The philosophy of walking

Update: Phil Smith on GrosWhy we walk and Why walking helps us think (The New Yorker, 2014)

Frédéric Gros’ A philosophy of walking (Amazon), published in March 2014 and translated by John Howe, is a primer for the Gallic Romantic strain in walking. Gå!, a Danish translation published by Kristeligt Dagblads Forlag, appeared in July 2015, inspiring a vandringsessay by Kim Skotte in Politiken. 

Gros is a “prodigious walker”. While the book charts the many different ways we get from A to B (the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble…) it is more concerned with exploring the power of walking as a “necessary weapon in the era of speed, efficiency and consumption” – and what it tells us about our experience of time, pleasure and solitude.

Back in 2014 I Storified @VersoBooks’ #philosophyofwalking stream, starting with a playlist in January, livetweeting the book launch and finishing up with Gros in conversation with sculptor Richard Wentworth at Tate Modern on 15 May. See the foot of the post for a trio of bon mots.

I made some inroads via a library copy in autumn 2014, getting about halfway, or as far as  Thoreau. Then I read On going for a walk, which made the unassailable point that the book’s focus is fairly narrow, favouring walking silently and solitarily in pristine rural landscapes with scant attention given to walking in urban settings. At this point I moved into scan mode, never a good sign. to be sure to finish it off before it was due back to the library. (Another factor was Carol Cadwallader on the portraits: “they’re all men; it’s unclear if women don’t walk or don’t think”). Maybe it depends which walking primer you start with – for me, it was Nicholson (who also appreciated Cadwallader’s take).

I have now invested in a copy for the bookshelf via Verso’s Xmas 2016 offer – below is a summary of my key points. (See also Laurence Coupe’s 10 insights). While very French, tending to the abstract with many a rhetorical turn (or just French rendered in English?), the opening salvo already makes the whole thing worthwhile. Other sections to come back to are Schelle’s Promenade als Kunstwerk (19:164-7) and indeed the section on urban walking (21:178-180).

The book consists of 25 shortish chapters each headed by a woodcut. Seven of the chapters are about individual thinkers who saw walking as integral to the creative life: Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant and Gandhi.

  1. Walking is not a sport: no specialised equipment here: “Walking is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found…If you want to go faster, then don’t walk…Once on his feet, though, man does not stay where he is.”
  2. Freedoms: a process of self liberation, the suspensive freedom that comes from walking and rediscovering simple joys, throwing off the yoke of routine and illusions about the essential; “disentangled from the web of exchanges, no longer reduced to a junction in the network redistributing information, images and goods”; a liberation from time and space, alienating you from speed; this is usually only a temporary ‘disconnection’, but one can also follow the call of the wild on the ‘vertical axis of life’, escaping from the idea of identity and recovering our animal presence; the third stage is the freedom of renunciation and perfect detachment, leading to an intensity of presence. (Echoes here of Ludvig Feilberg, Denmark’s philosopher of walking.)
  3. Why I am such a good walker (Nietzsche): walking was Nietzsche’s element, the precondition to work; he hated to sit: “think of the book as an expression of physiology. In all too many books the reader can sense the seated body, doubled up, stooped, shrivelled in on itself. The walking body is unfolded and tensed like a bow: opened to wide spaces like a flower to the sun, exposed torso, tensed legs, lean arms”. Books by authors “grafted to their chairs” are like fattened geese, “on the level of recopying”. Writing with our feet means the potential for “reversals of perspective…exclamations where something else is observed”.
  4. Outside: “walking means being out of doors, outside, ‘in the fresh air’. When you go ‘outside’ it is always to pass from one ‘inside’ to another: from house to office, from your place to the nearest shops. You go out to do something, somewhere else. Outside is a transition: the thing that separates; almost an obstacle between here and there…Outside hardly exists: it is like a big separating corridor, a tunnel, an immense airlock..It is some space that takes some time.” Major walks invert this – ‘outside’ is no longer a transition, but the element in which stability exists. The big separation between outside and inside is turned upside down by walking, as  you live in the landscape.
  5. Slowness: a good slowness, not exactly the opposite of speed: an “extreme regularity of paces, a uniformity…a bad walker may sometimes go fast, accelerate, then slow down…large involuntary movements, a new decision every time the body is pushed or pulled…Hurrying means doing several things at once, and quickly…time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer in which you have stuffed different things without any attempt at order. Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one…this stretching of time deepens space…a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them familiar.”
  6. The passion for escape (Rimbaud): never having studied French I have a big gap here; like Nietzsche this isn’t exactly a happy tale, but glad to have made his acquaintance; “I’m a pedestrian, nothing more” – a sense of walking as flight, leaving behind, departing.
  7. Solitudes: ought one really to walk alone? Nietzsche, Thoreau, Rousseau, the Dane, all thought so. “Being in company forces one to jostle, hamper, walk at the wrong speed for others…the right basic rhythm is the one which suits you.” So much for group walking, although up to three or four may allow moments of shared solitude, “like bread and daylight”. More than four and people “form groups which soon become clans. Everyone boasts about their equipment…it’s hell.” However, one is never entirely alone, not least because of the constant dialogue between the body and the soul.
  8. Silences: just as there are  several solitudes, so there are several silences; the silence of walking itself, of woodland, of tough summer afternoon walks, or.  early morning, through the snow, of night. Silence in walking is the abolishment of chatter, the dissipation of our language. “One should beware of those expedition guides who recode, detail, inform, punctuate the walk with names and explanations to give the impression that everything visible has a name, that there is a grammar for everything that can be felt.”
  9. The walker’s waking dreams (Rousseau): like Nietzsche, Rousseau claimed to be incapable of thinking properly, of composing, creating or finding inspiration except when walking. Another recurring image is the homo viator, walking or pilgrim man, the natural man not disfigured by culture, education, art – the absolute primitive.
  10. Eternities: “when you walk, news becomes unimportant”…more of the same, if perhaps a nod to the issue of unconnected facts.
  11. Conquest of the wilderness (Thoreau): opens with the factoid that Thoreau was the third child of a pencil manufacturer; otherwise, by now, familiar territory.
  12. Energy: sources of energy: the heart (self), the earth, landscapes.
  13. Pilgrimage: a codified form of walking with its own conduct, termination and purpose, however a pilgrim (from peregrinus, follower or exile) is essentially one who is not at home where he is walking, but is a stranger or foreigner; “every man is a pilgrim in this vale of tears…his true dwelling place can never be reached here below”; rather than peregrinatio perpetua a metaphor, perhaps a contemplative retreat or a visit to a sanctuary, can suffice.
  14. Regeneration and presence: the myth of regeneration, citing Mount Kailash, and the utopia of presence, transfiguring the day when you arrive at your destination.
  15. The cynic’s approach: as in the Greek Cynics.
  16. States of well-being: joy, pleasure, serenity, happiness…
  17. Melancholy wandering (Nerval): of pet lobster fame, one of Richard Holmes’ subjects; walking as part of an active melancholia: “the streets are an excellent environment for maintaining, nourishing and deepening the illness…the drumming of thousands of feet on the pavements”.
  18. A daily outing (Kant): aka the Königsberg clock, who emerged from his house for his brief constitutional every day at 8 as a distraction from work; he never left his native town, found change unbearable and “displayed no caprice or oddity…his life was as exactly ruled as music manuscript paper”; his route became known as the philosopher’s walk; Kant’s walks highlight three important aspects of walking: its monotony, which liberates thought, the role of regularity and repeated effort in creating an output, built up stone by stone, and the inescapable nature of ritual, a mastered inevitability, a destiny of will.
  19. Strolls: or promenades, “less suited to grand mystical poses, metaphysical frauds and pretentious declarations”; of three types: as an absolute ritual, the creation of a childish soul; as free relaxation, mental recreation; as rediscovery. HT to Karl Gottlob Schelle’s Die Promenade als Kunstwerk (1802), which established that walking produces a relaxing effect on the body – it could stand up straight, but “it was really the mind which rejoiced most”. Walking means defying the constraints, choosing your route, place, representations (see pages 164-7).
  20. Public gardens: musing on the Tuileries.
  21. The urban flâneur: via Benjamin, a form of strolling which presupposes three elements: city, crowd and capitalism.. an experience far removed from Nietzsche or Thoreau; the urban stroller subverts the crowd, the merchandise the and town, along with their values; not a matter of opposing but of evading, deflecting, altering with exaggeration, accepting blandly and moving on; the flâneur subverts solitude, speed, dubious business politics and consumerism (pages 178-180).
    • the city: imposes an interrupted, uneven rhythm; urban concentrations where you can walk for hours without seeing a piece of country, passing through districts like different worlds, separate, apart; cities with enough scale to become a landscape
    • the crowd: among and through the nameless masses, representatives of the new civilisation; everyone was in a hurry and everyone else was in their way, a competitor, with contradictory interests – anonymity is the norm
    • capitalism: as in the reign of merchandise, extending beyond industrial products to include art works and people; now: “spaces where strolling is compulsory are being made, but no one has to go there”
  22. Gravity: the experience of walking is always a perception of gravity, an invitation to die standing up.
  23. Elemental: the useful, the necessary, the elemental, revealed as fullness of presence; ” to walk without even the necessary is to abandon yourself to the elements”.
  24. Mystic and politician (Gandhi): and protest marcher
  25. Repetition: the need to distinguish between monotony and boredom

