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Sociology: Research


Paper Details

Author: Andrea Salter

Title: Engaging with ‘the present’? Nella last’s mass observation diary

Year: 2008

ISBN: 1-900522-13-6

Using material from Nella Lasts Mass-Observation diary (1939-1966), I suggest that the relationship which diaries are often assumed to have with the present is troublesome. I use examples to show that the assumed synonymy of the moment of writing and the moment of experience (Stanley and Dampier, 2006) is questionable: Lasts diary-entries neither always follow the strict chronology of the days events as they occur, nor concern activities that occur solely on the date her entries are given. These memories are inscribed from Lasts perspective at the moment of writing, so I look at her presentperspective, set within her broader writing present, as the site from which times are organised in written representation, drawing on extracts regarding her practice of remembering and how these intersect with her moment of writing. This points up Lasts agency in using or playing with time, in using the present/the moment of writing, and with it the diary-genre more broadly, to her own ends. This agency connects with her personal perspective concerning a desire to hold time still and take a day at a time. The discussion concludes by trying to reconceptualise the present that Lasts diary invokes, arguing that examining the moment of writing as a complicated and thick present is instructive on two particular counts. Firstly, it recognises the knotty intersections between the past, present and future, and secondly it is highly contextualised and contingent on the diarists location in her writing present. Understood this way, the present or the moment of writing denotes a nexus of mind, self and society at a particular time. This represents Lasts subjective lens (Jennings and Madge, 1937) through which she navigates her (sense of) place in the world (Mead, 1962) and also locates her within the Mass-Observation project.

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