12 March 2015
Robert Booth writes about Shopping in Suburbia and 1960s market research on the rise of the supermarket:
The rise of budget supermarkets and online shopping, the declining popularity of the big weekly shop and the announcement of branch closures across the country leave established British supermarkets in an unusually precarious position. Until about 20 years ago the ascendancy of the supermarket seemed unquestionable. They have so dominated the food landscape it has been easy to forget that they have only been around for about 60 years. An early market research report titled Shopping in Suburbia provides both evidence of early reactions to supermarkets and a sense of how revolutionary they actually were when they first appeared on the high street. Published in 1963, Shopping in Suburbia recorded and analysed women’s reactions to the novelty of supermarket shopping. It offers an insight in to a time supermarkets were starting to replace independent specialist retailers like butchers, greengrocers and bakers. According to the Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland, between 1961 and 1971 there was a net decrease of 60,000 shops in the UK . From today’s perspective Shopping in Suburbia is revealing and prescient.
The rise of the supermarket changed shopping habits, encouraging consumers to become more exploratory shoppers. One 57 year old housewife remarked that “when I see something new that I wouldn’t think of to buy at the ordinary store, at the supermarket I can look at it and read the directions”. In a supermarket, shoppers could browse at their leisure, without being subject to the scrutiny of a shopkeeper. The report is a reminder of the role supermarkets have played in introducing consumers to new foods and styles of eating and have, therefore, been a key factor in shaping the nation’s tastes.
One contemporary criticism of supermarkets, that they encourage us to buy more than we need, is also touched upon by the report, with one interviewee noting that “most people seem to believe you spend more and it is easy as everything is laid out and it’s so easy to pick up packets and tins of things that look nice”. When Shopping in Suburbia was written the advertising industry was becoming increasingly sophisticated and the idea of ‘consumer psychology’ was beginning to gain acceptance. Without the involvement of the shop keeper to guide the consumer, branded packaging was required to speak for itself for the first time.
One aspect of supermarket shopping commented on by many of the respondents in Shopping in Suburbia is the increased sense of anonymity it offered shoppers. Opinions were mixed as to whether or not supermarkets were ‘friendly’ places to shop , yet 74% of housewives in the report agreed with the statement that “Nobody knows who you are in supermarkets”. For a lot of shoppers in the 60s, it seems that such anonymity was a good thing. One particular correspondent relished no longer “having to bother with the shop assistant” and the report notes that the findings “suggest a certain degree of isolation may be acceptable”. Whether or not the housewives of the 60s would have welcomed self-service checkouts remains debatable though.
Views about supermarket owners, much as today, were varied. “I don’t think they have a very good opinion of the public,” claimed one respondent, “I think they prey on their weakness to buy.” Not everyone that the researchers spoke to was so critical though, with one lady picturing “a person capable of handling staff, fair in his judgements, everything to his finger-tips and knows exactly what’s happening in his shop”.
Importantly, the 1963 supermarket consumer is assumed to be a woman. Shopping is acknowledged as being just one of any woman’s “major household tasks”. The increasing popularity of supermarkets did, however, allow women to spend less time shopping and to do so less frequently. Considerations of housewives’ class and social status are also central to the report, with working class women’s attitudes towards supermarkets generally more positive than those of other groups. The only men that feature in the report are supermarket managers, owners and workers. The idea of asking a male consumer what he thinks about the changing nature of shopping isn’t even entertained.
It is perhaps ironic that the writers of the report had concerns that supermarkets were becoming too commonplace and were too closely located. Today, Tesco alone has 3300 stores across Britain; when the report was commissioned in 1961, there were only 572 supermarkets in the whole country. The information laid out in Shopping in Suburbia offers an excellent glimpse of a time when supermarkets were a novelty and serves as a reminder of how the dominance of the supermarket is a very recent, and not necessarily inevitable, phenomenon.
Shopping in suburbia: a report on housewives' reactions to supermarket shopping undertaken on behalf of Premier Supermarkets Limited, W.H. Smith and Son Limited and the J. Walter Thompson Company Limited – British Market Research Bureau (1963)
General Reference Collection YD.2010.b.3075 / General Reference Collection 08233.t.16
Retail change in Britain during 30 years: the strategic use of economies of scale and scope – John Dawson, Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland (2004)
Document Supply 7755.040130 no. 0402
12 December 2014
Rachael Kotarski, Content Specialist for Datasets, gives us an update on the ODIN project:
You may or may not have noticed from various blog posts that we love persistent identifiers at the British Library, especially for data. There's no better way to tell the difference between two datasets – or books, papers or people, than by checking their identifiers.
While these identifiers are important parts of the research machinery, they haven't been as well connected as they could be. Over the past two years the British Library has been involved in the EU-funded FP7 project, the ORCID and DataCite Interoperability Network – ODIN. The aim of the project was to investigate where the integration of identifiers for research objects (primarily research datasets) and the people involved in creating them could be improved.
