In the twentieth century a series of social surveys—distinguished by their first-person interviews and evidence-based recommendations—offered Westerners a new form of knowledge about themselves. Far from being a simple discovery of fact, the act of social inquiry communicated a host of new ideas about the place of research participants within social hierarchy, state activity, and systems of knowledge. Importantly, social research conferred new status on the opinions and experiences of ordinary people, which were presented as scientific evidence that justified policy recommendations and academic publications alike. Our project’s innovative reading of raw survey data—including interview transcripts, observations, and questionnaires—aims to recover the experience of participation in social research and trace its consequences for global culture and politics.
The research project brings together our research interests in social science in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the American South, with the additional participation of 23 scholars at the What’s Your Story? Workshop (Monash University, 13-14 July 2016) and the collaboration of British historian Dr Jon Lawrence.