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Dancing by Mass Observation. Evaluating the Second Phase of the Worktown Project DAN LAUGHEY. Methodological shift in WP 1939-41 (second phase). Tighter focus on particular aspects of everyday life – shopping and saving, church activities, dancing (Calder 1985)

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Dancing by mass observation

Dancing by Mass Observation

Evaluating the Second Phase of the Worktown Project


Methodological shift in wp 1939 41 second phase
Methodological shift in WP 1939-41 (second phase)

  • Tighter focus on particular aspects of everyday life – shopping and saving, church activities, dancing (Calder 1985)

  • Greater emphasis on detailed interviewing and opinion formation (US social research)

  • Qualitative turn – subjective as well as objective reporting

  • Attempts to probe the personal / private

Criticisms of the wp 1937 39 first phase
Criticisms of the WP 1937-39 (first phase)

  • Fallacy of unobserved observation

  • Ornithology / sociology analogy misleading

  • Dubious claims of detached objectivity

  • ‘Subjects’ lack individual voices

  • Worktowners treated as a ‘mass’

  • Unethical (eavesdropping, class prejudices)

  • Some data gathering trivial

Alec hughes the forgotten mass observer
Alec Hughes: the forgotten Mass Observer?

  • Liverpudlian, Oxford undergraduate, in-laws from Bolton

  • 1938/39 – located in London, carries out research on jazz and dance halls

  • Outbreak of war – returns to Bolton, heads up the WP after Madge/Harrisson depart

  • Author of several file reports, contributes significant material to MO’s War Begins at Home (1940)

Dancing as social playfulness
Dancing as Social Playfulness

Margaret, Newsagent shopkeeper (July 1940):

‘I went to Blackpool on Monday. I had a great time. Dancing with Polish airmen you know (she laughs). Most of them can’t speak a word of English…You know, the only way to tell them is by the word ‘Poland’ on their uniform. They have just the same coloured uniforms as our men. Well one came up to me and clicked his heels and said ‘Dance?’ So I got up – might as well have it you know. When we were dancing he suddenly said, in a broad Irish accent, ‘Where do you come from?’ So I said, surprised, ‘Oh you speak English then?’ He said ‘I come from Ireland. I pretended to be a Pole to see what you would do.’ ‘Oh go on’ I said. ‘You’ve got a nerve.’ (she laughs)

Dancing as transgressive leisure practice
Dancing as Transgressive Leisure Practice

J. J. Boone, manager of Worktown’s Palais de Danse Hall, on the growing trend for jitterbugging (Dec 1939):

‘these jitterbugs started about six weeks ago, by some of the people. There are now more doing it. It is more popular. But we only have one recognized jitterbug dance. But lots try to do it to the quickstep. We are represented at the Ballroom’s Association, and at the last meeting they passed a resolution that jitterbug should be curtailed to such dances as are so announced, and not to be allowed to be danced for any dance… Those who want to progress around the room in a quickstep can’t get along… You see it is popular because you don’t have to hold your partner in the correct dancing position. Now only a few couples do hold their partners in the correct dancing position. Some like to go round in promenade position. Well in jitterbug you can do this.’

Dancing as wartime social centre
Dancing as Wartime Social Centre

E. A. Pasquill, manager of Worktown’s Aspin dance hall (May 1940):

‘The popular tunes are certainly NOT connected with war…We don’t bother with tunes like ‘There’ll Always Be an England’. We feel it is better that they should be cheerful with tunes of romance and love…We believe in trying to keep their spirits up, and keep their morale as high as we can in our little way… Many times when I’m dancing I speak to girls whose young men have gone away, and who come because it’s an easy way of social contact when the centre round which they have worked their life has gone. They can feel that they are part of the company without a lot of introducing. They like to feel there is something they can talk about – though conversation is not about the war. If anything it is one of the things they don’t discuss…people are used to working in crowds here and they get a gregarious spirit like ordinary workers…Sometimes the girls will leave their handbags here. When we are looking through them to find out who they belong to we find the words of tunes written down. They sing them in the mills when they are working.’