Podcast Episode 5: Queer Walking Tours

WalkingLab’s podcast series on walking research-creation aims to distill WalkingLab publications and content into audio form. In this podcast, you will learn about a method WalkingLab calls Queer Walking Tours. Queer Walking Tours offer a form of place-based research.


Welcome to WalkingLab’s podcast series on walking research-creation. This series aims to distil WalkingLab publications and content into audio form. In this podcast, you will learn about a method WalkingLab calls Queer Walking Tours. Queer Walking Tours offer a form of place-based research that attends more responsibly and ethically to issues of place. This podcast is in conversation with the next podcast in this series, which explores theories of place in more detail. WalkingLab is co-directed by Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman. You can find more information at walkinglab.org. While not necessary the podcasts are designed to be listened to while going for a walk.

I’m Rebecca Conroy, artist and researcher and I will be your host today. 

WalkingLab organizes international walking events, conducts research with diverse publics including youth in schools, and collaborates with artists and scholars to realize site-specific walking research-creation events. WalkingLab acknowledges the traditional and unceded territories on which our work takes place. WalkingLab is accountable to  Dylan Robinson’s insistence that land acknowledgements often operate from a politics of recognition and perpetuate settler colonial logics rather than disrupt them. As will be introduced through the podcast series WalkingLab asks walkers to consider where they are coming from in relation to Indigenous peoples and territories where they live and work, and to consider why a land acknowledgement is important to them.

Walking tours as a research method, a tourist event, and an everyday practice, are a commonplace method of getting to know a place, including its hidden histories, obscure stories, and state-sanctioned narratives. They typically take place on foot and are usually led by a guide with expert knowledge of a place. 

What most walking tours have in common is the idea of place, and that through a walking tour, participants can uncover something new about a given place’s historical, political, social, or cultural context. However, traditional walking tours tend to reinforce dominant versions of history, power relations, and normative or fixed understandings of place. This place-based knowledge can serve various forms of power and maintain the status quo, including the ongoing violence of settler colonization and the erasure of racialized, gendered, and disabled bodies. 

Place appears across many disciplines and fields. Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie contend that, in the social sciences, place is often under-theorized or treated as a surface upon which research happens and as such is marked as distinct or separate from humans and non-humans. They also contend that Indigenous understandings of Land are typically absent from Euro-Western understandings of place. 

WalkingLab developed a method called ‘Queer Walking Tours’ to advocate for a critical consideration of place. This criticality not only recognizes place as socially, culturally, politically, geosocially, and relationally constructed but also considers and maps-against place-based processes of settler colonization. Theories of place will be explored in more detail in podcast # 6 in this series. For the remainder of this podcast, the focus will be on how the Queer Walking Tour is organized and why. In the final section, Stone Walks Lancaster: Migration, Militarisms, and Speculative Geology, a queer walking tour will be described in detail. This queer walking tour was curated by WalkingLab for the Capacious conference in Lancaster Pennsylvania, in August 2018.

Queer walking tours are one example of walking research-creation. Research-creation combines creative and scholarly research practices, and supports knowledge and innovation through artistic and scholarly investigation. More details on walking research-creation are provided in the introductory podcast. Queer Walking Tours activate the notion of queerness in various senses. In one sense, WalkingLab activates queerness to attend to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, 2 Spirit, Intersex, Asexual and other queer gender and sexual identities. WalkingLab is cautious of the ways in which some queer identities now bolster normativity and White supremacy. WalkingLab also activates queerness to defamiliarize established assumptions: for instance, to defamiliarize the assumption that walking is a convivial practice and that all bodies move through space equally, which was discussed in the introductory podcast.

To begin to develop each Queer Walking Tour, WalkingLab treats the physical place where the walk will occur as a proposition to drive their thinking. In this way, they try to shift place from being a surface where the walk will occur into becoming a concept. This allows the walking tour to approach the place for the tour obliquely offering many different angles.

For example, in Stone Walks Lancaster, the physical place of Lancaster where the walk took place also became a concept for queering that place. Turning Lancaster into a concept, WalkingLab settled on three militarisms associated with the name and place of Lancaster: first, the Lancaster Bomber, which was a British World War 2 heavy bomber; second, the Lancaster Treaty of 1744, which took place between the colonial governments of the Virginia and Maryland Colonies and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and was signed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where the Queer Walking Tour took place; and third, the Sims’ Speculum, which was invented by Marion Sims, of Lancaster South Carolina; although Sims made numerous advances in medical technology that were significant for women’s health, they came at a violent cost: Sims used enslaved women to test his surgeries and operated on these women without anaesthesia for hours. 

WalkingLab introduced these militarisms to participants in the first of several pop-up lectures that took place along the walk. These militarisms pried open the place-concept Lancaster for participants, asking them to think through a queer-feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial framework as they walked.