Experimental walking (and writing): Surrealists and Situationists

Brief notes kicked off by the chapter on experimental walking in The art of wandering: the writer as walker.

Francesco Careri (Walkscapes) has identified three moments in art history when an experience linked to walking represented a turning point:

  • the period of transition from Dada to Surrrealism (1921-24)
  • the emergence of the Situationist Movement from the Letterist International (1956-57)
  • the movement from Minimal Art to Land Art (1966-67) – Fluxus, non-object-based art as exemplified by Richard Wentworth, Janet Cardiff and Francis Alÿs; with the rise of performance art the act of walking itself has become art

Dadaist and surrealist walks

On 14 April 1921 in Paris, at three in the afternoon, in the rain, eleven Dadaists conducted a ‘lay pilgrimage’ to the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, the first in a proposed series of urban excursions to the ‘banal places’ of the city (p183-4) – it was not a success, and remained the sole example.

In May 1924 the three founders of surrealism set off haphazardly on foot on a ten day stroll from Blois, a town picked at random from a map. Largely they “resolutely followed their lack of itinerary”, composing automatic texts during rest stops.

This and further déambulations, practised on the outskirts of Paris, found expression in three novels:

  • Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926) – describes two places in Paris in great detail, providing a realistic backdrop for surrealist spectacles such as the transformation of a shop into a seascape
  • André Breton’s Nadja (1928) – “one of the iconic works of the French surrealist movement”
  • Philippe Soupault‘s Les Dernières Nuits de Paris (1928)
  • see also Readux’s A little guide to the 15th Arrondissement, “a playful piece of surrealist flâneurie and psychogeography” by Roger Caillois, translated by Ryan Ruby; see article

For the surrealists walking was about chance encounters and irrational meetings, an inspiration for their experimental writing (source).

The Lettrists and the Situationists

A generation later, after WW2, the act of walking shifted from aimless strolling to revolutionary subversion.

The Lettrist International (1952-7), the product of the earlier Lettrist Group (1948) and a forerunner of The Situationist International, identified the act of walking as a means of challenging the status quo, but like later movements such as CoBrA and the Imaginist Bauhaus was hampered both by a lack of direction (irony alert) and, more crucially, members.

Step forward the Situationist International (1957-72; SI Online | archives | Internationale Situationniste in English) under the firm/tyrannical grip of Guy Debord.

Debord coined the term psychogeography in his Introduction to a critique of urban geography (1955):

the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals

This replaced R/romantic notions of walking as an artistic practice with the concept of a scientific experiment, the results of which would be rigorously analysed and form the basis of a new cartography characterised by a disregard for traditional and habitual practices.

This experiment was, of course, the dérive, as outlined in The theory of the dérive (1956).

The dérive “has the potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private”. The ideal outcome was that “pedestrians would become more aware of their overlooked urban surroundings and begin to see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life in the city” (source).

The purpose of a dérive is as much to derive or document the psychogeographical contours of an urban space as to uncover alternatives. This can be in the form of artistic maps, drawn not in Cartesian gridlines but according to a subjective navigation scheme, or through subversions of pre‐existing maps. Both kind of map exemplifies the détournement, a ‘diverting’ or ‘rerouting’ of pre‐existing elements, with an ultimate outcome such as the utopian city (source).

Debord’s Psychogeographic guide of Paris (1955)/The naked city (1957; same??) replaced the ‘official’ map of Paris with 19 cut-out sections rearranged and connected by red arrows indicating the flow of energy around certain ‘pivot points’ (source). Map users choose their own route by using a series of arrows that link parts of the city together.

Further tactics:

  • one city to the map of another – wander through one city following directions from a map of another city (I’ve never quite got how this would work in practice)
  • cities as historical landscapes – being aware of how your surroundings can draw you towards the past
  • here’s a reverse dérive – The naked city mapped onto a Google map of Paris

Hence strolling becomes drifting and detached observation becomes a critique of post-war urbanism (Elkin p18) – there was nothing aimless in Situationist drifts; they wanted to transform everyday life.

Debord became increasingly dogmatic in his insistence upon a rigorous examination of the Society of the Spectacle (1967; more), a society whose seductive surface belied the repressive realities of capitalist consumption. The essential emptiness of modern life is obscured behind an elaborate and spectacular array of commodities, leading to a world of rampant consumerism and regimented monotony. Shucks.

See The Situationists and the city for more.

Debord and Jorn

Denmark klaxon! In 1954 Debord met Asger Jorn (1914-73), a Danish polymath who had worked with Le Corbusier on the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux for the 1937 Paris World Exposition. Jorn was a co-founder of CoBrA (1948-51) and involved in one of its offshoots, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which in 1957 fused with the Letterist International and the London Psychogeographical Association to form the Situationist International (SI). Enough already.