There were many strands to this work carried out in parallel over the past two years. One that we have been heavily involved in is proving the concept of identifier use in humanities and social science, as compared with high energy physics data archives.
Proof of Concept in Humanities and Social Science
As part of the ODIN work here at the British Library, we have worked very closely with three major data archives in the UK to develop workflows for object and people identifiers. We worked with the UK Data Archive (UKDA, a node of the UK Data Service), the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the MRC National survey of Health and Development (MRC NSHD).
While these data archives all exist within a similar subject area, they all have different challenges in identifying long-term, dynamic and historical data. They have also all been at different stages in their use of identifiers. Despite these differences, the ultimate approach has been similar across humanities and social sciences, as well as in high energy physics:
- Object identifiers are given to datasets as part of the ingest process
- For highly dynamic and aggregated datasets, it may be possible to assign identifiers to the subset of data as downloaded
- Identifiers for authors and contributors are requested as part of the submission information, and can be associated with other forms of identity or profile management at the archive
- Identifiers for legacy datasets are added in a bulk-process
Feedback to the project has helped to direct technical changes to the way in which DataCite and ORCID work.
If you run a data repository, find out more about DataCite in the UK. If you create, contribute to or manage research data, see if you have an International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) or consider signing up for an ORCID iD.
Not all the reports from all the strands of work are available yet, but once they are they will be linked from http://odin-project.eu/project-outputs/deliverables/.
25 November 2014
Jerry Jenkins writes: While unpacking some parcels earlier in the month, Matthew Shaw, the North American Curator and I were comparing the contents of our respective parcels. I produced from my parcel an OECD title: How Was Life? Global Well-Being Since 1820.
It struck me on browsing the contents that this work provides a useful 'long view' of social development in many different fields and disciplines. The report is in the main concerned with socio-economic developments since the industrial revolution.
In the foreword it states that the work goes beyond the traditional measures of GDP “to encompass a broader set of dimensions that shape people’s living conditions such as their wages, longevity, education, height and personal security among others.”
Across thirteen chapters, illustrated with figures and tables, the central themes of human well-being are analysed and explored in-depth. Each chapter is organised in a uniform way providing an introduction leading into eight sections all of which provide an overview of the historical sources consulted along with a description of the concepts used. Each chapter also provides an explanation of the main research findings as well as devoting space to the important issue of data quality and recommendations for future research.
Its publication is a timely one, as it coincides well with a renewed interest in 'long history' as demonstrated by the publication of The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage which is freely available to read on the publishers website.
These two publications go some way to indicate how the 'long view' is coming into focus as methodology and data become accessible for both academics and practitioners to use in their work on modern society and all its competing pressures and the forces which shape it.
Along with How Was Life? Global Well-Being Since 1820 the library has a historic collection of OECD material available and accessible to the researcher in our Reading Rooms. Furthermore, this title, along with many others by OECD, is available with the click of a mouse through the OECD i-library
I should also mention Matthew Shaw's recent acquisition was a leather bound pocket book diary of a Philadelphia oil worker from the 1870s, which I am sure you’ll be able to read more about in a forthcoming entry on the Americas Studies blog in the future.
Jerry Jenkins is the British Library's Curator for International Organisations & North American Official Publications.
25 February 2014
Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences at the British Library, writes:
In January, I was pleased to attend the one day conference ‘Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research’ at the University of Leicester.
The conference was convened by the University of Leicester, the National Centre for Research Methods (Novella Group) and the Institute of Education. The aim of the day was to provide an opportunity ‘for dialogue across disciplines and research paradigms: across the social sciences and humanities, historical and contemporary data, primary and secondary resources, quantitative and qualitative approaches’. The programme and range of speakers truly reflected this aim.
On arrival one of my fellow delegates asked me the question:
‘So which area of interest brings you here?’
To which I responded:
‘Well, I suppose, I come at this from two directions; as a former conservator of manuscripts and printed books I understand marginalia, as an Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences I am fascinated by how we might re-use more recent ‘secondary data’ to help understand contemporary society, but I am not sure what Paradata means.'
So what do we mean by marginalia and paradata? To quote Henrietta O’Connor:
‘…[they are] material collected as part of, supporting or in addition to the research process. Annotations and augmentations revealed through the analysis of original documents. By-products, non-standard ‘data’, ephemera, letters, pictures, notes.’
Speakers and delegates went on to consider methodologies for undertaking the analysis of marginalia and field-notes (such as the application of narrative analysis); the potential ethical implications of undertaking secondary analysis of ‘historic’ surveys and following up with the subjects of those surveys; how the analysis of marginalia and field-notes can cast a light on what we understand to be ‘acceptable’ research practices at any given point and how such perceptions shift over time. It included discussion of the latest technological developments which can, and are, being used to collect paradata during large telephone and on-line surveys to understand low response and drop-out rates and to make appropriate adjustments to the surveys as they progress; how individuals may feel that data is being collected by ‘stealth’; and the potential for, and difficulties of, including cognitive and behaviour coding in surveys.
