The everyday is what we never see for a first time, but only see again.
Today I started reading Queuing for Beginners today, a book that takes an anthropological and cultural studies approach to various unnoticed aspects of British life. It self consciously draws on the approach of the Mass Observation Movement in working through the minutiae of a day in the life, from breakfast to office life from an ‘everyman’ style perspective, to chart the role of cultural practices and mores in everyday life. It takes a historical perspective on how these practices have changed. The author, Joe Moran implores us to look at the everyday afresh – to reveal what Bourdieu called learned ignorance, that of which we know and are knowledgeable but also unaware but it is culturally ingrained in us, embodied.
Also, today I finished reading Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, in which the author ends the book with 5 recommendations he made to medical students on being better doctors. His hope is that they can become positive deviants, extending the potential of medicine not through scientific discovery per se but by a focus on their performance and awareness of their and other’s practices. His suggestions are as follows
- Ask an unscripted question (he borrows this from Paul Auster’s essay Gotham Handbook)
- Don’t complain
- Count something
- Write something
The first, third and fourth of these seem to me to be intimately connected to Moran’s book and the Mass Observation movement in that they become tools for opening up the everyday about which we know too much, for we lives our lives, oftentimes, “with as little consciousness of our surroundings as though we were walking in our sleep” (Madge and Harrison – Mass Observation pg 29).
One technique that Madge and Harrison adopted was to get their volunteers to write intimate portraits of the 12th day of the month. Determined to write more, something life in a big company inhibits more than it encourages, and to shine more light on my own routines, practices and prejudices, I intend to adopt this 12th of the month approach. I may or may not end up counting the number of chips in my portion or recounting the tedium of meetings but I will end up with something to write, at least once a month – my very own mini-observation of the infra-ordinary. Maybe I could be accepted as a volunteer?