Taking our methods for a walk

Taking a lead from social anthropology and geography, it is clear that movement and mobility are key elements of the everyday places and practices of digital education. As such, we need to engage in “the study of people and things in movement” (Pink 2012, p.32). This is a research project that cannot be static or sedentary – in fact this is research work that demands to be conducted ‘on the move’. The aim here is not to merely describe and/or reflect movements and mobilities, but to engage in research activities that “embody movement and bring it to life” (Back 2012, p.29). In enacting moving, embodied forms of empirical inquiry each day spent in the field can be seen as “a kind of social ballet” (Back 2012, p.29).

 

One important form of ‘mobile methodology’ is walking. In fact, there has been a distinct ‘ambulatory turn’ of late within fields such as anthropology, sociology and urban studies. Much of this interest draws inspiration from de Certeau’s writing on the ‘walker at street level’, therefore framing the act of walking as a key tactic through which to disrupt and problematize the ‘legible’ functional order assigned to any environment by planners and other authorities. The idea of walking as an act of critical surveying and sense making also resonates with the popular resurgence of psycho-geography and the associated practice of urban wandering. There is renewed interest in the notion of the flâneur (the uninvolved but highly observant gentleman stroller of the streets) and also the more urgent, haphazard and emotionally charged practice of the dérive. Against this background, it makes good sense that educational researchers also entertain the possibility of “tak[ing] our research tools and devices for a walk” (Back & Puwar 2012, p.10).

 

This is a project that will strive to ‘walk’ its empirical inquiries whenever and wherever possible. One means of doing this is to ask people to purposively walk us around their schools – therefore representing their digital education environments to us and collaboratively exploring how digital education is experienced in movements. Sarah Pink’s research has made good use of such ‘place-making walking tours’. In particular Pink has developed a form of ‘collaborative video touring’ where participants lead camera-wielding researchers around their home, school or other intimate environments. Similarly, Rachel Hurdley’s (2010) ethnographic study of ‘corridor cultures’ drew upon lengthy strolls with participants through the corridors of their workplaces, chatting, making notes, stopping at points of interest and interacting with people along the way. As Hurdley reflects, “as a person walks through the corridors, she also mobilizes a series of possibilities, contingent upon who or what she might encounter” (Hurdley & Dicks 2011, p.278).

 

These are all research activities that fit well with the concerns of our own project. Moreover, we can also make use of methods to chart the journeys of objects – following how things as well as people move around, through and beyond the school environment. One spectacular example of this was an MIT ‘trash track’ study which tagged various pieces of garbage and outdated office equipment with GPS sensors, then tracking each object through various local, regional and national waste disposal streams. On a more modest scale within our three study schools we might, for instance, trace the routes through which digital devices and artifacts arrive in the school – and are then subsequently carried, wheeled or smuggled around. The inclusion of tracking devices in school laptops and tablets means that is it perfectly possible to follow the flows of digital devices and artifacts around a school … the main uncertainty is where such inquiries might take us.

 

 

References

 

Back, L. (2012).   Live sociology: social research and its futures. in Back, L. and Purwar, N. (eds)  Live methods. London, Wiley-Blackwell

Back, L. and Puwar, N.   (2012).   A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities. in Back, L. and Purwar, N. (eds)  Live methods.  London, Wiley-Blackwell

Hurdley R (2010) The power of corridors: connecting doors, mobilising materials, plotting open­ness. The Sociological Review 58: 45–64

Hurdley, R. and Dicks, B. (2011). In-between practice: working in the ‘thirdspace’ of sensory and multimodal methodology. Qualitative Research 11(3):277-292

Pink, S. (2012).  Situating everyday life. London, Sage