It’s not quite clear to what extent Jorn had a hand in The naked city, but their collaboration resulted in the production of two art books critiquing the Society of the Spectacle.

Created in 24 hours at the printing house Permild & Rosengreen after a single visit to a local news stall, Fin de Copenhague (1957) was composed using the technique of détournement. The book consists of fragments snatched from other books and magazines in a collage linked by colourful splashes. Intended as a critical engagement with urbanism along with advertising and consumerism, it “satirises gemütlich Europe in general, the author’s native Copenhagen in particular, and Le Corbusier in passing”:

Copenhagen is satirised not only as a seat of ancestral boredoms, and in other standard terms, but also for being a ‘well-planned city’, in the sense of making a pretty pattern of black and green in the planner’s report – only in this case the pretty pattern is produced by applying place-names to patches of mechanical tint superimposed on (apparently) and action-painting that has run.

a spread from Fin de Copenhague (1957)

More: Wikipedia | Situationist map of Denmark

Debord and Jorn’s second collaboration, Mémoires (1959; in English), also employed the latter’s situlogical technique, but is now perhaps best known for its sandpaper cover.

Mémoires (1959)

A founder member of the SI, Jorn resigned in April 1961 believing it had become ineffective, but remained in friendly contact.

In 1960 Jorn’s brother, Jørgen Nash, set up the Situationist Bauhaus, later the Second Situationist International, on Jorn’s farm in southern Sweden. Most famous among their actions was the decapitation of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid in 1964.

Other Scandi SI members included Peter Laugesen (article), friend of Dan Turèll; in his time attracted to the dérive, but expelled in 1963 for refusing to give up poetic practice.

For more on Scandinavian Situationists see the Situ-Research & Archive | Scandinavian Situationism | Cosmonauts of the Future.

Experimental walking today

In 2005 Lonely Planet published a Guide to experimental travel, conceived by Joël Henry (of Latourexsome examples):

Experimental tourism is a novel approach to tourism in which visitors do not visit the ordinary tourist attractions (or, at least not with the ordinary approach), but allow whim to guide them. It is an alternative form of tourism in which destinations are chosen not on their standard touristic merit but on the basis of an idea or experiment. It often involves elements of humor, serendipity, and chance. (Wikipedia)

Here the “imposition of arbitrary restrictions serves to heighten the tourist experience”. It can also heighten the local experience – see Counter-Tourism, A mis-guide to anywhere, Pattern walking, the Temporary Travel Office and Ways to wander, “54 intriguing ideas for different ways to take a walk” collected by Claire Hind and Clare Qualmann.

I have the Lonely Planet guide and stake my claim in that we have often travelled to the end of a metro line for the hell of it. A particularly memorable example was in Istanbul, a world away from the Blue Mosque. It took hours to get back. Sadly I can’t find the website of the group who travel to the end of metro lines in Moscow on the last Sunday in the month, otherwise I’d be there.

On the everyday level my walks more often than not make use of suggestion 15 from the LP guide: Dog’s Leg Travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

Ludic performances and tours which “subvert space in creative and exciting ways” abound in the experience economy, with the game often the key element. See Play the City Now or Never |

Meanwhile, is walking (or marching) as political dissent about to make a comeback? On 17 February Senate House Library and the Passage project held a one day conference on Radical walking (more), presenting the historical perspective.

Opening keynoter Katrina Navickas (interview) shook things up a bit on ‘the problem of the flâneur’ and critiquing literary studies’ ongoing obsession with walking:

walking – using the eyes of history to examine the traces and parallels in the past – is an activist practice, and one connected directly with politically activist histories

the flâneur seems to privilege the elite perspective of the landscape viewed from a distance

For me it’s the anonymity of the flâneur (of/in the crowd), the observations and perspectives of the outsider, which appeal (exclusive can also mean excluded) – it’s an explorative tool I use. See also under What gives? in my post on #walkingwomen. BTW Wikipedia on the flâneur is worth a look, not least for “how the same language can differ depending on the location” (source). It’s an intriguing combination of immersion and openness.

But I’m with her on the obsession with nature writing at least.

Next stop: more cultural geography, Doreen Massey.

Oulipo and Perec: writing with constraints about place

Oulipo (Ouvroir de litterature potentielle/Workshop of Potential Literature; Wikipedia), founded in 1960, is a loose gathering of (mainly) French writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques.

Members seek out “new forms and structures that may be used by writers in any way they see fit”, founded on the paradoxical principle that through the use of a formal constraint the writer’s creative energy is liberated. The resulting work may be ‘complete’ in itself, but it will also gesture at all the other work that could potentially be generated using that constraint; exhaustion being the ‘necessary corollary’ of potentiality.

More than tricksy gimmicks? Compare the rules of classical tragedy with the poet who writes that which comes into his head…a great Oulipian work is both a statement of what it knows and a gesture toward something infinitely larger than itself – see for example Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, ten sonnets printed on perforated paper.

The French avant garde loves a game, with rules of engagement and an unknown outcome – but for Oulipo it has to be capable of producing valid literary results. The constraint is not an arbitrary choice but a technique adopted to explore, to the point of exhaustion, a subject within its given parameters. It creates an environment in which creation can be helped along – instead of a blank page the Oulipian can begin with a project. The challenge is to find the virtue in the constraint, a seriousness of purpose.

In Oulipo Lite, her essay in The end of Oulipo? Lauren Elkin asks whether its brand of “ludic literary experimentation” pursued through “wit, humor and public performance” has a future. Like a writer’s workshop exercise inspired by a prompt, Oulipian writing today is all too often mechanical and formulaic, even derivative. The group has become inbred, as concerned with archiving its history and carrying on its traditions as making new literature. Has Oulipo exhausted its potential by becoming a societe de spectacle? Or is it an antidote to “writing programs which produce fully competent and easily forgettable books”?

Sources: Oulipo: freeing literature by tightening its rules | The end of Oulipo? An attempt to exhaust a movement

Perec and s/p(l)ace

Anything vaguely Oulipian I’ve encountered up to now has lacked heft, but when it touches on place and space things get more interesting, due in the main to Georges Perec (1936-82; Wikipedia).

One of those irresistible figures (see pieces by Tom Payne and Lauren Elkinthe cat pic), there’s a further personal appeal due to the librarian within me. With temporary jobs in market research giving early experience in classification, Georges worked as a research librarian (“a low-paid position”) from 1961-78. His taxonomies of the everyday “use excess to slip the bounds of realism” (Elkin) and draw attention instead to the infra-ordinary.

