The regional survey movement and popular autoethnography in early 20th-century Britain

AHP readers may be interested in a new open-access piece and winner of the 2022 History of the Human Sciences Early Career Prize: “The regional survey movement and popular autoethnography in early 20th-century Britain,” Harry Parker. Abstract:

This article’s subject is the theory and practice of ‘regional survey’, the method of social and environmental study associated with Scottish thinker Patrick Geddes (1854–1932). Despite being overlooked or dismissed in most accounts of early 20th-century social science, regional survey had a wide influence on the development of the nascent disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and human geography. Emerging from late 19th-century field biology, the regional survey came to typify a methodological moment in the natural and social sciences that favoured the holistic analysis of geographically delimited areas. By the interwar period, the kinds of projects that went under its name can clearly be seen as forerunners of the post-Second World War tradition of community studies. Additionally, in its self-presentation as a civic, participatory exercise, the regional survey can be read as a form of popular autoethnography that contrasts with other, more familiar social-scientific ventures in the first half of the 20th century, and defies the dichotomy between ‘gentlemanly’ and ‘technical’ modes of social science. As a result, this article argues, the regional survey provides an alternative point of departure for thinking about the origins and development of the modern social sciences in Britain.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.