The Materiality of Method: the case of the Mass Observation Archive

Moor, Liz and Uprichard, Emma. 2014. The Materiality of Method: the case of the Mass Observation Archive. Sociological Research Online, 19(3), pp. 1-11. ISSN 1360-7804 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The Mass Observation Archive presents numerous methodological issues for social researchers. The data are idiosyncratic, difficult to analyze, and the sample design is nonsystematic. Such issues seriously challenge conventional social research protocols. This article highlights a further characteristic of the archive: its unwieldy materiality. Focusing on the sensory experiences of the archive and its particular type of data, the article shows how the experience of getting ‘dirty with data’ plays a real and dynamic part of conducting Mass Observation research. Building on these observations, and drawing on two recent projects that have used the Archive, we reflect on the extent to which these issues are genuinely methodologically problematic, and how far the materiality of method and the sensuousness of data play a part in other research sites and methodological approaches too. In doing so, we emphasize the physical and logistical practicalities involved in engaging with all kinds of data, and highlight the opportunities as well as the constraints that these pose. We draw attention to the sensuous ‘cues’ and ‘hints’ offered by the Archive's materiality, and explore different ways of responding to these and their likely implications for the type and status of outputs produced. Finally, we consider the implications of our discussion for possible future attempts to digitize the contents of the Archive.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Digital, Handwriting, Mass Observation Archive, Materiality, Sensory, Paper

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


4 June 2014Accepted
4 November 2014Published Online
1 September 2014Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

27 Oct 2015 15:10

Last Modified:

05 Sep 2019 13:08

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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