Stumbling along II – some references (on walking) with very brief notes

I was trained in ethnography and that generally involves walking, whether or not you make it into a ‘thing’. As I find myself doing just that, I find inspiration in many places.

Walking artists, those attentive noticers, continue to influence me. It’s a roundabout and amateur relationship. There’s Richard Long and his Lines Made by Walking from 1967, and Marina Abramovich and her (and her partner’s) The Great Wall Walk, plus the many contemporary British authors with a liking for the pedestrian life, like Ian Sinclair and Will Self, or comedian Doon Mackichan. And then there’s been the Walking Artists Network. Their blog (not sure if it’s being updated) and other resources are available through this link. Helsinki colleagues have developed urban hitchhiking. And then of course there is Morag Rose, of the wonderful artists collective, LRM or Loiterers’ Resistance Movement.

Geographers, empirically minded sociologists with a penchant for deep hanging out, and anthropologists walk and often reflect on it. Those with an interest in landscapes and how they are shaped tend to be attentive to how steps, human and other, create pathways. Environmental historians and the walking thinkers they have written about, like the 18th-century Gilbert White, also go on my list. Urban walkers, flaneurs, Situationists and others likewise.

Below, a few favourite references from other places.

I have to begin with Tim Ingold whose work blew my mind when I was struggling to make toxic waste a material concern while writing my doctorate. My go-to introduction to some key ideas would be Ingold, T. (2000 [1993]) ‘The temporality of the landscape’, in his collection of essays, The Perception of the Environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill [also in World Archaeology, Vol.25, 1993.] More about walking can also be found in Ingold T (2011) Being Alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. New York: Routledge and Ingold, T. (2009) ‘Against Space: Place, Movement, Knowledge’, in Kirby, P. W. (ed.) Boundless Worlds: An Anthropological Approach to Movement. And of course there’s the volume, Ingold, T., & Vergunst, J. L. (Eds) (2008) Ways of walking: Ethnography and practice on foot. Ashgate.

In close conversation with Ingold: Árnason, A., N. Ellison, J. Vergunst and A. Whitehouse (eds) (2012) Landscapes Beyond Land: Routes, Aesthetics, Narratives. Berghahn, and for instance Jo Vergunst & Arnar Árnason (2012) ‘ Introduction: Routing Landscape: Ethnographic Studies of Movement and Journeying’, Landscape Research, Vol. 37, Number 2, 147 – 154. Chris Tilley, Tim Edensor and Thomas Widlock are also in this company.

(I need work on the gender imbalance here. Flaneuses and decolonizing flaneuses, in particular, surely offer leads for finding improved understandings and ways of walking.)

Much of the scholarship mentioned above draws on phenomenological thought, highlighting the need to appreciate what links activity, movement in particular, to surroundings. In that way, obliquely at least, it gently draws attention to the accelerated tempos and associated troubles of capitalist modernity (or whatever concept one might want to use – I hope you understand). Following Martin Heidegger, this work also critiques the tendency to celebrate dwelling and stasis. At times it (inadvertently?) appears to celebrate it.

A wonderful book, not so much about walking, but a pioneering collection that’s probably influenced many walking folks, is the 1996 volume edited by Steven Feld and Keith Basso, Senses of Place. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. I can see in my mind’s eye exactly where and how Widsom Sits in Places!

A more recent growing literature and practice puts the emphasis on decolonizing thought. This makes for a different starting point or rather way of walking with leading to a thinking with (these are almost technical concepts). As you might expect, Australia’s colonial history is furnishing us with ample examples such work, for instance, Springgay, Stephanie and Sarah E. Truman (2018) Walking methodologies in a more-than-human world: WalkingLab. Routledge, developing explicitly feminist-queer, anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-colonial walking.

This then leads me to how walking as a methodology can be linked to fears for sustainability and to the language of the Anthropocene. Below a rather random selection, reports, articles and such. As part of a wider concern to educate the senses, these endorse a walking pace and perspective, on foot, in a wheelchair or in some other slow mode, in the company of artists, scientists, “lay people”and others.

Ernsten, C., Shepherd, N., & Visser, D. J. (2018) The Walking Seminar: Embodied research in emergent Anthropocene landscapes. Amsterdam University of the Arts, an art-science project focussed on South Africa.

Van Dooren, Thom, Eben Kirksey, and Ursula Münster. “Multispecies Studies Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities 8.1 (2016): 1-23, is a review of the methodological challenges of doing research in emergent environments and also of the key conceptual resources from neo-materialist or vitalist thought. An earlier text that doesn’t labour these theoretical issues in the environmental humanities so, is Eernstman Natalia & Arjen EJ Wals (2013) Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development, Sustainability, Vol.5(4), 1645-1660; doi:10.3390/su5041645.

New directions in walking methods are being developed in conservation research, for instance: Carruthers-Jones, J., Eldridge, A., Guyot, P., Hassall, C., & Holmes, G. (2019) The call of the wild: Investigating the potential for ecoacoustic methods in mapping wilderness areas. Science of the Total Environment, 695, 133797. Also evocative and helpful is Tümerdem, N. (2018) Recording the landscape: Walking, transforming, designing. A| Z ITU Journal of the Faculty of Architecture, 15(2), 83-106, Istanbul, Turkey.

In this kind of work, the dynamism of walking and the apparent stasis of tools like maps are getting reconfigured – hopefully in order to generate robust evidence for (environmental) policy makers. (If and as this happens, I hope myself to contribute to ways to better understand pedestrian experience among technical infrastructures, at all stages of their manufacture and use, from mines to cables to phones in our pockets.)

Perhaps in this embarrassment of riches there is a typology of ways of walking worth developing. Maybe that’s already been done. You may well know about it. If you do, I’d love to know.

In any case, the deliberate pedestrian turns out to be enduringly peculiar as well as peculiarly enduring. That figure is indeed an invitation to pay better attention a world like ours, inimical in so many ways, to caring about what’s around.


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