The conference concluded with an examination of the marginalia and notes of the writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). It examined the importance of capturing marginalia during digitisation projects and the sustainability of data which is ‘born’ digital (regardless of whether the digital content is generated through digitisation projects of ‘historic’ material or via large national household surveys).
In the spirit of the conference, to gain alternative perspectives on the day I thoroughly recommend reading Llordllama’s Research Ramblings and viewing a storify by Dr Helen Kara of the tweets posted on the day. I hope the bibliography below may be of some use (although it is a very small selection of the books and articles available on the subjects covered during the conference).
Andrews, M.; Squire, C.; Tamboukou (editors) Doing Narrative Research, Sage, 2008. British Library shelfmark: YC.2012.a.10037
Crone, R.; Halsey, K.; Owens, W.R.; Towheed, S. (editors) The History of Reading. vol. 1. International perspectives, c.1500-1990. vol. 2. Evidence from the British Isles, c.1750-1950. vol. 3. Methods, strategies, tactics. British Library shelfmarks:
Volume 1 - YC.2013.a.1041; Volume 2 - YC.2013.a.1042; Volume 3 - YC.2013.a.1043
Elliott, H.; Ryan, J.; Hollway, W. Research encounters, reflexivity and supervision, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 5, Volume 15, pp 433-444. (2012)
Gillies, V.; Edwards, R. Working with archived classic family and community studies: illuminating past and present conventions around acceptable research practice. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 4, Volume 15, pp 321-330. (2012)
Groves, R. M.; Heeringa, S. G. Responsive design for household surveys: tools for actively controlling survey errors and costs. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A, Statistics in society. VOL 169; NUMBER 3, (2006),pp 439-457.
Kirgis, N.; Lepkowski, JM. “Design and Management Strategies for Paradata Driven Responsive Design: Illustrations from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth,” in Improving Surveys with Paradata: Analytic Use of Process Data, Krueter, F. (editor). New York: J.W. Wiley & Sons, (2013).
O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Revisiting Norbert Elias's sociology of community: learning from the Leicester re-studies. The Sociological review. VOL 60; NUMBER 3, 2012, pp 476-497. Blackwell Publishing Ltd , 2012.
O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Through the interviewer’s Lens: Representations of 1960s Households and Families in a Lost Sociological Study, Sociological Research Online, Volume 15, Issue 4, (2009).
Turner, Malgorzata New perspectives on interviewer-related error in surveys : application of survey paradata (2013), University of Southampton, Thesis available via the British Library Electronic Theses Online System (EThOS).
22 August 2013
Abiola Olanipekun is an intern at the British Library. This latest blog post is number two in a series of four which reflects on reports about the ‘iPod generation’ which appear on the Management and Business Studies portal and were published by Reform in 2006.
This second blog post about the ‘iPod generation’ continues to follow the envisaged bleak turn of events for this generation. Before I start, you may want to read part one of this series here.
After my first posting, I re-read ‘Class of 2006: A lifebelt for the iPod generation’ and it confirmed that in 2006 there was no supposed ‘happy ever after’ or even a semi-decent outcome in sight, just a doomed financial future for this generation. Will there ever be any ‘Green Shoots’ at this miserable point? Knowing what happened to the economy in the years that follow suggest not.
Should you, as a member of our erudite audience, wish to see this report then feel free (once more) to click here. It’s free to download from our MBS Portal.
As I read the second report in the series by Reform, I wondered about the relationship between how the evidence is researched and presented, and how it is received. In my first post I received the information as an inquisitive person but certainly felt miserable by the end of the report. This time around it I feel more miserable than I ever did! Knowing that many of the bleak predictions came true in one way or another make the warning produced by Reform even more depressing.
Below are just a few of the points and observations made at the time of this report. Whether this may or may not be the case for today is another debate…
- Young people’s earnings were rising by less than any other age group
- Young people were most likely to be in debt
- House prices had continued to rise beyond the range of young people’s earning
- Older people will gain from a rising state pension linked to earnings.
- Young people funding the increase in the state pension at the same time as facing automatic contributions of 3 per cent of their salary.
This report generally confirms that is predicting bad news like the first report.
When the baby boomers are referred to as ‘winning’ the generation game it sets the generations against one another in an insulting way as it reminds of how the older generations have benefited from the welfare state. Or maybe my sense of humour has left because I (like a lot of my age group) am so poor and frustrated feel the reality of these generational differences.
I must stress now though that I am in no way carrying out a ‘Debbie Downer’ type approach to these pieces because that would negate the areas where progress has been made for the young. I also am grateful that the situation for the young people here is not as bad as it is in some other European countries, but recent news stories have also shown that there is economy uncertainty and poor employment conditions for many. Fixed-term contracts, or worse, zero hour contracts do not have a place in my heart. I am hoping for something other than more economic instability.