This is a tidied-up and slightly expanded (and with links added) version of the paper, based on research from my British Academy funded project ‘Understanding Social Change through Autobiographical Narrative’, that I gave to the ‘Using Mass Observation’s Covid 19 Collections’ Seminar Series on 16 June 2021. A recording of this is available to watch on Mass Observation’s YouTube channel (my paper starts at 31.15 but I recommend you listen to Ben Highmore’s paper first – the first seminar in the series from 19 May is also available to watch here). This seminar series is part of ‘The Learning to Live with Risk and Responsibility: Understanding Popular Responses to COVID-19’ project (project blog here), led by Nick Clarke (Southampton) in collaboration with Clive Barnett (Exeter). The project is funded by the British Academy Special Research Grants: Covid-19 scheme and runs from 2020 to 2022. Both my and Nick and Clive’s projects draw on resources from the Mass Observation Archive and in particular from the contemporary Mass Observation Project, which has been collecting additional responses to the Covid-19 pandemic alongside the writing of its regular panel.
Self-reflexive Writing, Everyday Life and Social Change in Mass Observation Narratives
Prof Nick Hubble (Brunel University London)
What can Mass-Observation (MO) tell us about how people adapt to social change in the 21st century? In my 2019 blogpost for the British Academy, I explained how autobiographies, memoirs and diaries, such as those kept during the Second World War for MO, reveal – sometimes as though in real time – how ordinary people developed new values and ways of thinking that opened up transformed futures for them beyond the conflicts that seemed to be governing their lives. In my British Academy funded project ‘Understanding Social Change through Autobiographical Narrative’, I have been developing approaches and methodologies from my past research that could also be used for analysing autobiographical narratives now, in the 21st century, so that we might see the emergence of new socio-cultural values and structures of feeling as they form in the reflections of individuals.
As explained in the introductory post on this blog, the project has been exploring the role of narrative self-reflexivity in helping people understand and adapt (sometimes retrospectively) to two key periods of change, 1939-43 and 1981-4, through research into the MO Archive (based at The Keep, Falmer, Brighton) and the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies (held within the Special Collections of Brunel University Library).
As I will be discussing, these time periods mark paradigm shifts in British social history. The Second World War saw an abrupt change between modes of democracy. As Ross McKibbin (1998) notes:
In the 1930s, the ruling definition of democracy was individualist and its proponents chiefly a modernised middle class; in the 1940s the ruling definition was social-democratic and its proponents chiefly the organised working class. (533)
Whereas, the early years of the Thatcher Government saw ‘A revolution in the head’ according to Andy Beckett (2016) which established Thatcherism as a ‘national story’ but also broke with traditional deference.
Note also that both periods coincide with Mass Observation activity. The original 1937-1949 project not only recorded but arguably contributed to the shift from interwar individualism to the postwar social democracy of the welfare state. The contemporary Mass Observation Project founded in 1981 has recorded the experience of neoliberal, deindustrialised Britain, in which the memory of the three postwar decades and their values remain strong but at odds with the overriding economic imperatives of the 40 years it now covers. I’m not arguing that the contemporary Mass Observation Project has contributed to this second shift but I think it is illustrates some of the ways in which that shift functions, as I will go on to discuss.
My ‘Understanding Social Change’ project was conceived before the Covid-19 pandemic but with the supposition that we are currently experiencing a twenty-first century paradigm shift in which new socio-cultural values and structures of feeling are emerging; the major example being changes around Brexit. To be comparable with those two earlier historical paradigm shifts would require there to be a major transformation in the way the British state is organised politically and economically. Arguably this is happening. For example, in last weekend’s Sunday Times (13 June 2021), in a somewhat breathless article on ‘How the Tories weaponised Woke’, Tim Shipman quotes an anonymous informant on the current opportunity to realign British politics: ‘“Westminster likes to bracket people as left and right,” they said, “but the real gap in the political market that Boris [Johnson] identified and has successfully filled is people who lean left on spending and public services but are culturally conservative”’. It is not necessary to agree with the political line of the Sunday Times, to accept that something is happening here. The idea of a ‘return’ to a culturally-conservative corporate State, which has evolved in response to the EU referendum of June 2016 and the supposed causes and drivers of the leave vote, has become real during the Covid pandemic, which has seen billions of pounds of public expenditure, including unprecedented levels of social spending, such as on the furlough scheme. In this respect, the Covid-pandemic is not an isolated, relatively unprecedented natural emergency, but a phenomenon that has been shaped by a pre-existing emergent form of politics. What has happened is a complete reversal of not just the austerity politics of ten years ago but also of the politics of the Brown, Blair, Major, and Thatcher administrations.
