15th Mar 2017 5:30pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade G4


Professor Claire Langhamer (University of Sussex)

In August 1945 the social investigative organisation, Mass Observation, asked its national panel to respond to a number of topical questions. They were asked for their views on the treatment of Germany and on the newly elected Labour government. They were also asked about their emotional state. ‘Describe in detail your own feelings and views about the atom bomb, and those of the people you meet’, stated the first question. ‘How do you feel about the peace now?’ enquired the second. Those who responded were not unfamiliar with this mode of questioning. Two months earlier their emotional well-being had also been a topic of interest: ‘How do you feel now the war is over in Europe, and how does this compare with how you expected to feel?’,

Mass Observation’s commitment to feelings-based research questions was more than a stylistic tick. Although some of its volunteer writers used ‘feeling’ as a proxy for thought or belief, most were clear that their response offered an emotional perspective. Emotion was both a research topic and a category of analysis for the organization itself: the relationship between thought, feeling and action lay at the heart of its research practice. The evidence it generated helps us to get at what Joe Moran describes as ‘the messy, convoluted experience lived by thinking, feeling selves’. But the responses also reflect wider cultural shifts allowing us to think beyond individual experience, its narration and its interpretation, to get at what Raymond Williams described as ‘structures of feeling.”

In this paper I want to use Mass Observation evidence from 1945 as the starting point for a mapping of some of the work that emotion did, and was seen to do, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. I’m particularly interested in how the interlinked categories of feeling and experience were deployed as ways of knowing the postwar world – and as grounds for participating in an increasingly dynamic public sphere. As Feminist scholars have long noted, power circulates through feeling. The paper forms part of a broader project on ‘emotional democracy’ in which I want to think about ‘ordinary’ people’s understanding of the status and power of emotion – and of their own position as emotional citizens – within public life after 1945.

Professor Claire Langhamer is a social and cultural historian. Her work deals with the diverse ways in which ordinary people negotiated modernity in twentieth-century Britain. She was brought up in North Humberside. She completed her first degree in History at Manchester University in 1991 and conducted doctoral research with Dave Russell at the University of Central Lancashire, 1992-6. Her book The English in Love (2013) was nominated for the 2014 Spears Book Awards in the social history category.



Image: Picture Post (London, England), May 19, 1945; pg. [1]; Issue 7. Mirror Group Newspapers and Getty Images.