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Perforating event and narrative, experience and analysis: beyond the retro eighties

posted on 2023-06-10, 07:09 authored by Lucy RobinsonLucy Robinson
Representations of the Eighties have often represented privileged images particular objects and events (mobile phones, Rubicks Cube, Live Aid) or key icons and individuals (Thatcher, Princess Diana). In wider retro culture the Eighties is frequently represented as a list of events huddled into loose themes; the Top Ten Show, the video montage, the clip show, the pop culture quiz. However, the Mass Observation Project asked its panel of volunteer writers to periodize the Eighties, at the point at which they were being experienced and in retrospective. This allows us to map the memories of the memories of the 1980s as both individual experience (Life History) and observed context (participant observation). The digitisation project “Observing the 80s” allows us to read Mass Observation Project observers’ personal experience and social analysis as both text and image. In this chapter I will explore some of the ways in which the Mass Observation Project observers challenged, and failed to challenge, more standard nostalgia narratives of the Eighties exploring the layers of memory which build up a sense of a moment or period. By looking at three Mass Observation Project directives from the “Observing the 80s” project (Major Events, 1986 and Retrospective on the Eighties, 1990) and the contemporary Project (‘You and the 1980s’ Autumn/Winter 2011) I will explore the ways in which the Eighties were framed and remembered at the time and in the immediate aftermath. I will suggest reading the archive as text and image allows us to see how observers composed a “perforated” relationship between lists of events and wider narratives and between the past and present.


Publication status

  • Accepted

File Version

  • Accepted version



Book title

Mass Observation

Department affiliated with

  • History Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Benjamin Jones, Lucy Curzon

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