As an undergraduate, I remember a lecturer who repeatedly talked about a woman in Norwich who ‘went mad’ when Charles I was executed as an example of how powerful and destructive social change can be. Her understanding of how the world worked was destroyed and so nothing made sense anymore. There is a lot of talk in the media about the mental health effects of the isolation and lockdown resulting from the pandemic, as well as the anxiety generated by fear of the virus, but I suspect some of this is also due to ongoing paradigmatic social change; the world no longer works in the same way that it did in the closing decades of the twentieth century. There is a struggle to ensure that our stories of ourselves continue to make sense – and I don’t think the real brunt of this has yet been felt. This is where self-reflexive writing, whether in the form of diaries or writing for MO or similar projects, is important. My project has been concerned with the propensity of self-reflexive writing to help people to adapt to social change, not just in terms of making sense of that change but also in terms of actively shaping that change by developing new understandings and values. My aim has been to show the kinds of ways this happened by looking at the original MO project of the 1930s and 1940s, and the revived project in the 1980s and afterwards.
Alongside this, I am also looking at the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies at Brunel and working on areas such as working-class autobiography and proletarian autobiografiction because in the 1930s – as part of the same general cultural constellation that led to the formation of MO – there was a huge increase in working-class writing, both autobiographical and fictional. In To Exercise Our Talents: The Democratization of Writing in Britain (2006), the cultural historian, Christopher Hilliard, argues that it was the support of established publishers and left-wing intellectuals that made the 1930s not only especially important to the long-standing tradition of British working-class writing but also for the democratisation of culture in Britain. Rather than just write autobiography, which had the constricting effect that the lives written about were shaped by the oppressive social class relations of Britain, some working-class writers fictionalised their autobiographies and thus found a different way to write about their lives. The prime example would be D.H. Lawrence and the writers from mining areas that he inspired, such as Harold Heslop. There were also working-class women writers such as Ethel Mannin, the daughter of a Post-Office letter sorter, who wrote both autobiographies, such as Confessions and Impressions (1930) and autobiografictional fiction such as Crescendo (1929) and Ragged Banners (1931) which she described herself as ‘a kind of creative auto-intoxication … It was all flashy and provocative and the succession of books form a more and complete and illuminative record of my mental evolution than any diary could have conveyed.’ (Privileged Spectator, 1939: 21). These changes are all happening in the 1930s and feed in to MO; some of these writers, such as Walter Allen, a member of the Birmingham Group of Writers and later a well-known postwar literary critic, wrote proletarian autobiografictions in the late 1930s at the same time as writing for the MO panel. So, the different prongs of this project link up.
At which point, I should also note that the project as I proposed it to the British Academy, includes a commitment on the behalf of the researcher to be equally self-reflexive concerning their own practice. Therefore, I shall break the academic equivalent of the fourth wall and reveal that the pandemic has quite significantly affected my project. I was expecting to do much of the archival research at MO in the spring and summer of 2020 before completing by the end of September 2020. In the event, however, it was impossible to travel and, in any case, I wasn’t in the best state to carry out research. Like many people, I was affected by the pandemic. I felt anxiety and had some difficulty sleeping etc and had occasional bouts of ill health which felt like having a virus; but given the lockdown and social distancing, where was I catching this? By the time September arrived I had made no progress and so I applied for the maximum twelve-month extension for the grant and this came through just as I started feeling really ill. I was diagnosed – at first over the phone but eventually in person – as suffering from post-viral syndrome as a result of having a virus in March, which was probably but not necessarily Covid. At the time, I didn’t think it was Covid because I didn’t have the right symptoms and I didn’t seem to be ill enough. But last autumn, I ended up being off work for three and a half months before making a phased return in mid-January this year. And since then, until a couple of weeks ago, I’ve just been trying to get through the rest of the academic year. So, on the one hand, my project still hasn’t got much further and I’ve got just over three months to get on top of the formal outputs. On the other hand, though, I have made a lot of progress with the self-reflexive element because I have spent 15 months keeping a diary throughout the Covid pandemic period, which at times was the only thing I was capable of writing, and in the process I have learned quite a lot about how self-reflexive writing works for the person who is keeping the diary rather than for the person who is writing about the person keeping the diary.
