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‘The rules are all over the place’: Mass Observation, time, and law in the COVID-19 pandemic

Beynon-Jones, Sian, Grabham, Emily, Hendrie, Nadine (2023) ‘The rules are all over the place’: Mass Observation, time, and law in the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Law and Society, 50 (3). pp. 369-391. ISSN 0263-323X. E-ISSN 1467-6478. (doi:10.1111/jols.12446) (KAR id:103174)


This article analyses practices of pandemic time making that surrounded the imposition and communication of laws restricting daily life in parts of the United Kingdom in spring 2020. With colleagues, we commissioned a Mass Observation Project directive in summer 2020, asking contributors about their everyday experience of time during the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyse how legal temporalities emerge across 228 responses. Initially, law making seemed belated, missing the disruptive temporalities of the pandemic. Once they arrived, pandemic rules were sudden, changeable, and confusing. Mass Observation writers forged clusters of improvised practices – tactics of anticipation – to cope with these unsettling temporalities. Meanwhile, the Hansard Society, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and legal commentators argued that ‘fast-track’ pandemic law making was error ridden, putting the public at risk of unwitting criminal liability. Attentive to ‘polyrhythmic’ temporalities operating across fields of experience and action, our study underlines the contradictory qualities of apparently resonant constructions of legal time.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/jols.12446
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Milly Massoura
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2023 11:33 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2023 13:26 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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