We Europeans? : Mass-Observation, Race and British Identity in the Twentieth Century book cover
1st Edition

We Europeans?
Mass-Observation, Race and British Identity in the Twentieth Century

ISBN 9781138275812
Published November 28, 2016 by Routledge
296 Pages

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Book Description

We Europeans is the first book-length study of the original mass observation project. It is also the first detailed historical study of the formation of ordinary people's 'racial' attitudes in Britain. Drawing upon historical, literary, cultural and anthropological approaches, this book examines the sources of cultural identity in Britain in the twentieth century, and how these were shaped through the influences of family, education, and everyday 'high' and 'low' culture. The examination focuses on the archives of the British social-anthropological organization Mass-Observation, and is the first detailed history of it to be published. Founded in the 1930s by poets, psychoanalysts, surrealists, and sociologists, among others, the purpose of the organization was to create an anthropology of the British people by the 'natives' themselves, through the use of diaries, directives and special surveys. The organization was active from 1937 to 1951, then revived in the 1980s, when a new group of Mass-Observers were recruited to keep diaries and respond to directives. Both the historical archive of Mass-Observation and the more recent material provide fascinating insight into the everyday lives and formation of identities of ordinary people in Britain. Kushner places the material from these archives in the context of other contemporary writings; through them he explores grassroots identities in Britain in relation to the outside world, especially Europe but also the former Empire and the USA. This study will be of interest to scholars of sociology, cultural studies, literary studies and history who are particularly interested in 'race', race relations, immigration and cultural difference.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Part 1 Contexts: Introduction: mass-observation, difference and the 'anthropology of ourselves'; Mass-observation, 'race' and nation. Part 2 Praxis - From Fieldwork To Directive: Exploring otherness: mass-observation in 'darkest' Britain; Beyond the opinion poll? The mass-observation directive. Part 3 Of Ourselves, By Ourselves: The Mass-Observation Diaries: Mass-observation and the genre of diary writing; Racism with the boots off? From Individual prejudice to collective violence in the mass-observation diaries; 'I am all women who are tortured': persecuted Jews at home and abroad and the mass-observation diaries; The intimacy of difference: confronting minorities in everyday life through the mass-observation diaries. Conclusion and afterword: reclaiming the Volvox; Bibliography; Index.

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Tony Kushner is Marcus Sieff Professor in Jewish/non-Jewish Relations in the Department of History and Parkes Institute, University of Southampton, UK.


'A highly original take on the tortuous ways in which questions about race and Britishness have helped to shape what it means to be part of the nation and of British culture more broadly ... a really wonderful book.' Professor John Solomos, Centre for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, City University, London 'Kushner's painstaking scholarship, well presented by Ashgate - with footnotes where they belong - fills a hole in the history of ethnic relations in Britain. It will be indispensable to anyone working on Jewish or British social history, 'race' and immigration, anthropology and sociology.' Jewish Chronicle 'Kushner has produced an extremely important and readable analysis of everyday attitudes towards ethnic minorities in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s.' Times Higher Educational Supplement 'Kushner's book is intelligent, sophisticated, and humane...' The International History Review '... Kushner provides some really interesting excerpts from the project which highlight its potential as an anthropological resource... One of the great merits of the book is its honest assessment of the Mass Observation project.' Social Anthropology ’... We Europeans? is an ambitious and important study that carefully illuminates popular racial attitudes and the sources of those attitudes in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s.’ Journal of British Studies