The Counterculture Research Group, co-convened by Wolfson Research Fellow, Dr James Riley, next meets on Thursday 15 March to hear a talk by James Purdon on “‘A Nation-Wide Intelligence Service’: Mass-Observation, Hermeneutic Paranoia and the Invasion of Cambridge”. 5pm, Seminar Room. All welcome!
In the summer of 1940, a loose-knit coterie of Cambridge fellows submitted a file to Mass-Observation, the well-known social research organisation which since the spring of that year had been preparing reports for the Ministry of Information. The file consisted of a spectacularly paranoid collection of readings of graffiti, chalk-marks and ‘litter trails’ in the Cambridge countryside, pointing, it was suggested, to German invasion targets. Taking the Cambridge invasion file as a starting point, this paper explores English paranoia at the beginning of the Second World War, beginning with a survey of public reactions to Mass-Observation before and after its annexation by the wartime government, and moving on to consider literary responses both to the information-gathering methods of Mass-Observation itself, and to the wider wartime matters of surveillance and information restriction.
James Purdon is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on British writing from Joseph Conrad to Elizabeth Bowen and the rise of the information society.