Blog Topics, PGF Blog

WalkingLab by Dr Sarah Truman and Dr Stephanie Springgay

We are WalkingLab, a queer-feminist walking research-creation collective.[i] At WalkingLab we organise international walking events, conduct research with diverse publics including youth in schools, and collaborate with artists and scholars to realise site-specific research-creation events[ii] that complicate and rupture the White-cis-hetero-ableist-patriarchal canon of walking scholarship.

There is currently a global momentum on walking methods, indicated by the number of organizations, publications, symposia, research projects, and artistic events that foreground walking in part because it can mobilise research and knowledge in situ and is community-based (Bates & Rhys-Taylor, 2017; O’Neill, 2019; Springgay & Truman, 2018). In conversation with the long history of walking scholarship, our research at WalkingLab has shown that walking and place are intimately connected; mobile pedagogies can enhance learning and critical thinking in new, vitalizing and timely ways across sectors and contexts.

Theoretically aligned with critical race theory, queer theory, critical disability studies, and affect studies, we argue that walking methods must take into account diverse subjectivities of gender, race, sexuality and ability. The history and genealogy of walking studies is encumbered by the figure of the flâneur that is predicated on autononmous, ableist, White masculinity, and as such enables an unquestioned privilege for the flâneur to walk anywhere, detached from its immediate surroundings. In order to counter this overused figure, we frame our research with critical approaches to walking methods that make no assumption that walking is a convivial, automatically embodied, and depoliticised mode of doing research and teaching (Springgay & Truman, 2017; 2018; 2019a; 2019b; 2019c). Rather, critical walking methods attend to walking beyond health or as an innovative method, and in particular take up walking in relation to race, gender, ableism, and anti-colonialism. Critical walking methods insist that intersecting subjectivities, the place where research takes place, and how one moves through space be foregrounded.

At WalkingLab we approach critical walking methods as a practice of ‘walking-with,’ informed by queer, feminist, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour scholarship, and frictional engagements with theories such as the new materialisms and posthumanisms. Our practice of walking-with is informed by Indigenous scholars Juanita Sundburg (2014), Bonnie Freeman (2015) and Jon Johnson (2015), who articulate with as a ‘more-than’ orientation. Withness is not simply about group walking practices, but rather emphasises complicated relations and entanglements with humans, non-humans, and Land, and an ethics of situatedness, solidarity, and resistance. Walking-with is a deliberate strategy of unlearning, unsettling, and queering how walking methods are framed and used in the social sciences and arts.

In addition to our monograph Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab (Routledge, 2018) we have published a number of journal articles and book chapters on our walking research with diverse publics. Forthcoming in November 2019 is a special issue, guest edited by WalkingLab, of the Public Pedagogy Institute’s journal (see here).[iii] Many of these publications, along with accounts of the walking events, can be found on our research website.

A key walking practice is our queer walking tours, which offer a form of place-based research that seeks to attend more responsibly and ethically to issues of place and mobilise a critical approach to walking collaborations (Truman & Springgay, 2019). Queer walking tours always start with the proposition to queer place by exploring a concept from frictional and oblique perspectives. The place for the research shifts from being a surface where the walk will take place to a concept we will explore during the walk. For example, our walk, Stone Walks Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail, took place on a 9-km stretch of the 900-km Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada. The Bruce Trail was the walk’s physical or geographical site, but the concept of a ‘trail’ became the propositional concept that propelled the research and different speakers, artistic interventions, and conversations took up the concept trail from oblique angles.

Similarly, Stone Walks Edinburgh: Queering Deep Time took place geographically in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, while the concept to be explored was ‘deep time.’ In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ‘Lancaster’ functioned as both place and concept for the walk Stone Walks Lancaster: Militarisms, Migration, and Speculative Geology. The walks always have an accompanying artistic intervention and in the case of the Lancaster walk this included hand drawn images of different ‘militarisms’ (eg. the Lancaster bomber) on cards. Each card had a piece of red embroidery floss and a needle attached. Participants were invited to hand-stitch onto the cards during the walk and as they listened to the different pop-up lectures. Some participants followed the image’s contours, others practiced feminist cross-stitching, and others marked their responses by deconstructing the image itself.

On October 5th, we are collaborating with Max Haiven, director of the ReImagining Value Action Lab (RiVAL);[iv] and the Toronto Biennale of Art to present The bank, the mine, the colony, the crime: A walk for the radical imagination against Bay Street: A collaborative walking tour for art, activism and inquiry in Toronto’s financial district (see here). The day-long walking event—a walking seminar of sorts—will bring together pop up lectures, performances, wheat pasting of political posters, and an anti-colonial game to re-imagine walking and the arts in the face of settler colonization, financialization, and capitalism.

