Tracking Automation Anxiety in the Mass Observation Archive

This paper proposes Mass Observation as a methodology to track the impact of automation on the lives of ordinary people in the twentieth century. From 1937 onwards, Mass Observation has been collecting information about everyday life, and with it the dramatic changes brought about by the automation of labour, the home, society, and thought. It thus provides a unique insight into the lived experience of automation and the ways it structured people’s emotional life’s and accounts of the world. Examining what methodologies can be used to track automation anxiety within the Mass Observation archive, this paper will ask, at what points does automation anxiety emerge, and in what ways is it written into the historical archive.

Rebecca Wright is a Research Fellow in Mass Observation Studies at the University of Sussex, where she is examining attitudes towards energy in the Mass Observation Archive. Between 2013–16 she was a Research Fellow on the AHRC collaborative project, “Material Cultures of Energy,” at Birkbeck College where she worked on ‘Energy Futures’. She completed her PhD at Birkbeck College in 2016, and has held fellowships at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and the Huntington Library in California.