His writing goes beyond the merely quirky. See the Gdn’s best of Perec, or this non-exhaustive list:

  • Portrait of a man (1959; rediscovered 1993, published in English 2015)
  • A void (1967; Wikipedia/La disparition) – uses a lipogram, ie the novel does not contain the most common letter (e) in the French language; the missing e, pronounced eux (them) in French, refers to all those (including Perec’s parents) who went missing during WW2
  • The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise (1968; in lib)
  • Life a user’s manual (La Vie mode d’emploi, 1978; Indy) – ‘to exhaust not the world’ but ‘a constituted fragment of the world’
  • The winter journey (1979) & Winter journeys
  • La Boutique obscure: 124 dreams (Joanna Walsh) – a ‘nocturnal autobiography’
  • on crosswords

In 1974 Perec spent three days on the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris observing what happens when nothing happens, resulting in An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris (Lauren ElkinKarl Whitney | Jacket2: “a nonambulatory flâneur” | Soundlandscapes: “a contra-flâneur” | Jimmy Lo’s 2010? attempt at re-exhausting the same place).

the Place Saint-Sulpice (3 Jan 2017)

An attempt… is part of Lieux (Places) a grand projet aimed at systematically recording memories and descriptions of twelve Parisian locations over the course of twelve years, one of those self-imposed personal projects which all too easily slide…

Perec

(from Eight glances past Georges Perec, p25)

Perec’s/Perecquian geographies have become a thing, with a conference at Sheffield in May 2016, and his influence is noticeable in much writing about place. Perecquian fieldwork in Copenhagen awaits, with lots more to plunder in the collection Species of spaces and other pieces/Espèces d’espaces (Amazon; Angela Last | Toulisan).

Tempting titbits:

  • home vs not-home, the ambivalence between two different modalities: feeling at home, connected to a place, and feeling not-home, in a place that has to be conquered each time
  • map streets on an x axis and level of alienation/mood on a y axis

Oulipo in Denmark

In 2015 Oulipian Jacques Jouet (article) sent 101 poems to random residents in Aarhus over the course of nine days as part of Fresh Eyes 2015. The poems were published in book form at Fresh Eyes 2016 (På…/En…event | review | another | yet another).

Jouet (RU sure that’s yr name?) is also known for his Poèmes de métro (Subway poems), and once spent 16 hours in the Paris metro on a route taking him through all 490 stops – the CPH metro is rather more limited, however fans/emulators include Martin Larsen (CPH Metrodigte), Danish artist books curator Thomas Hvid Kromann (see arkiv uden titel, ditto in Paris) and Christian Yde Frostholm, author of Paris en brugsanvisning (2013; inspired by Life…) and translator of Espèces d’espaces et al (2016).

In Eight glances past George Perec, his essay in The end of Oulipo?, Scott Esposito is cutting in his critique of the metro poems:

the least pleasurable kind of automatic writing…of little literary value; the quality is so middling that I find it all too believable that Jouet hurriedly jotted them on the train…his conceits are simple, beguiling creations that enable his followers to believe that they too can create literature, just like he does…the only grounds on which the metro poems might be interesting as art is as conceptual art

#FLcuriosity: my research project

Harness your curiosity and use it to undertake your own research projects in a scholarly manner!

Quite. #FLcuriosity, aka Developing your research project, eight weeks from 27 June, University of Southampton.

Week 1: starting an academic research project

  • think about what inspires you (broad topic area)
  • consider what skills you might develop through undertaking a research project (transferable skills)
  • think very clearly about what exactly you are getting into by undertaking a research project (checklist)

A good research project will look at the work of previous scholars, will build upon that, while adding original views and interpretations, so that you get the opportunity to make an original contribution to the subject that interests you.

Week 2: drafting a research proposal

You might just end up researching and carrying on finding things that you find are really interesting, but never narrow down a research question…work out what you’re interested in…not coming up with a list of everything but rather picking something and sticking to it and creating a research question from that.

  • document your thoughts as you go along in a research log (mindmaps!)
  • home in on a research topic that meets your requirements
  • develop a draft hypothesis that is broad enough to give you scope to explore but narrow enough to be manageable
  • write a draft research proposal  (approx 200 words)
hypothesis

draft hypothesis: To what extent have tuition fee increases reduced the number of students applying to UK universities?

Either work downwards, or if you already have a topic you wish to explore, work backwards to broaden out your focus to identify what subject it is that your project actually falls under – and accompanying approach and methodology.

Week 3: undertaking research and recording your findings

How to find and select reliable sources, as well as how to record the origins of these sources to make sure you can prove where your evidence came from.

Should be ‘meat and drink’:

  • familiarise yourself with commonly used book and journal terminology
  • put a system in place for systematically checking out sources and recording your findings
  • consider why searching out primary sources rather than using secondary information can give you the ‘edge’ in your research project
  • experiment with ‘exploding’ out the terms of your draft title to get you started with your research (try post-its or a mindmap); it’s about knowing a lot about a little, not vice versa, so keep the theme of your research narrow, focused, and ideally measurable:

Screenshot

Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is rubbish.

Week 4: choosing an appropriate methodology

  • find out what type of research methods are appropriate for your topic
  • consider the benefits and drawbacks for the research methods you have selected and whether your research questions and hypotheses may need re-thinking
  • update your research proposal to include your methodologies

The different types of methodology are broadly split between:

  • quantitative – produce quantifiable outcomes; you are likely to have clearly set out responses (variables) to questions you ask, eg yes/no responses, likelihood or degrees of satisfaction questions on a given scale, allowing for statistically reliable and significant analysis of and between variables, which may infer something about the sample population, and if a representative sample, the wider target population
  • qualitative – do not provide as structured responses and as such fewer inferences can be made beyond the individuals sampled, however less structure means less restricted answers, often providing very rich and contextual data; we might  want to know beyond a yes or no answer, instead trying to achieve a ‘well maybe, I’m not sure though, because of x, y and z’ type answer that tells us far more
  • consider also mixed methods

Questions:

  • which sources of information might be instrumental in answering your research question?
  • how will you obtain sources of information appropriate for your research project?
  • how may you wish to analyse them?
  • how you might wish to look at your source material and what methods of analysis will you use to investigate it more closely?
  • consider the potential biases you may encounter with the sources of information and analyses you have chosen – think about how these biases could impact upon your project and weigh up some of the advantages and disadvantages of your choice accordingly

Week 5: academic reading and note taking 

Academic reading is a very practical way of dealing with books and materials. Instead of reading through every single piece of the material, begin by going straight to the sign posts:

  • chapters – read the opening and concluding paragraphs and ask: “is this relevant?”
  • index – look for keywords
  • signal words – ‘therefore’, on the other hand’

Three main approaches:

  • scanning – locate specific information (statistics, details, particular names or keywords) by just looking at the page, in particular the key terms
  • skimming – read a longish text or parts of one (eg the first and last couple of lines of paragraphs) to get the gist (the main idea) of what it contains; the aim is not to get a detailed understanding but rather an overview that may be relevant to your enquiry
  • critical close reading
  • see Barbara Fillip on What happens when I read a non-fiction book and Different ways of reading

At the heart of much academic writing is an argument. An academic argument can vary in form according to the subject area; however, there are shared common elements (claim, data, justification). You need to be able to deconstruct and understand an academic argument when reading and create an argument in your own writing.

