Access to the full text of the entire article is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.


Mass Observation By Chambers, Matthew; Walker, Ian

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1215-1
Published: 01/10/2016
Retrieved: 17 April 2024, from


Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, poet Charles Madge, and ethnologist and explorer Tom Harrisson. It was originally conceived as a project to capture the dominant image of the day by collecting reports and observing people’s behavior. The group was influenced by filmic montage, André Breton’s writing on coincidence and the surrealist image, and Bronislaw Malinowski’s theories of “participatory observation” in anthropology. The movement’s methodology quickly evolved from a surrealist-inspired experiment into a more scientifically-orthodox project that was pursued on a wide-scale until 1949. Mass Observation had three distinct periods: an early interdisciplinary period that can be related to Jennings’s involvement; a further period when following Jennings’s departure and Malinowski’s essay in First Year’s Work, Mass Observation pursued a more orthodox scientific approach; and a final stage which saw its collaboration with the Ministry of Information and eventual transformation into a market research firm.

content locked



Article DOI



Citing this article:

Walker, Ian and Matthew Chambers. Mass Observation. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

Copyright © 2016-2024 Routledge.