In my British Academy blogpost linked at the top of this post, I wrote that ‘lives lived with the knowledge that what happens will soon be written about become shaped by the stories their writers wish to tell’. In other words, the attraction of MO to people who aren’t otherwise writers (like Mannin or Woolf) is that it gives them a chance to become the authors of their own lives in a way that hadn’t been open to them before. Conversely, over the years it has enabled some well-known writers to write themselves as ordinary people. Naomi Mitchison wrote for MO from its inception, describing, for example, a trip to Woolworths to buy sweets with her daughter for the 12 December 1937 day diary (see Mitchison 1986: 53-4). Given that her most recent novel, We Have Been Warned (1935), which combined representations of ‘female stream of consciousness, fascist uprisings and socialist politics with free love, rape and abortion was “universally despised” by critics’ (Hubble 2021: 45) and her literary reputation had been (most unjustly from a twenty-first century perspective) destroyed, writing anonymously about everyday things must have been enormously liberating for her. She went on to keep a diary throughout the war for MO, published as Among You Taking Notes… (1985), and to contribute to the contemporary MO project throughout the 1980s (see Hubble 2016).
While being an academic is hardly so prominent a position as Mitchison occupied in the 1930s, there are several reasons why it seems to preclude us from having authentic public views (by which I mean we’re not considered to be representative of ordinary people). One of these reasons is the notional goal of objectivity and the related idea that academics should write analytically in a non-partisan and impersonal manner. Another is that within universities themselves much more value is now put on engaging with public audiences and having an impact on policy, rather than engaging with or having an impact on academic audiences. In other words, academics are no longer valued at an institutional level. Furthermore, in post-Brexit Britain, academics are now portrayed as part of an unrepresentative metropolitan elite, whose liberal values are simultaneously both an affectation and an expression of a particular professional bubble. My point is not to complain about these facts of academic life but to explain the attraction I felt to writing a diary as just another person on the street. One consequence of the Covid pandemic – despite the role social inequality has played in its impact – has been the almost universal experience of many, many people being made aware of their own mortality; their own fragility as human bodies susceptible to contracting a potentially deadly infection from other human bodies. There has been a shift of perspective as this new feeling of vulnerability has enabled a new kind of sensibility and self-understanding for those who have reflected on their own experiences. This doesn’t just apply to people who have kept diaries or written about themselves in some other way but I think it is possibly felt most acutely in those groups (and also it is within the writing of such people that that these changes are visible to sociologists, historians and other researchers interested in examining and charting such processes). Therefore, one value of the MO Covid collections is that they give us a window on to this opening-up of subjectivity.
I don’t think we can yet see where this process is leading us – that’s something that will emerge through more analysis, and over time because these processes are still unfolding. But we can look back and see how similar processes played out in World War Two. In his book about the wartime diaries – c.400, of which c.100 were kept for the entire direction of the war, including those of Mitchison and Nella Last – kept for MO, Nine Wartime Lives (2010), James Hinton argues that ‘Mass-Observation offered a discipline and a context which transcended the purely private, meeting a need to frame individual quests in relation to larger public purposes’(6). The diaries, Hinton suggests, ‘take us as close as a historian can hope to get to observe selfhood under construction’ and, in particular, reveal to us the everyday unfolding of what, following the work of Charles Taylor, he takes as the central process of modernity: the radical disembedding of individual subjectivity from received sources of meaning (7).
