The Peckham Experiment, conducted between 1935 and 1950 in the London Pioneer Health Centre, was one of the most talked-about social experiments of the 20th century. Families from the South London neighbourhood of Peckham were invited to use the facilities of a radiantly modern building. They were encouraged to freely choose and organize their leisure activities, taking advantage of a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a self-service cafeteria. In doing so, both their health status and interaction with other members of the nascent centre-community were closely observed by a team of physicians.
The first research monograph on the history of the experiment building on archival sources, this book combines a micro-historical perspective with methods from the history of science. It shows how bio-medical holism and evolutionary theories typical of the interwar years informed research on social life in the centre. But it also reveals that the "guinea pigs", too, were trying to make sense of the research they were taking part in. The outcome was an ambiguous social laboratory that generated new insights into the power of social groups to self-organize, which were soon discussed all over the world – and continue to haunt British political debates today.
List of figures
List of abbreviations
A laboratory of the present?
"Peckham" as a social generator of knowledge
Structure of the book
On Queen’s Road
Helping with self-help
Plans for expansion
Responsibility as a biological function: the first book
Observation platforms and niches for congregation
The social environment as growth medium
The ideal life
Culture and cultivation
Eugenics, evolution and community
Chaos and order
Mary Langman’s recollections
Revisions: "socialized science"
Genius and autocrat
The biologist as the summit of creation
Holistic perspectives and visual contagions
Moving images: The Centre
A winter evening
"Bouquets & Brickbats"
An experiment in education
War, agriculture and family
"Physician, heal thyself"
Reviews and an enforced reopening
Visitors and lecture tours
"Peckham" in the world’s press
Criticisms from within and without
The directors’ fall from power
The money trail
From guinea pigs to citizens’ group
Proof of the pudding
From social engineer to social entrepreneur
The Peckham experiment as seen by city planners and architects
Brave new worlds
A "strange laboratory"?
Northfield, Hawkspur & Hawthorne
Experiments in self-organization
The experimental animal