I had an interesting afternoon in Manchester yesterday at University of Manchester, firstly at a ‘Researching Place‘ seminar, then at a talk by Tim Ingold.
Researching place began with a paper by Penny Harvey and Hannah Knox (University of Manchester), talking about their ethnographic study of roads in Peru, and the processes involved in tracking some of the multiplicities of road use and development, linking the local aspects of ethnographic anthropology with wider global concerns. The road as a focus of this practice, that it always leads away from where you are, is always ‘elsewhere’ facilitated this approach to anthropology, and enabled them to find migration, captial flows, mobilised dreams and imaginaries. The focused specifically on the idea of ‘adequate description’, and idea which came from the way that the new road was being surveyed, where readings changed in a fluxing landscape, but what were needed were descriptions that were adequate to build the road. They translated this to their own practice, to think about what an ‘adequate description’ is in anthropology & ethnography. The ended by likening their method to Jazz, in that observing journies that bring things into being, and ‘expand the imagination’, there is room for the improvisational, and that their descriptions needed to be adequate in order to ‘allow people to see the world in a new way’. The language and the methods used reminded me of how artists often talk about their work too.
Then Dimitris Ballas (University of Sheffield) discussed Human Cartograms, the Gaster & Newman method developed in 2004. He suggested that conventional maps that attempt to show the world as if viewed from space are not appropriate ways to show the social. The distorted maps he showed allow people to see population growth as part of the map. An interesting question came up at the end as to how these maps could be used as part of analysis, so maps as a method, rather than as a tool for dissemination of data. While making data more easily read, they are difficult to think about as a method of analysis.
and finally Andy Karvonen (Manchester) who’s research of water in cities has led him to to ‘creek walking’ to see the city from a different perspective, if not from the perspective of water, from its channel of movement. (If I remember rightly Austin, Texas where he walked would be a great place to do this as it has rivers almost sunken into the city as they pass through). He discussed messy methods, and the ‘performative turn’ in social science research. But his eventual question was what to do with the experimental and experiential data. He had made maps with images in them, linked to geotagged data, but in terms of academic social science dissemination he found any further use of it problematic. In the later disucssion Penny Harvey mentioned that images have too much room for other interpretation, so they are hard to present along side text as an analytical form.
Something i’ve been wondering for a while came back to me – that maps are often used to illustrate geographical data, but not to be used for navigation, not to be taken back to the location and used to get around. So much of what a map is can be lost when it is purely a geographical representation of data.
but what was more obvious in this workshop was that when methods start to engage fluidly and experimentally with place, there is a need for thinking about how to analyse and disseminate. For me this linked directly to the use of locative media – not just as a research method, but as a way of representing, analysing and discussing. Artists will always be working towards the outcome as a visual, spatial, interactive, auditory – sensory outcome, whereas social scientists are working towards written publication.
Very briefly – Tim Ingold’s talk described amongst other things, the influence of weather, which linked nicely to some things i’ve been thinking about clouds recently. But again his approach to and definition of art is a difficult one, not neessarily what I would think of as art – although perhaps used to mean a different kind of connection with material, space and process than you find in usual social science training and research.