If we take the example of ‘Muriel Green’, who is not one of the diarists Hinton analyses but features in Dorothy Sheridan’s Wartime Women (1990), we see a young woman of 18 at the outbreak of the War writing about everyday activities in the village she lives in, which would all be perfectly ordinary apart from her strong understanding that she was part of an extraordinary collective practice that everyone ought to have heard of:
Afternoon – Jenny and I went to Lynn … We went to W.H. Smith’s and son’s best and biggest bookshop in Lynn, to buy a Penguin book and asked if they had War Begins at Home just to see if they had. I did not expect they had as I had never seen it there, and if the girl had produced it I was preparing to say it was too expensive. Anyway she had not got it. Nor Britain. I felt insulted and offended with the shop. She did not even seem to have heard of them either which was all the more annoying …
Before we caught the bus home we went in the town library to ask if they had got ‘our’ book. (We always call it ‘ours’, hope MO doesn’t mind, but you see we’ve never had anything we’ve written in print before and claiming 14 lines and J. 25 lines we feel a proprietary interest in the publication, and that everybody ought to sell and read it.) Were delighted to see that the paper cover was pinned up inside the main entrance with other new books they had bought this month for the library. (19 April 1940)
This sense of belonging to MO repeatedly occurs in her diary culminating in her account of an impulsive trip to the organisation’s London office, when she meets Tom Harrisson at the door. Harrisson, despite being too busy to stop and talk for more than a few moments, comes across as polite and friendly:
I then came away and for the next half-hour could do nothing but laugh to myself about it. I wondered what TH really thought and how he probably was cursing inwardly all the time he was being nice and polite. I expect he was terribly annoyed but I was triumphant that I had actually been and not quite got kicked out. He also had thanked me so much for doing the MO directives, etc. I thought him very charming and did not mind at all being got rid of, as I expected it. I was very glad I went, however he and the MO in general would be about it. (10 May 1941)
The diarist’s ability to provide not only her own unspoken thoughts but also those of Harrisson as well generates an equivalence between the two that is amplified by the fact that the description of the encounter is then fed back to MO and Harrisson by being submitted as part of her monthly instalment. The potentially endless reflexivity of this process captures the logic of MO that if everyone were a Mass Observer than the observation of another would always be in some way an observation of oneself and so, therefore, the divisive boundaries between people – between classes, between genders – would dissolve. It is this inherent logic that makes an MO diary, at least potentially, collectively self-reflexive in a way that exceeds the self-reflexivity of a normal diary.
This self-reflexivity beyond self-reflexivity affects the way that we need to read these diaries. Muriel, on a brief trip home from her war job as a gardener in the South West, realises that she can never go back to her life as a garage girl amidst the vibrant pre-war modernity, which George Orwell described in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941) as ‘a rather restless, cultureless life, centring round tinned food, Picture Post, the radio and the internal combustion engine’. She does not just recognise the loss entailed in growing up or that caused by the war but both of those things combined with a implicit recognition that the self-reflective act of writing a diary as part of a collective enterprise is irrevocably distancing her from her younger less reflective self:
There are very few cars on the road and absolutely none pulling in the garage sweep. This life would soon get on my nerves if I was at home again while the war is on. There seems no one about at all. (15 June 1942)
My last day’s leave. Tonight I cried bitterly. I had not cried for ages. It was not about going back … I cried because of the war. It has altered our life which can never be the same. To see the desolate emptiness of the seaside upsets me. When you are away and Mother writes to say the latest desecration, the latest boy missing, the latest family to sacrifice, it is just words. But in the home it is mortifying. Life will never be so sweet as before the war and the last two summers and early ’39 were the most perfect years of my life when all seemed young and gay. (16 June 1942)
What such painful self-recognition highlights is how fundamentally the process of disembedding oneself from the past in order to move into the future is part of everyday life. It was the particular form of self-reflexivity generated by the practice of writing about themselves for MO that allowed the diarists to realise that they were agents of history, which is to say that they became aware of themselves making history through the process of going about their everyday lives, and thereby gave them the confidence to pronounce on public matters with an authority they would not otherwise have had in a hierarchical society. This authority and sense of agency can be seen in Green’s reflections on the 1945 General Election:
I feel that at last the working classes of this country have begun to think for themselves and wake up. They have not been fooled by the bogey of voting ‘National’ or by Churchill’s smiling face. They do not want to get back to 1939. The conscription and shortages have taught them democracy and that all men are really equal. I feel confident that a better world is going to be the result of this election and that the future in spite of so many difficulties is bright. Now is the chance of the Labour Party to show the world what they can do and what can be done. Churchill is an old man and as a war leader against Japan not irreplaceable. It is for the young people of this country to support the new government to success. (31 July 1945)
This is a statement that I don’t think she would have been able to make at the beginning of the War. At one level, she is responding to the social and political changes that took place over the duration of the war but the reason she is not only aware of these changes but also self-aware enough to discuss them in this manner is because of the fact that has been self-reflexively keeping a diary for the past five and a half years. Therefore, what Muriel Green’s diary shows is how one person adapted to change through self-reflexive writing and not only came to espouse new values but contributed to their generation (as one amongst millions). Collectively that story was part of the ‘People’s War’ paradigm, to use the title of Angus Calder’s 1969 book and MO was initially seen as a fundamental part of that paradigm and the social and political ‘Road to 1945’ (i.e. to the establishment of the welfare state and the postwar social-democratic settlement) to use the title of Paul Addison’s 1975 book – both Addison and Calder being PhD students at Sussex and part of the story of how the mouldering MO papers were transformed into an archive. However, by the 1990s, Calder had revised his earlier more utopian view of history in The Myth of the Blitz (1991), written in hindsight gained from the bitter experience of the Thatcherite deployment of the war in an early deployment of the ‘make Britain great again’ strategy which underwrote the aggressive economic reforms of the 1980s.
