26th June – Dr Nick Clarke – Mass Observation

Science of the people, by the people, for the people

Mass-Observation was founded in 1937 by one anthropologist working in Bolton and two surrealists working in London. For a brief moment in the late 1930s, before the surrealists quit, it sought to practice an experimental science of the people (studying the everyday lives of ordinary people), by the people (involving ordinary people as observers and writers), for the people (involving ordinary people as readers of this writing).

The democratic project was to make everyday life available for critique, to mobilise people as critics – of their own lives, the lives of others, and the conditions in which these lives were lived – and to facilitate public formation around emerging issues. This project was not particularly successful, but it did produce a fascinating book, May the Twelfth, based on ‘day-surveys’ by two hundred observers on 12th May 1937, the day of George VI’s Coronation.

In 2010, inspired by this book, the Mass Observation Archive at University of Sussex began collecting day-diaries annually on 12th May. For the next decade, they received a few hundred diaries every year, which they archived but were never really used by anyone.

Then on 12th May 2020 something changed. They received 5,000 diaries from people keen to record a day in the life of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nick used these diaries to produce his own book, Everyday Life in the Covid-19 Pandemic.

It attempts to provide a humanising, democratic account of the pandemic and how it was experienced in the UK – an alternative to the statistical accounts of epidemiology and the expert accounts of professional critics. It also attempts to revive the democratic project of the original Mass-Observation: science of the people, by the people, for the people.

In this talk, he discusses this project, his book, and everyday life in the Covid-19 pandemic.


Nick Clarke is Associate Professor of Human Geography at the University of Southampton. He studies governance and citizenship, taking approaches from human geography, political science, history, and cultural studies. His books include Globalising Responsibility (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), The Good Politician (CUP, 2018), and Everyday Life in the Covid-19 Pandemic (Bloomsbury, 2024).

Standard Stuff

Talks are usually on the 4th Wednesday of every month,  at 7:00 for 7:30, at The Winchester Club in Winchester.  Please take a look at the FAQs for more info.

Admission is £5 which also gives you an entry in the book raffle. We take cash and major cards (cards preferred).

The event is in two parts – the talk and then a Q&A after the interval. We encourage you to support the venue by indulging in the available drinks before and during the event.

You are also welcome to join us for a drink in the bar after the event.