Effective note taking means identifying the information which is relevant without noting everything down. Using appropriate academic reading skills can save you time. When note taking, where possible put the information in your own words and, if you don’t, make sure that you have a system that makes this clear otherwise you could end up plagiarising.

Note taking tools:

  • blogging and mind mapping
  • annotating – highlighting, underlining, writing in the margin; summarise afterwards to avoid plagiarism
  • Docear – imports and organises PDFs with notes into a mind map
  • Read Cube, Scrivner and Zotero – all show PDFs in one half and a notebook on the other half to take notes while reading
  • a notebook – half-processed writing

Week 6: referencing

By the end of this week you will be aware of the different styles of referencing and know how to set your references out to an academic standard.

Understanding academic integrity (Soton’s regs) and plagiarism. Referencing styles, including Harvard, Chicago, Modern Humanities Research Association (MRHA; Soton guide), Modern Language Association (MLA), OSCOLA…

A Harvard reference, yuk:

Lipson, C (2006) Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More London: The University of Chicago Press

Useful online tools include Endnote and Mendeley (tutorial).

Week 7: writing up your research

Ways of making sense of the sources and results you have gathered and how to go about structuring your essay, as an essay plan:

  • establish a time limit and/or word count
  • lay your sources out, either physically or digitally, and work out which ones fit to which parts of your essay
    • for or against style essay –  arrange them on two sides
  • introduction –  set out the context and tell the reader what they’re going to be told, what your overall position will be and exactly how you plan to guide the reader through your work
    • ie context, hypothesis, structure
  • main body – explore in more depth the importance of your research, what the background to it is, and what work has already been done in this field
    • show examples as evidence of the issues that you’ve considered in shaping your general point of view
    • for each section outline your point, provide evidence for it, then link it back to your research question, and on again to your next point
    • make a counterargument for every point to show that you’ve thoroughly considered all sides of the argument
    • literature review – document work that exists in your field already, its significance, and your take on it
    • methodology section – explain complicated methods, or forms of analysis
    • ie  overview, examples, paragraphs
  • conclusion – a very clear statement of your argument in a way that satisfies your research questions
    • what the implications of your work are, who agrees with you, and where further research might be useful
    • reveal your results, followed by a discussion which indicates what their significance is and the impact on your research questions
    • tie all the strands of evidence together into one coherent piece of work
    • ie answer, argument, implications

Write an abstract (around 200 words) after you have finished writing up your research project, summarising what your project contains:

  • what you set out to do and why (hypothesis and research questions)
  • how you did it (methodology)
  • what you found (results and conclusions)
  • recommendations (whether you have any will depend on the type of research project)

But Why is academic writing so academic? See also #acwri post, and, rather more me, Engage 2014.

Week 8: presenting your research

A bit academic, at this juncture.

Tools: PowerPoint | Sway | Prezi | overview

#FLthecity: Re-enchanting the city (2)

Weeks 3 to 5 covered things architectural, green and technological, while the final week zoomed in our old friend, human scale. Weeks 1-2 here.

Architecture in the city

What role do architects play in the city? How do architects engage with the development process? Exploring the question of design diversity and the ‘starchitect’ phenomenon.

Diversity in architecture in the city means having different types of buildings designed for different activities and realised in different historical times with a diversity of materials…when you visit a European city like Venice, Rome, Paris, London, at first you see a uniform, old city with a few contemporary buildings standing out. But on a more in depth reading, you realise that the story is quite different.

Urban design encapsulates the process of designing the broad infrastructure for our cities, towns and villages, while architecture focuses on individual buildings. However, often architects act as urban designers, contributing to broader plans of city-making.

Key considerations of urban design:

  • understanding of topography, solar access, wind, transport, people and connectivity
  • floor space arrangement and massing
  • (the key) challenge of diversity and consistency (cohesion, shared purpose, embodied social values)

In looking at how we could transform the masterplan for Central Park we carefully studied the buildings that existed already, the buildings that were under construction, and we tried to see whether we can pull this sequence together in a different way, in a way that created more meaningful open space, that actually created a more generous interface with the adjacent community.

…making roads that could connect heritage items to give people a sense of memory so they could understand that it’s not all new. That as you turned a corner, you could see something old that you knew from before the site was developed. That idea of building in time is an important part of urban design processes.

Two examples of how heritage items were integrated at Central Park:

  • designing with heritage architecture – the Australian Hotel, a key listed building from 1938, created challenges for Foster+Partners (critique); heritage considerations were addressed through the idea of a city datum line, “expressed as a recess in the building that acknowledges and expresses the Australian Hotel’s original height”; the design process considered sensitivity to scale, a response to a sense of place, and influences of function and light for the facade (very reminiscent of that hotel in Rotterdam, where F+P were also involved – see the Gdn’s out of place city buildings feature and contributions)
  • adaptive reuse – the Irving Street Brewery (award citation) ties Central Park back to its early history, with the redevelopment influenced by the technology of the building and merging new, in the form of the trigeneration plant, with old; the trigeneration is expressed and designed into the building, including its distinctive roof

How do architects strike the balance between responding to context and pursuing the dream?

Starchitects are criticised for rolling out their habitual style on any site in any country without genuine response to the individual place, climate, or culture, and getting away with bigger (or higher, different use) buildings than governments would otherwise allow. Their buildings are frequently controversial. Do they have an unfair advantage, or is it a reward for fine design? See documentary.

Is the distinction between star and other architects spurious? The question of what is local, what is specific, what is regional is a very elusive thing…we work (increasingly) in a truly global context (critique).

Discourse from comments: “global design…befits Australia’s identity…inspirational…a fitting tribute to Australia’s multicultural identity”…

(St)architecture’s role in city creation is to engage with what exists while also taking people toward a future they cannot imagine. It does this both by fitting in and standing out, considering the nature of place from outside in, and from inside out. It must accommodate the individual and the larger group, pursuing beauty, economy, and structural integrity with architects, both servants and shapers of the planning system.

Diversity – except when it comes to buildings:

Many postmodern urban theorists have argued that the essence of the traditional city is uniformity, yet Australian cities, being relatively young and brash, are distinguished by their diversity, with terraced houses next to warehouses next to skyscrapers, and so on. Even in their oldest and most uniform parts, they’re still way more expressive than most.

The result is a sort of diversity within uniformity. At best, this could be very successful – more interesting than the rigid uniformity of say Georgian London, and more coherent than the random placement that modernism often encouraged.