Stuart Hall (1988) analysed Thatcherism as a form of nostalgia for the bygone proletarian style of life displayed by those who were moving out of the working class:
What Thatcherism as an ideology does, is to address the fears, the anxieties, the lost identities, of a people. It invites us to think about politics in images. It is addressed to our collective fantasies, to Britain as an imagined community; to the social imaginary. (166-7)
As Raphael Samuel (1998) concurs, part of the allure of Thatcherism was that it offered those unsettled by the social changes of the 1960s – such as women’s liberation, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the abolition of the death penalty, and anti-racial discrimination policies that enshrined the multicultural nature of London and the other big cities – a Thatcherite version of history from below ‘which gave pride of place to those who she called “ordinary people”’ (348). As Hall discusses, rather than contest such a construction of the working class, the Labour Party reinforced it during the 1987 election by proclaiming its desire to appeal to the ‘traditional Labour voter’ and presenting the party’s leader, Neil Kinnock ‘as a manly “likely lad” who owed everything to the welfare state’ (263). I’d love to be able to say at this point that this is all history but we can see more or less the same manoeuvres being carried out over the last couple of years with Keir Starmer outlining his working-class background and seeking to embrace family, faith and flag in order to win back to Labour, the former ‘red-wall’ working-class voters who have apparently embraced Brexit and Boris Johnson. (In this context, see the picture of Starmer on social media posing in an England shirt with a pint during the 2021 Euros quarterfinal between England and Ukraine on 3 July).
Hall talked about those who were moving out of the working class due to embracing Thatcherite values such as home ownership but from a viewpoint of identity, they haven’t moved out of the working class. What has happened is that the horizon of possibility envisaged by the idea of working-class politics and identity – as expressed by Muriel Green, for example – has shrunk since 1945. In 1990, Part One of the MO Spring Directive asked respondents to write about ‘Social Divisions’. The directive and some of the responses to this are available online as part of the ‘Observing the 80s’ project. Here are a couple of extracts:
Middle class people are mean compared to working class people and middle class people do not have the great sense of humour that the working class have … Business men and women are middle class and they are a very nasty lot. (496)
I would describe myself as belonging to the group ‘working class’. To define ‘upper middle class’ as apart from ‘lower middle class’, the division is based wholly nowadays on earning power. It used to be based upon all sorts of things like one’s family background and the schools and universities one had attended. (1002)
What these quotes suggest is a change in the construction of the working class over the 1980s to perhaps a more essentialist or even defensive configuration as Thatcherite economic reforms undid the social-democratic paradigm created as a result of the 1945 settlement. This had defined British public and everyday life up until the end of the 1970s, including a period of nearly two decades from the mid-1950s when average male working-class income increased year on year, thus significantly reducing social inequality to a point at which Britain was by some metrics the most socially equal country in the world in 1977 (see Beckett 2010: 409-10). The brutal and deliberate reversal of this progress had a direct effect on how class was understood and portrayed.
If we fast forward to the early twenty-first century, we can see further changes in working-class identity by briefly examining the case of the mass-observer called ‘Len’ by James Hinton (and ‘Dick’ in Growing Old with the Welfare State) in his Seven Lives from Mass Observation (2016), who is described as representative ‘of the experience of large numbers of people caught between the hammer of the 1980s and the anvil of the 1960s’ (93). That is to say he was equally alienated and upset by the sexual and feminist revolutions of the 1960s and the Thatcherite era of privatisation, financial deregulation and destruction of the unions and manufacturing industry. Len, as an example of a wider body of skilled manual labour, manifests a nostalgia for pre-1955 Britain (or possibly even earlier). As I have discussed in Growing Old with the Welfare State (2019):
Whereas the older way of life he values was once supported by the welfare state, it is the welfare state in practice which in practice has undermined those values by enabling the social changes of both the 1960s and the 1980s to take place (this latter suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, but it would have been impossible for the Thatcher Government to triple unemployment in the early 1980s without a safety net in place to largely catch the resultant social consequences). To satisfy [Len], it would logically require the combination of a collectivist welfare state with the repeal of some or most of the socially liberalising legislation of the 1960s and the 1970s [and that of the early 2000s up to and including the 2010 Equality Act]. (142)
It is the configuration, that this kind of analysis identifies, which was described in the Sunday Times article I quote above as a ‘gap in the political market that Boris [Johnson] [has] identified’ of appealing to ‘people who lean left on spending and public services but are culturally conservative’. In other words, it is possible to map the roots of the ongoing paradigm shift within the narratives of the contemporary MO Project.