Once the concept is established, to organize the actual walk, WalkingLab invites scholars, educators and/or artists to create their own interventions: either, artistic interventions or pop-up lectures related to the concept that will be presented on the walking tour. In this example, the concept was militarism associated with the name and place of Lancaster. 

The invitation asks presenters to think about the concept in relation to their own research and/or art practice, and to problematize the concept in relation to the place where the walk takes place. Presenters know that they will be presenting a 15–20-minute talk or doing an artistic performance/intervention during the walk, but WalkingLab does not assign specific places on a map at this stage. Presenters are asked to provide a title or theme for their talk but they are not required to submit scripted papers or abstracts as one would for a formal conference. In other words, while there is a method to the practice of Queer Walking Tours, what might happen on the walk remains open to the speculation, to chance, and to the dynamics of both the participants who come on the walk and the environment. However, this is not to say that the pop-up lectures or artistic contributions are random or careless. 

WalkingLab also plans the walk’s route in advance: first, using Google Maps and then walking the route to get to know it through their own bodies and gait. They also consider how different (racialized, gendered, disabled) bodies might move through the route. There is a thoroughness and exhaustiveness to the curatorial practice. Presenters are assigned a site along the route for their pop-up lecture or intervention, but not because they will be imparting specific information about a particular place, but because their talk or performance cuts obliquely across place, provoking new critical insights and considerations. In the next section of the podcast the queer walking tour Stone Walks Lancaster: Migration, Militarisms, and Speculative Geology will be described in detail. 

On the Stone Walks Lancaster tour, Chad Shomura gave a talk titled Settler Affect in Native Lands while standing on a street corner that, while currently populated by row houses and a convenience store, was the site of the Lancaster jail from 1753 to 1851 and the Conestoga massacre in 1763. There is a small plaque on the corner that refers to the massacre. However, Shomura’s talk did not reinforce this colonial narrative but worked frictionally, obliquely, or queerly against the dominant discourses available at that particular site. Drawing on Vanessa Watt’s Place-Thought, Shomura asked participants to think about recognition and what it entails historically and in the present. He spoke of enduring worlds (plant, animal, land, and people) and re-centered Indigenous cosmologies to that crowded, small patch of concrete sidewalk.

Other pop-up lectures included Sarah Cefai’s narrative-poetic piece called Market Exchange in Experience Capitalism on the steps of the Lancaster Central Market, one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the United States. Cefai took up the concept of the market queerly, discussing the predatory nature and militarisms of online dating, toxic White masculinity, humiliation, and misogyny. 

Michelle Wright’s lecture Discipline & Punish and Entanglement focused on an epiphenomenal understanding of time, where the past is constructed in the present. Standing where the former train depot, an important stop on the Underground Railroad, was located, her talk narrated past and present abolitionist movements. 

Dana Luciano’s lecture on speculative geology and sinkholes invited walkers to pay better attention to the material world, to the relationship between interhuman violence and genocide, to the Anthropocene, and to the ways that geology is imbricated with settler colonialism. 

Greg Seigworth, a Lancaster resident and host of the Capacious conference, provided what was called ‘Lancaster Shimmers’ – affective notes on the city’s changing residents and places. The walk ended with an invitation to participants to walk in silence for an extended period of time, in this case, through the Lancaster Cemetery, in the dark. 

Each Queer Walking Tour also includes an artistic intervention that invites walking participants to respond to place affectively and bodily. For the Lancaster walk, WalkingLab handdrew and then screen-printed each Lancaster militarism onto cardstock 5×7 inches in size. Each card had a piece of red embroidery floss and a needle attached. Participants were invited to hand-stitch onto the cards during the walk and as they listened to the different pop-up lectures. Participants could follow the image’s contours, create text, draw on feminist cross-stitching, or mark their responses by deconstructing the image itself.


In chapter 8 of the book, Walking methodologies in a more-than-human world, Springgay and Truman discuss the affective and ethical-political contours of walking. This chapter is available as a free download from the WalkingLab website: WalkingLab.org. In the chapter, they argue that contours germinate, assemble, and shape things. As a practice of thinking-in movement, Queer Walking Tours contour queerly, introducing irregularity, curves and friction. A part of contouring as a walking research-creation practice has been to hold in tension the history and inheritances of walking and walking methods. Who walks, how they walk, and where they walk require constant queering. Using location as a proposition and applying a queer-feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial ethics, the walking tours make different aspects of a place felt in unexpected ways. Walking makes a place palpable as different configurations of bodies, materials, environments, and texts come into being. Queer Walking Tours offer a way of conducting place-based research that is rigorous, examines place as a cultural, and political manifestation, and disrupts settler-colonial understandings of a place.

Thank you for listening to WalkingLab’s podcast series on Walking Research-Creation. Remember to go to walkinglab.org to find more of their publications, including a free download of chapter 8 of our monograph. WalkingLab encourages you to share the podcast or tell a friend about the series. Subscribe to the RRS feed so you can be notified whenever a new podcast drops!

WalkingLab is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.