How should a contemporary city precinct like Central Park replicate that balance? Should there be one design hand or many? If many, should they be briefed to fit in or to stand out? The design excellence requirements for Central Park specified visual diversity. This was to be achieved by using a variety of local and international architects and urban designers…The creative tension that resulted is one of the secrets of Central Park’s succes

Two Padlet exercises:

  • Different or popular? – take a closer look at the town or city in which you live and locate an example of diversity (range of different architectural styles in one location; you’ll be lucky) or starchitecture
  • Iconic architecture (disappointing directory) – a symbol of a city, a statement about its history, ambition or how it wants to be seen; what buildings are iconic in your city or town; what make it a signature building? (how many are new, how many heritage)

The weekly summary highlights:

  • a green grid as an additional layer to urban design representing the ecology of the city
  • modern vs post-modernist approaches to ornament for buildings
  • the relationship between residents and green space, including the balcony plantings.
  • sensitivity and respect to heritage – what represents successful integration of old and new
  • the value and drawbacks of starchitects

Being green

Focuses on significant sustainability initiatives, on sustainable urbanism and the inclusion of nature into the city. It examines design innovations in green technologies, and environmental building services.

Being green is:

  • about integrating nature into our cities and constructing our urban habitat in ways that mimic natural systems and remembering that human beings are just one of the species that lives in the cities – includes renaturing the city, bringing more plants and green landscape elements into urban areas
  • involves using green building materials and technologies for better water management, reducing temperatures associated with the urban heat island effect, and remaking post-industrial sites to create new urban precincts for living, working, and recreation
  • as residential neighbourhoods get more dense it will be increasingly important for people to have access to nature, outdoor green space for exercise and recreation, and even views into green areas that provide visual relief – designed urban landscapes are cultural products that reflect shared social values and attitudes

“Landscape architects work basically on the horizontal plane. And architects are working on the vertical plane. The outdoors not the indoors, materials that change over time not static, natural not cultural”. More trees, water features and quiet places, obvs, but see also the landscape architecture padlet – it doesn’t have to mimic ‘nature’ in a tamed way. I’m thinking  the High Line, Central Park’s vertical gardens; and from my own experience the gardens in the Walkie Talkie and Copenhagen Towers in Ørestad. Last but not least, the Green Walkway (architects) behind Rigsarkivet, at the moment CPH’s most enchanting place for me.

Some comments re the absence of the sustainability word. Back to resilience, which feels rather less agenda driven and more multi-dimensional. The Gdn’s recent article on Vejle (“the Manchester of Denmark”), with lots of references to Rotterdam, highlights issues around social resilience with some stonking comments.

The weekly summary was perhaps a little on the defensive, stressing that “many different approaches will be required to implement ‘green’ planning, designing, and building for cities of the future” – I couldn’t agree more. A number of comments centred round cultural differences and the need for a “‘both and’ not ‘either or’ approach to culture” – ditto.

Technology in the city

What role does technology play in creating an enchanting liveable built environment? We will explore this question via our case study, the Central Park development, and look through the lens of industrial design and its connection with other design and planning professions.

There’s a section on 3D printing, but nothing on smart cities. Padlet activity: Identify your favourite product or object that you love and cannot live without. The product should have been designed for a specific purpose. Tell us why this product or object is indispensable for you.

More interesting, a section on the poetry of technology and “the role of technology in making cities beautiful”, which at Central Park consists of a wind driven public artwork called Halo, living walls and the heliostat. Activity: Identify a vital technology in your environment. It could be visible or hidden. Discuss what ways it enhances your life.

Largely skipped. The comments are going to be centred around Central Park being technology driven, there’s not going to be a meeting of the minds. It’s an important theme though – tech ain’t going away and we can’t wind the clock back. See the sections on re-storying nature from #FLremaking.

The weekly summary took the “technology embraces a broad sweep of topics and concerns” line, with an interesting point around technical obsolescence.  In Central Park the overall site (landscape), buildings and technological elements (Heliostat, Trigen and green walls) will all experience differing lifespans, of which the tech’s “no doubt” will be the shortest.

The human scale: the relationship between the inside and the outside

“In Week 6, Inside Out, we zoom to the human scale and talk to the concepts of the interior room vs urban room (exterior).” I was so excited about this, implying as it does that not everything has to be human scale (that’s anthropocentric talk!) that I got stuck in a week early. Inevitably it was a bit of a disappointment.

Three themes are central to interior architecture:

  • interiority – all the pieces that shape an interior and the way that interior coherently and creatively is ‘place-making’ through its setting of interior; the way we operate and live in these places; encompasses all the facets that unite to form great interior environments
  • human scale – a relationship created of people to purpose to rooms, and the appropriateness of a scale to a purpose; public space versus private space, a town hall versus a lounge room; the scale of a private place is usually more related to human scale and people at a fine-grain level, the way people engage with a space through the level of touch, and at a relationship of hand scale; public space is a scale that relates to cities or urban proportions, a much larger grain, large meeting places for many people
  • circulation – the patterns that people move along in life, and specifically how these patterns are crucial to the success of interior spaces that we conceptualise and design; also relates to scale and how people circulate vertically and horizontally in an effective and poetic way in our interior spaces

A discussion of the One Central Park apartments, interior versus urban, presents a view of the nature of scale and how the room is defined from the scale of people to the scale of a city and how these relationships of scale to ideas are utilised by interior architects as underpinning qualities of these rooms:

The corridors of One Central Park are an example of the way poetry is being used in the conceptualisation of the design. They build a drama and an enchantment to the way that people would experience those corridors as they move through them. The theatrical nature of the corridors of One Central Park have been used as a design device to really amplify the difference between the public spaces and the private spaces.

Passing over the “the approach of raw, organic luxury” and “high speed luxury design approach influenced by sports cars and yachts” in the apartments brings us to a Padlet exercise: “Thinking about your own home or an interior you like, the materials and finishes, describe the character that it represents. Does this space correspond to a raw, organic luxury like Koichi’s design, or the contemporary and sophistication of William’s approach, or something very different?” That’ll be the last then.

Moving on, a discussion of interior and urban rooms:

Each type is defined by boundaries. However, the interior room is about shelter, order and comfort, the urban room is about civic activity.

Padlet exercise: “Drawing on what you have learned, select a building with which you feel a close connection, and share the experience of moving across the inside-out threshold. Do you sense a change of scale? Do the materials and lighting influence the experience? What emotions does the circulation pattern evoke?”

Finally, how do we make hyperdense cities of the future green, liveable and poetic? Can you identify the parts of your city that are green, liveable and poetic, as you now understand these considerations in light of this course? What if you had the power and influence to change things, what would you propose to make your city more green, liveable and poetic?

Enchanted?

The course glossary (see week 1) highlighted issues of discourse. The content and hence tone of the course was different and wider than prevailing sustainability dogmas, leading to some discontent. But just what is enchantment?

The course team may have taken their enchanting inspiration from Jane Jacobs, who got a nod in week 1, but the rest of it certainly didn’t feel classic Jane. Some participants’ expectations of enchantment were not met, and many criticised the emphasis on one, rather gentrifying, site. For me the course challenged Gehlite Danish discourse in a refreshing way, although the end result did not enchant.

Enchantment is a recurring theme in UK place and nature writing as well, kicked off perhaps by Towards re-enchantment: place and its meanings (2010; The Ecologist).