A significant part of walking-with and critical walking methods has been to insist that walking open up transmaterial relations between human and nonhuman entities, become accountable to Indigenous knowledges and sovereignty to Land, consider the geosocial formations of the more-than-human, prioritise affective subjectivities, and emphasise movement that is endlessly proliferating. To that extent, the book Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab and our walking events have been committed to four guiding protocols: Land and Geos, Transcorporeality, Affect, and Movement. We think-with these protocols, described below, when practicing walking research with diverse publics, including school-based research with youth; counter-mapping and counter-archiving work with artists in public spaces; queer walking tours in various locations; and large-scale processions, neighbourhood parkour and orienteering.

Follow WalkingLab on Twitter @Walking_Lab and visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/walkinglabresearch/

Land and Geos: More-than-human walking methodologies must take account of the ways that place-based research is entrenched in ongoing settler colonization. As such, place in walking research needs to attend to Indigenous theories that centre Land, and posthuman understandings of the geologic that insist on a different ethical relationship to geology, where human and nonhuman are imbricated and entwined. Land and geos are important concepts for walking methodologies because they are attentive to situated knowledges that disrupt humancentrism.

Affect: In tandem with more-than-human methodologies is a turn to affect theory. Affect, informed by vital and materialist theories, attends to the intensities and forces of an affecting and affected body. However, because there is a tendency to ascribe affect to pre-personal sensations, some uses and theorations of affect can erase identity. In contrast, ‘affecting subjectivities’ brings intersectional theories to bear on affect theories, emphasizing the ways that subjectivity is produced as intensive flows and assemblages between bodies.

Transmaterial: If embodiment conventionally focuses on a phenomenological and lived account of human movement, then transmaterial theories, which rupture heteronormative teleological understandings of movement and reproduction, disrupt the notion of an embodied, coherent self. Trans theories emphasise viral, tentacular and transversal conceptualizations of difference. 

Movement: Movement, as it is conventionally understood in relation to walking, suggests directionality; one walks in order to move from one place to another. The movement theories we draw on, understand movement as inherent in all matter, endlessly differentiating.

In an era when complex social issues demand public venues for discussion, when academic researchers struggle to present data, analysis and arguments to non-academic audiences, and when marginalised and oppressed people and groups struggle to transform social space and institutions, critical and creative approaches to walking methods are growing in popularity. At WalkingLab we are always eager to collaborate and learn about other scholars and researchers interested in walking as a critical research method.


[i] WalkingLab is co-directed by Stephanie Springgay (University of Toronto) and Sarah E. Truman (University of Melbourne). Walkinglab emerged from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grant (2014-2017) that Dr. Springgay lead.

[ii] Research-creation is the interrelated practices of art, theory, and research. While many arts-based approaches to qualitative research use the arts as a way of representing research findings, in research-creation the process of creative practice is understood as an empirical and theoretical practice itself.

[iii] Dr. Springgay will be the keynote at their annual conference, also in November, and the journal will be launched with a reception and reading by many of the contributing authors.

[iv] Haiven is a Canada Research Chair in Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Northwest Ontario.

References

Bates, C., & Rhys-Taylor, A. (Eds.). (2017). Walking through social research. London, UK: Routledge.

Freeman, B. M. (2015). The spirit of Haudenosaunee youth: The transformation of identity and

well-being through culture-based activism (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada.

Johnson, J. (2015). Pathways to the Eighth Fire:  Indigenous Knowledge and Storytelling in Toronto. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). York University, Toronto, Canada.

O’Neill, M. (2019). Walking methods: Research on the move. London, UK: Routledge.

Springgay, S. & Truman, S. E. (2019a). Queering temporalities, activating QTBIPOC subjectivities and world-makings: Walking research-creation. MAI: FEMINISM & VISUAL CULTUREhttps://maifeminism.com/walking-research-creation-qtbipoc-temporalities-and-world-makings/

Springgay, S. & Truman, S. E. (2019b). Counterfuturisms and speculative temporalities: Walking Research-Creation in School. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(6), 547-559.

Springgay, S. & Truman, S. E. (2019c). Research-creation walking methodologies and an unsettling of time. International Review of Qualitative Research12(1), 85-93. 

Springgay, S. & Truman, S. E. (2017). A transmaterial approach to walking methodologies: Embodiment, affect and a sonic art performance. Body & Society, 23(4), 27-58. 

Springgay, S. & Truman, S. E. (2018). Walking Methodologies in a more-than-human World: WalkingLab. London, UK: Routledge.

Sundberg, J. (2014). Decolonizing posthumanist geographies. Cultural Geographies, 21(1), 33–47.

Truman, S.E. & Springgay, S. (2019). Queer Walking Tours and the Affective Contours of Place. Cultural Geographies. Online first. DOI: 10.1177/1474474019842888


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