Therefore, my provisional conclusion for my British Academy project on ‘Understanding Social Change through Autobiographical Narratives’ – formed during the process of writing this paper – is that the reason there was paradigmatic social change in 1939-1943 is because working-class consciousness and identity changed and the reason why there was paradigmatic social change in 1981-1984 is because working-class consciousness and identity changed again. We’ll see how happy the British Academy are with that in due course!
But how does this social and cultural change in working-class consciousness and identity apply to the use and consideration of MO’s Covid collections. I think one significant difference between this Brexit-Covid time we live in now and even the Thatcherite revolution of 40 years ago, is that it is much more widely seen as an opportunity for consciously triggering a paradigm shift in social values. We hear in the media about the potential for a ‘Covid reset’ and, following the recent Hartlepool byelection, the Tories were briefing that they expected to establish hegemony for a generation, or at least the next ten years. People who do the kind of analysis that I do are working in think tanks and elsewhere, to construct a new ‘reality’. ‘Freedom day’ has been postponed four weeks from 21 June to 19 July but it’s coming and it promises to be a powerfully seductive ideological moment because we all want to be free of the restrictions and feel safe. I got my second vaccination yesterday (15 June 2021) because I want to have that protection and because I want to be able to travel and do things (although, to be clear, I’m quite happy to do them while wearing a mask and socially distancing; and also happy to wait for other people to have their second vaccinations too). There is a powerful motivation for us all to buy-in to the official narrative of the pandemic, to praise the NHS and the vaccine rollout, and celebrate a British triumph in the face of adversity. At the last of these seminars, there was discussion of the motivation of mass observers to write for future historians. That’s a powerful motivation and one to be supported not least because the very act of thinking about what might be of value to people in the future is itself a valuable way of understanding the present. However, the question to us as researchers is how we write about this now; how we contest the official narrative of the pandemic and construct an alternative narrative that helps people better understand what is going on. And how we invite MO respondents (and other diarists and participants in other writing projects) to share in constructing this narrative; whether we ask people to continue to keep their diaries or whether we issue further supplementary directives. But we do have to find some way of keeping this going. The pandemic cannot just stop with the advent of ‘Freedom day’ according to the narrative being established by the current government.
© Nick Hubble
Works Cited and Further Reading:
Paul Addison. The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975.
Andy Beckett. When the Lights Went Out: What Really Happened to Britain in the Seventies. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.
Andy Beckett. Promised You a Miracle: Why 1980-82 Made Modern Britain. London: Penguin 2016.
Angus Calder. The People’s War. London: Jonathan Cape, 1969.
Angus Calder. The Myth of the Blitz. London: Jonathan Cape, 1991.
Stuart Hall. The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso, 1988.
Christopher Hilliard. To Exercise Our Talents: The Democratization of Writing in Britain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
James Hinton. Nine Wartime Lives: Mass Observation and the Making of the Modern Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
James Hinton. Seven Lives from Mass Observation: Britain in the Late Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Nick Hubble. ‘Documenting Lives: Mass Observation, Women’s Diaries, and Everyday Modernity’. In A History of English Autobiography. Ed. Adam Smyth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016: 345-358.
Nick Hubble. ‘“You’re Not in the Market at Shielding, Joe”: Beyond the Myth of the “Thirties”’. In The 1930s: A Decade of Modern British Fiction. Eds, Nick Hubble, Luke Seaber and Elinor Taylor. London: Bloomsbury, 2021: 17-57.
Nick Hubble, Jennie Taylor and Philip Tew, eds. Growing Old with the Welfare State: Eight British Lives. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
Ross McKibbin. Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Ethel Mannin. Privileged Spectator. London: Jarrolds, 1939.
Naomi Mitchison. You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940. London: Fontana, 1986 .
Naomi Mitchison, Among You Taking Notes…: The Wartime Diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-1945. Ed. Dorothy Sheridan. London: Gollancz, 1985.
Raphael Samuel. Island Stories: Unravelling Britain. London: Verso, 1998.
Dorothy Sheridan, ed. Wartime Women: A Mass-Observation Anthology 1937-45. London: Heinemann, 1990.