In his essay in the book, A counter-desecration phrasebook, Robert Macfarlane calls for “a vast glossary of Enchantment that would comprehend the whole earth, that would allow nature to talk back to us and would help us to listen” (source), while in Landmarks (2015) he expresses his anxiety for the way that technology “has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too”. Read him on Generation Anthropocene, and see The Big Interview with Adam Scovell.

David Cooper took issue with some of this on the Poetic Places launch event, and convened an event on Digital re-enchantment (Eventbrite) on 11 June to explore whether digital technologies can, for writers and readers, facilitate a re-enchantment with the world, looking at how landscape writers have drawn upon digital technologies in their creative practices. Examples:

  • experimental use of Twitter as a literary space, viz: take a photo of where you are in the Peak District – sum it up in one word – tag with #enchantthepeak – tweet
  • creative use of digital technologies to reimagine the Peak District

See also Richly Evocative’s review of the Balham Literary Festival. And, in another approach, can ‘gamifying’ cities help improve them?

#FLremaking: eco-criticism, re-storying nature

Update: Green gentrification, ha! Why ‘green cities’ need to become a deeply lived experience: “Urban greening provides an opportunity to recast the relationship between people and environment…Rather than simply cultivating green spaces for a narrow set of anthropocentric benefits, we pose the question: who are the participants in urban greening?”

Back half of Remaking nature – see front half.

Composing new natures

Having now introduced some of the reasons why nature must be remade, this week we move on to experiment with different ways of composing new natures.

How do we translate our concerns about nature into interventions that will make a meaningful difference? How can we both discursively (in the way we write, speak and think) and materially address questions of politics and ethics, history and justice, facts and values?

Starting points:

  • what do you want to achieve – to address a specific problem, celebrate nature, acknowledge our interconnections with the wider world, or advocate for a particular outcome?
  • determine how you want your audiences or participants to respond – what do you want them to think, feel, or do?
  • what is your creative idea that will achieve your desired responses?
  • what will you actually do – will your intervention be artistic, discursive, or performative?

Four modes of intervention aka creative eco-activism:

  • challenging or disrupting ways of thinking about nature – increases mainstream awareness, but can you achieve what you want by creating a shared sense of collaboration, or open up public agendas and opportunities for action?
  • narrating possible natures – documenting and re-storying/writing nature, inc digital stories; discursive, but can be dualistic; how can we represent nature and make a voice for it?
  • creating a public sense of identification with nature – #some opens up possibilities for interventions that resonate with your audience’s concerns, values, and attachments: seek ways to create emotional connections and use everyday language that your audiences will identify with – no jargon!
  • motivating action – advocacy and activism
  • plus from comments: embedded and participatory

Challenges:

  • how to talk about environmental problems in ways that will resonate with your audiences
  • how to intensify and mobilise concerns about the more-than-human world
  • how to establish meaningful mechanisms for navigating and intervening in decision-making processes

Examples:

  • artistic representations – eg Nuclear Futures
  • eco-criticism and re-writing nature – see below
  • bio-art – artistic interventions at the nexus between plant science, art, plus earth jurisprudence (bioethics, or nature rights), reflecting on the possibility of plants and other entities having a different way of thinking, a different form of sentience and ultimately different rights, calling for a radical rethinking of humanity’s place in the world (Prue Gibson)

Next, drawing on the concepts developed in this course post a link to an inspiring example of an intervention, possibly relating to your topic. Why does it inspire you? Hmm…it just all goes back to reading Peter Singer aged 14. Any trees stuff? #labbeagles? See Walking with the more than human (and blog). I have an issue though with being anthropomorphic re animals. (From the week 5 discussions: Re anthropomorphism, aka the “*unwarranted* use of human-like characteristics in our descriptions of others. As such, the term tends to largely be used in question begging ways – as an insult that assumes that the animal doesn’t have these characteristics, when that is precisely what is at issue…[see also] anthropodenial…human chauvinism and human exceptionalism. They need not travel together”.)

And now create your own intervention based on yer week 3 issue – say something interesting, provocative, perhaps eye catching, about your issue and its possible futures, ideally in a way that might make a difference to how people understand and live with this environmental issue. Then add it to the creative interventions padlet, with details of  the theoretical context for your intervention – why do you think this is a good approach, and what have you hoped to achieve with it?

Eco-criticism and re-writing nature

Eco-criticism, a field of study that explores the inter-relationships of literature and the environment, is a tool for intervening in the way nature is understood, imagined and made – not simply as a mode of critique but also as a means of effecting change. How can, and do, literary and poetic forms help to trouble mainstream thinking about the environment?

Eco-criticism is a subfield of literary studies and cultural studies that looks at representations of the more-than-human world in poetry, film, and fiction. In the early days of the 1980s and 1990s, eco-critics didn’t have a very complicated idea of nature, but since then the real problem of naturecultures has been taken on.

Eco-critics can help in the project of reimagining nature in numerous ways. One important way is the historical perspective, looking into the history of artistic representation to show up how nature or the more-than-human world has been represented across time…there have been other ways of reading and understanding the more-than-human world in history, and that can help denaturalise the present.

There’s something quite apocalyptic about the mainstream imagining of climate change. We need to take the challenges of climate change seriously, but at the same time we can’t just imagine it in apocalyptic terms. Eco-criticism can show us how the apocalypse has had different incarnations across history. Every generation has had its own apocalypse story – our present crisis is just a part of this bigger history. But at the same time we need alternative visions for the future, and poets and artists, particularly operating in a speculative fictional sense, can help us to get out of this apocalyptic vision and think differently about the future.

Storytelling, and particularly narrative storytelling, is emerging as central to the EH project because it offers a different way of representing information. Eco-critics look at the structure of stories, the formal techniques, the history of different modes of representation and use story as a way of presenting and disseminating their research.

As Donna Haraway said in her recent article in Environmental Humanities it matters which stories tell stories. The stories we tell about the world, matter the world, and actually have an impact on the way that we behave, and the way that we live, and the way that we imagine the future. And so stories, both fictional and non-fictional are really important to this broad project. (Jennifer Mae Hamilton; from transcript)

  • narrating possible natures – documenting and re-storying/writing nature, inc digital stories; discursive, but can be dualistic; how can we represent nature and make a voice for it?
  • storytelling, particularly speculative forms that offer alternative visions of the future, is an important tool for engaging with environmental challenges, see article by Margaret Atwood, reflecting on the growing rise of speculative fiction, principally ‘cli-fi’; a way of educating young people about the dangers that face them and helping them to think through the problems and divine solutions, or just another part of the ‘entertainment business’?

Eco-criticism linkage:

Have to say, so far none of this does as much for me as I feel it ought to,  and others’ creative intervention projects don’t appeal either. Still, I wrote a bit on what now turns out to be EH in October 2014, summing up two events in Copenhagen from Energy Futures at ITU (@EnergyFutureITU; gone a bit quiet since). On Pynt eller politik?:

The debate on engagement stuck out, with participants highlighting the need for new forms of communication, perhaps reducing the dystopian angle on climate change in favour of something more positive. More idealistic was a call for more of the aesthetic, which in turn would emphasise the ethical in society and education (this works better på dansk), more solutions and positive stories, less of the victim, endless facts and figures – current discourse is too functional and economically driven. What is needed is collective action rather than passive individuals, a lifestyle and value system change away from consumption.

