the type and status of outputs produced. Finally, we consider the implications of our discussion for possible future attempts to digitize the contents of the Archive.

Keywords: Digital; Handwriting; Mass Observation Archive; Materiality; Sensory; Paper

This article has been added to the list of readings on Archives and Materiality in our library.