“Only in this way is social progress possible”: Early Cinema, Gender, and the Social Survey Movement

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Feminist Media Histories, ISSN: 2373-7492, Vol: 3, Issue: 3, Page: 82-106

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Shimpach, Shawn
University of California Press
film audience; Progressive Era; reform movement; silent cinema; Social Survey Movement
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article description
Seeing people as audiences has a history. Our current ways of seeing people are especially indebted to the conjuncture of Progressive Era reform efforts, the early development of the social sciences, and the transformation of the cinema into a mass medium in the first decades of the twentieth century in the United States. One important convergence of all these historical developments was the Social Survey Movement, which, through its efforts to measure the need for reform, popularized the construction of the modern media audience out of atomized, measurable categorizations of people. The cause of reform at this time was often gendered as feminine for its concerns and its participants, and it was through the gendered labor of the reform movement that “audience” became linked with “data” that could be measured, sorted, and used to produce new forms of knowledge about people.