Filling the Silences? Mass-Observation's Wartime Diaries, Interpretive Work and Indexicality

Andrea Salter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article conceptualises the silences encountered when researching life writings and how these are filled through analytical and interpretive activities. Using examples from my research on Mass-Observation's (M-O's) women's wartime diaries and framing the discussion around M-O's concept of its observers as 'subjective cameras', the paper explores three sets of issues. Firstly, it considers the use of part of a data source, such as one diary or particular entries from it, as a means of making sense of the whole and of silences within it. Secondly, it problematises the assumed closeness between life and text in reading the M-O wartime diaries. Thirdly, it discusses interpretive work on life writings and suggests that the ethnomethodological idea of indexicality helpfully characterises how I made sense of the M-O diaries as a whole from working on particular examples. I shall suggest that interpretive indexical work (between part and whole, and indeed between representation and life) is conditioned, if not determined, by the reading practices and activities deployed in research. This in turn points up the 'connecting theories' involved in piecing together indexical knowledges, which are framed according to and help elucidate the 'subjective lens' through which the researcher analyses and interprets the sources worked on.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-65
Number of pages13
JournalLife Writing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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