Today’s three-part session.
10am-11am – meeting with the four group members.
After realising that our project needed not be directly linked to each of our majors, we realised that we needed to think fast about a research project that inspired us and addressed the theme of uncertainty. We are leaving behind our research so far, which had focussed on the links between the testimonies of migrants motivated by climate change and the characteristics of tragedy as laid out by Aristotle, and have a completely new approach.
Our conversation today revolved around uncertainty. Urban space emerged as a point of interest for us. After discussing and then dismissing several potential subthemes of urban space (such as sex-work or the presence of religious buildings in work-focussed central London) our discussion edged towards an analysis of movement within urban space. I explained the argument of an essay I wrote last year for the “Space, Power Agency” module, on how the gendered design of cities influences the movements of its inhabitants to a capitalist end. In order to not address the exact same topic, we came up with a tentative framework, broadly “How do different navigations of urban space shape our perceptions of that space?” London, we agreed, is the ideal urban space for us to conduct this research on, especially as fieldwork is essential to this approach and this city is at our doorsteps.
The structuring variables of our research, then, are movement, London and uncertainty. With this in mind, we briefly discussed planes of movement in London, either differing in direction (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) or in depth/altitude (underground, overground, above ground). Our discussion then turned to the mode of movement as a more productive framework for a project of this nature, which might otherwise remain too conceptual. A more specific questions addressing the above concepts, then, would be: “How does an individual’s usual means of movement in London change/shape their conceptualisation of this city?”
11am-12pm – some quick research. Our official meeting slot ended here, with Stephanie heading to a lecture and Constance, Katie and I staying on to do some preliminary research before the four of us attended Conor’s office hours to pitch this idea to him. One first article we found, which proved very motivating for our research, was one Janet Vertesi’s paper ‘The London Underground Map and Users’ Representation of Urban Space.’ This paper aims to “explore the effects of iconic , abstract representations of complex objects on our interaction with those objects through an ethnographic study of the use of the London Underground Map to tame and enflame the city of London.” Vertesi explains that her approach is interdisciplinary, a “fruitful crossover between Science Studies, Urban Studies, and Human-Computer Interaction.” Vertesi has one methodological approach that is very appealing to us. She asks her interviewees to draw a map of London and observes that the tube map almost always prevails in one way or another. One draws an x/y grid-like axis of the Northern and Central lines and build on the map from there. Another conceptualises London as “lots of little centres stuck together,” drawing “round, open circles, scattered about the page, including little sketches of what one might do or see above ground at any given place.” Another situated the stops of the Northern line on the paper but did not link them up with a continuous line, implying that although their knowledge of London hinged on these stations they had an ambiguous conceptualisation of the interactions between these different localities.
Building on Vertesi’s idea, our group is interested in exploring how people who use different modes of transport understand London. The different means of transport we will look at are on foot, by bike, by bus and by tube. As there are four of us, we may each conduct the interviews for one means. We want our final project to reflect the uncertainty surrounding London that is entailed by the multiplicity of perceptions of this city. An uncertain experience of London.
12pm-1pm – office hours with Conor Heaney.
After pitching our idea to Conor, he suggested we address several issues:
- What exactly do we mean by uncertainty in regard to London — is uncertainty the same as non-knowledge or is it something else? Yes, something else. There is no unambiguous experiential map of London.
- What, then, is the relationship between the map and the territory? Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity, 1933: “A map is not the territory.” Constance mentioned René Magritte’s surrealist artwork Ceci nest pas one pipe.
- Do we want to do qualitative or quantitative research? Qualitative, doing in-depth interviews with people who use different modes of transport and building their perception of London.
- What is our theoretical framework? What are we trying to test or figure out an explanation for? Stephanie and I are arranging to meet this week with George Legg who conducted our “Lives of London” module in First Year, while Katie and Constance will meet with Geography fellow Sophie Blackburn in her office hours. This is to find an original theoretical slant for our research — we have established an observational and methodological base but are yet to verbalise exactly what it is that we want to find out. For example, are we looking for a Feminist Marxist analysis of movement in urban space? Do we want to focus on accessibility? How it affects mental health?
- Movement in commuting or in leisure time? Probably work/studying, as leisure time is a definite privilege and it not enjoyed by the vast majority of the population.
- Side note on inclusivity. Our project is about movement. We need to make sure our project is not ableist — or at least to some degree address physical disability and movement in urban space.
- What are our initial hypotheses? What do we think we will find out? Very rudimentary and TBC.
- Cyclists: aware of back routes and quieter roads, more intuitive approach. Aware of potentially dangerous crossroads/roundabouts/corners.
- Tube-ers very knowledgeable of their particular commute. Mole-like popping up with schematised and simplified knowledge of the above ground. Perhaps skewed sense of proximity/distance between places
- What methods will we use? Interviews are definite. Reading research on this kind of project (like Vertesi’s) will help us establish more methods. Katie, as a Geography major, can help with the specific fieldwork needed for this kind of research. Conor suggests consulting Alan Bryman’s Social Research Methods to help us on this.
- If conducting interviews, remember to fill out the ethical research form before the 8th February.
- What form will we give our research? There is a possibility for our research to be presented in zine format. Although nothing is settled on this front and our time limitations may prevent this, it would be interesting to have a physical, creative testimony of our research. Especially if it includes our interviewees drawings or London (perhaps each captioned with a salient remark they made on their particular perception of the city). Could be titled “Uncertain Perceptions of London — Case Studies in Movement and Urban Space”. Just a thought.
- What is our timeline? By next week we will have met with Sophie and George. We want to have established an angle from which to approach the project by our next meeting with Conor on the 12th February. By the end of February we want to have curated our interview questions and collected our data. This will include interviewing approximately 10 people. In March we will analyse our data and shape our research project (zine as a possibility — if not, essay or power point? Would be good to discuss ideas for original formats) and draw our conclusions (qualitative).
- Some concerns:
- How do we stop people? Cyclists are main concern here.
- Who do we interview, who will want to talk to us about this? ie probably not bankers in central London
- Should we restrict our pool of people further? Perhaps we could do only one example of each mode of transport? But by doing that would we be reducing the effectiveness of our research?
- Exactly how in-depth a project is expected of us?
- Some suggested readings:
- Keith Jacobs, ‘Subjectivity and the Transformation of Urban Spatial Experience’, Housing Theory and Society, Vol 19, 2002.
- Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 1933.
- Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods.
- Darko Radović, ‘Measuring the non-measurable: On mapping subjectivities in urban research,’ City, Culture and Society, Volume 7, Issue 1, March 2016.
- Adalberto Agiurre, ‘Urban Space’, in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, ed. by George Ritzer, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007).
- Possibly Henri Lefebvre and Walter Benjamin as Marxist analyses of urban space?
- Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991).
- Pile, Steve, The Body and the City: Psychoanalysis, Space and Subjectivity, (Oxford: Routledge, 1996).
- Bulley, Dan, ‘Conducting Strangers: Hospitality and Governmentality in the Global City’ [full access here: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057%2F9781137290007_10]
- Bulley, Dan, and Lisle, Debbie, ‘Welcoming the World: Governing Hospitality in London’s 2012 Olympic Bid”
We’re very motivated to move forward with this project, let’s see how our interdisciplinary skills are put to the test!