Mass observation project, Dublin 2011

Last week Pue’s was contacted by Ruth Kenny who is looking for assistance on an exciting project that she is putting together in November. Ruth is running a Mass Observation project in Dublin. This is a re-creation of the Mass Observation project that first took place in the UK in 1937 and which involved 2,000 voluntary observers watching, listening and reporting on the streets of Bolton and London. The original project was led by Tom Harrisson, an anthropologist and adventurer, Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, and Humphrey Jennings, a documentary film-maker. Nothing was beneath their attention; from snippets of overheard conversations to the number of people wearing tweed overcoats on a given day; from a survey of window displays to the average number of chips in a six-penny portion (25 and one-sixth chips, excluding the small bits, in case you’re wondering).

Ruth is looking for a team of volunteers to undertake this observation in Dublin, every day, throughout the month of November to record what people are talking about and doing throughout Dublin. The idea for this came about when Ruth was undertaking work for the new Little Museum of Dublin, recently opened on Stephen’s Green. Seeing the collection and display of contemporary objects inspired her to think about contemporary ephemera (though the project is not being run in association with the museum).
So what kind of information is Ruth looking for? Anything that is being discussed, both topical and trivial. For example, on 3 December 1937 in a Bolton pub topics of conversation that were recorded included: ‘Power of earth as source of life…Indestructibility of matter…Transfer of footballer…Food and its adulteration…Power of dictators, and comparisons with Britain…England as a self-sufficient nation…Privileges of the land-owning classes…Allotments and regulations concerning same’.
In September 2011 in a Dublin cafe the topics included: Running marathons…An ugly divorce…Decline in sales of records and cds…Being forced to leave Dublin…Jokes about cheese…Good restaurants in Limerick…Buying winter boots…Reincarnation…The Killing tv series…The miseries of Ryanair…Losing an engagement ring and finding it again…Make-up brands and comparison of same’,

Ruth says ‘you may think that this is completely inconsequential stuff, but to me there’s something magical about this kind of trivia frozen in time.  It’s a snapshot of everyday life at a particular moment and forces us to look at the city and the people around us in a new way. I’m interested in pretty much everything you might see or hear, whether it’s about yourself or other people; from a list of the contents of your kitchen cupboard to the number of drunk people you see on your way home; from the number of birds you see flying past your window to the type of rubbish you have to step over on your daily walk; from how many times you check your phone a day to the number of people wearing wristwatches on any given stretch of Dublin pavement.’

Anyone participating can remain anonymous. The aim is to sustain the whole thing for the month of November. Images are welcome and there is no quota on words- you decide what goes in and how much. If you are interested and would like more information on how to participate you can email Ruth at massobservation2011 AT

Ruth Kenny was Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London for four years before hitting the books again and doing a PhD with Fintan Cullan at Nottingham on 18th century Irish art, in particular the Dublin artist Hugh Douglas Hamilton.  She is currently working on a book on eighteenth century pastels.


2 Responses to “Mass observation project, Dublin 2011”

  1. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Mass observation project, Dublin 2011 Says:

    […] “Last week Pue’s was contacted by Ruth Kenny who is looking for assistance on an exciting project that she is putting together in November. Ruth is running a Mass Observation project in Dublin in November …” (more) […]

  2. Pue’s Recommendations for November « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] of you who’ve been participating in or, like me, fascinated from afar by Ireland’s own mass observation project, then you’ll have been intrigued by the film Life in a Day, produced by Ridley Scott and […]

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