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Synthetic sociology and the 'long workshop': How Mass Observation ruined meta-methodology

Hurdley, Rachel ORCID: 2014. Synthetic sociology and the 'long workshop': How Mass Observation ruined meta-methodology. Sociological Research Online 19 (3) , pp. 177-202. 10.5153/sro.3376

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The paper focuses on the relations between Mass Observation Reports, and the contemporary sociological valuing of articulacy, salience and coherence in participants' accounts. This is linked with a critique of sociological literariness, to question how participants' words are transformed into 'data' for research productions. The aims are threefold. First, to show how research participants' contributions have valuable attributes that do not always fit neatly into conventional analytic frame. Second, to highlight how 'awkward' data challenge the literary conventions of sociological production. Third, to illustrate how critical reflection on a particular form of vernacular poetry can inform the poetics and politics of sociological methodology. By addressing Mass Observation's inconvenient materiality, its peculiar temporality and its diverse content, the paper considers how these unsettle the notion of 'data'. Critically engaging with Charles Madge's and Humphrey Jennings' notion of Mass Observation as 'Popular Poetry', I then consider how Whitman's vernacular epic, Leaves of Grass, has been woven into the cultural biography of the U.S. By drawing an analogy between Mass Observation's 'Popular Poetry' and Whitman's democratic poetics, I ask how a legitimised/legitimising research habitus can change in interaction with such materials, rather than resynthesising itself. Moving on to an ethically difficult film-making project with asylum seekers I argue for methodological architectures that open up plural, precarious, untimely 'anthropologies of ourselves'. A politics of knowledge-making, that acknowledges the 'long workshops' where social worlds are crafted, can then materialise.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Uncontrolled Keywords: Mass Observation, Materiality, Methodology, Ethics, Narrative, Lists, Literariness, Poetics, Space
Publisher: SAGE Publications (UK and US)
ISSN: 1360-7804
Funders: Leverhulme Trust
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 14 June 2014
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2023 03:19

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