Dancing by Mass Observation: Evaluating the Second Phase of the

Dancing by Mass Observation
Evaluating the Second Phase of the
Worktown Project
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)
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
• Liverpudlian, Oxford undergraduate, inlaws 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
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
Dancing as Transgressive Leisure
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
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.’