New narratives for new natures

This week we looked at the power of storytelling in composing new natures. We encountered the recurring idea that telling stories draws us into new connections, accountabilities and obligations. You invented your own creative stories about the future through the Game of Global Futures, which illustrated how different connections, or coalescences, lead to different environmental outcomes.

Sadly, this is where I lost the plot and reached my personal tipping point. Games don’t appeal, but thanks to a fellow students for posting some material re the dominance of storytelling, specifically  Galen Strawson in Aeon and Tyler Cowen via the medium of TEDx (really), who went from Christopher Booker’s seven basic plots to the three problems with stories (they’re simple and manipulative, they end up serving dual and conflicting functions, markets and politicians don’t always send us the right stories) – embrace mess!

We were also introduced to the concepts of re-making and re-worlding, “used within EH and a range of other fields which acknowledges that our understandings of the world are made and re-made through encounters between different imaginaries…art interventions and other forms of research — as forms of worlding — can envision new worlds that demonstrate greater ethics of care and concern, and can potentially open up more responsible imaginaries and ways of knowing”.

Moving on, there are four different modes or lenses for telling stories within EH:

  • justice – the social justice expression of environmental ethics; breaks down the division between the social and the environmental and acknowledges the role of social and political power in shaping environmental outcomes
  • care – affective, ethical and practical (a vital affective state, and an ethical obligation, and a practical labour), but care not without risk; what kinds of emotional, political, and epistemic frames orient our caring acts? what am I really caring for, why, and at what cost to whom? (come in, CPH Zoo)
  • art – what are the implications for knowledge and public engagement in environmental issues, when an artistic mode is adopted?
  • democratising knowledge – questioning existing public engagement approaches that concentrate on public acceptance of pre-determined, technology-driven responses to environmental problems and engaging with complex issues around who has access to framing environmental problems and driving change; what counts as facts and what counts as values? We’ve tended to value facts, which we assume are objective, over values, which we assume are sort of subjective or sort of irrational (comment from co-student: “the general public has ‘values’ right enough but these are often of the NIMBY variety or based on sentimentality…there is a whole industry grown up around public participation which keeps everyone in a fine state of ferment”)

Each of these storytelling modes offers a different framework for understanding and working through the stories humans tell — and hence the relationships we establish, with their world-making consequences. Together, these modes can help us to tell new stories that exhibit greater responsibility towards humans and the more-than-human world.

Where do these new natures take us?

Final week, a conclusion? Discussing the importance of care and responsibility in future-making, introducing the notion of ‘staying with the trouble’, and why it’s important to base our accounts in situated experiences of the world.

Forget utopias – the lure of hope as a form of denial or distraction can be very strong. Engage in practical and concrete modes of care and responsibility for possible worlds – what’s needed is a critical lens on, and more attention towards, what it is that we’re specifically hoping and working towards.

Forget apocalypse – use optimistic stories that provoke a sense of agency, rather than focusing on apocalyptic visions of the future. If the communication does not resonate with social norms, values or attachments that influence audiences’ sense-making processes, it cannot succeed.

We now leave you with a final provocation: What is your next step? How will you use the knowledge and connections that you gained in this course to influence change in a situation that you care about?

Overall, too many new concepts, too much jargon, too many earnest academics talking to each other – a rather more high minded MOOC than many.

EH linkage:

From the Walking Encylopedia (2014), walking as a way of expressing environmental concerns and tracking climate change – see for example Jess Allen’s All in a day’s walk and Tilting at windmills. Jess is exploring the concept of tracktivism, “utilising walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern”. (Update: on Talking Walking. Aug 2o14; see also on Academia.edu.) Also Peter Ward’s Pebble Ridge and BIOsphere. Steph Bradley is involved in with the Transition Network – see her blog – and uses storywalks to tell Tales of our times.

Notetaking, life writing – and Virginia Woolf

Update, Nov 2016: having just discovered biographer extraordinaire Richard Holmes, suddenly material is everywhere: Stanley Spencer, Flaubert…and here’s a piece on the commonplace book.

#corpusmooc and #flfiction14 gave different perspectives on writing and notebooks. Key points from the latter:

  • there are no rules
  • looking through your notebook may give you ideas, reawaken your creativity (or act as procrastination?)
  • it’s a personal running commentary, a map, a collection

My blogging is my notetaking for something or other, but are notebooks something we should be collecting and (digitally) curating, or are they only of interest to ‘scholars’? Is archiving, dissecting them a form of over-analysis? (Like archiving Twitter.)

Writers and their notebooks featured on R3’s Free Thinking back in May 2014, along with a gallery and commissioned piece A junkyard of the mind by Lawrence Norfolk (more by him on writing):

a notebook is an act of triage on the world outside…accumulates its value slowly, line by line and page by page…work passes through it on the way to becoming something else

Guest Bidisha wondered whether “less [sic] notebooks might have meant more novels” – she described her notebooks as low grade matter, the result of a psychological impetus and the precursor to a published (read: completed) work  rather than writing with a narrative form. But different from a diary, which is way too personal. Sometimes the notes can be as/more interesting than the finished article, or are they just everyday detritus?

BL bod Rachel Foss saw blogs as the new notebooks, but are digital notebooks just too easy – putting pen to paper is a much more conscious act. It’s like smartphone photography – since I got my iphone I’ve been snapping away with the rest of them. This is one thing which makes digital different, but is it affecting the way we think?

The British Library’s Discovering Literature site has put “huge swathes of writers’ and poets’ personal archives” from the Romantics and the Victorians online, but it’s not that easy to find a notebook per se.  They are also archiving writers’ website, to Bidisha’s chagrin.

From notetaking to life writing (vs place writing)…

The BBC has just run the light but lovely Life in squares (James Norton!) and I just finished Alexandra Harris’ Virginia Woolf (review). I left the ribbon bookmark by this quote (pp109,111), unfashionably in praise of the car:

She wanted to translate her money into life-enhancing thingsTo the lighthouse bought a car. Like the excellent lunch in A room of one’s own, the car encourages the expansiveness of mind that might result in good writing. We can feel the effects of the Woolfs’ Singer car (called The Lighthouse) in the pages of Orlando. Scenes flash by, the world opens up…the car made Virginia feel freer than ever before.”

Not much of a Bloomsbury-ite up to now, I have A room of one’s own and Flush; next stop may have to be essays, eg Street haunting (aka the pencil story; BL), Portrait of a LondonerXmas shopping on Oxford Street

Diving into the industry we have:

Back to life writing:

Literary heritage may traditionally speak of the preservation of authors’ manuscripts, belongings and houses, but it also must include interpretation, understanding and the relationship of the artefacts to the individual, the community and the culture as a whole. (source)

Three related conferences have just taken place:

Links: