Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit about how geographers ‘do research’. Even though there is regular discussion towards how research could be undertaken in exciting new ways, qualitative research tends to see the ‘semi-structured’ sit-down interview as the ‘normal’ way of doing things.
With my previous research project I used unstructured walking interviews around Kidderminster with artists talking about urban design. This in situ method allowed the built environment to act as a prompt for discussion. Moreover, I gave participants an instant camera to frame their ideas whilst making it fun. Who doesn’t like taking a Polaroid? Like much geographic research, it involved the verbal and the visual. It was looking at symbols and representation in the urban landscape and asking about them. These roaming-photographic-art-based conversations suited my research aims, including exhibiting the words and images together.
However, reading different literatures on the embodied, sensuous and haptic, I’ve been grappling with how I might consider the more-than-visual ways of experiencing and performing in the world. I’ve become interested in the recent discussions on non-representational theory. There has been a scattering of geographers and social scientists that have been developing ideas surrounding the non-representational, perhaps most notably Nigel Thrift (cf. 2007; for a collection of his publications on NRT). Such approaches are concerned with the performing of everyday practices which shape our interactions with ourselves, other humans and nonhumans. It goes a lot deeper than this, but I didn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty aspects here. Reading from this, I can see how this loose collection of ideas could help me deal with the embodied way in which we experience buildings as well as help tackle issues surrounding ‘affect’ (…insert a huge list of recent references regarding affect in geography and the social sciences).
I like Latham’s (2003) ‘montage’ of research methods in order to tackle the seemingly infinite ways in which we experience, perform, play in, subvert etc… the world around us. The big question for me at the moment, is how can I get beyond solely the visual and the verbal in my reseach methodologies in an ‘authentic’ way? How do I develop a multi-sensory approach to research?