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Challenging Communication Research

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Edited By Leah A. Lievrouw

Communication scholarship has not enjoyed the same kind of theoretical cohesion or ontological security as some disciplines. The field’s intellectual «roving eye» and resistance to establishing a single core body of knowledge has inspired serial rounds of soul-searching and existential doubt among communication scholars, on one hand, and celebration and intellectual adventurism, on the other. The theme of the 2013 ICA annual conference thus raised an interesting question: For a field that is perpetually in flux and «decentered», what exactly is, or should be, challenged? How, and by whom?
The chapters in this collection, chosen from among the top papers presented in London, suggest that the challenges themselves are constantly being reinvented, broken down and reorganized. The communication discipline undergoes continuous change rather than following an orderly, stepwise path toward the neat, complete accumulation of knowledge. The chapters challenge familiar approaches, notions or assumptions in communication research and scholarship and reflect on the field’s multifaceted and increasingly open character in an era of shifting social relations, formations and technologies.
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Chapter Twelve: The Unobserved Observer: Humphrey Spender’s Hidden Camera and the Politics of Visibility in Interwar Britain

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CHAPTER TWELVE

The “Unobserved Observer”

Humphrey Spender’s Hidden Camera and the Politics of Visibility in Interwar Britain

ANNIE RUDD1



The basic force behind [the British documentary movement] was social, not aesthetic. It was a desire to make a drama from the ordinary to set against the prevailing drama of the extraordinary: a desire to bring the citizen’s mind in from the ends of the earth to the story, his own story, of what was happening under his nose.

—JOHN GRIERSON, “THE STORY OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILM,” FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, AUGUST 1939

On a dreary morning in January 1938, in a declining industrial city in northern England, Humphrey Spender loitered in a pub, sipping his beer and attempting inconspicuousness in his tatty mackintosh coat. Patrons, uniformly men and, with the exception of Spender, uniformly locals, gathered in clusters, engaged in conversation, around the barroom. Minutes passed. Eventually, having bided his time, and feeling that he blended into the background, he reached underneath his coat and grabbed hold of the Zeiss Contax that he was hiding there, allowing its lens to peek out between two buttons and positioning the apparatus on the counter of the bar in a well-practiced gesture. Tilting the 35mm camera just so, he framed his shot, sight unseen, in such a way that he knew he would capture the patrons sitting around a table 10 or 12 feet away. He snapped his...

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