Monday, 8 March 2010

Crowd Watching

I haven't been to the MRS Conference for years, of course. I have some rather alcohol-tinged memories of sleeping on hotel floors in Brighton although I expect things have changed since the 80s. For a start, there is the Research Liberation Front to provide an alternative slant on things. This year, the pressure group will be setting up a gallery to look at the overlap between market research and art.

Now, the overlap between advertising and art is well-known and discussed but, research? But once I got thinking about all that stimulus material that is so lovingly prepared, not to mention the output from participants protesting that "I'm useless at drawing..."

And then my mind wandered to Mass Observation and the start of social research in Britain. The University of Sussex now holds an archive of diaries, anecdotes, photos and ephemera from the middle of the last century. In fact, some of this stuff has been published and I'm sure that much of it would qualify as art of a sort.

The work that these pioneers started had nothing to do with "focus groups" or "viewing studios". As their name suggests, they went out amongst the people and watched, photographed, eavesdropped. Exactly the kind of research that I think would be approved of by the Research Liberation Front.

The three young men that founded Mass Observation back in 1937 were an anthropologist, a poet and a film-maker. Apart from sounding like the first line of a joke, that strikes me as very modern somehow.

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