Podcast Episode 1: Introduction to Critical Walking Methodologies

WalkingLab’s podcast series on walking research-creation aims to distill WalkingLab publications and content into audio form. This is the first podcast in the series. In this podcast you will learn about critical walking methodologies and walking research-creation. If you are an artist or new walking researcher, this podcast will introduce you to the field of walking studies and WalkingLab.


Welcome to WalkingLab’s podcast series on walking research-creation that aims to distill WalkingLab publications and content into audio form. This is the first podcast in the series. In this podcast you will learn about critical walking methodologies and walking research-creation. If you are an artist or new walking researcher, this podcast will introduce you to the field of walking studies and WalkingLab. WalkingLab is co-directed by Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman. You can find print publications related to these podcasts including colourful graphic representations of these podcasts 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’ll 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.

This introductory podcast will discuss the need for critical walking methodologies that trouble the often overused figure of the flaneur, and provide an overview of walking research-creation. You can find examples of this critical walking practice in subsequent podcasts.

Walking has a long and diverse history in the social sciences and humanities. Recently, there is a sense of urgency and affirmation surrounding walking which is entangled with the desire to generate research and knowledge in situ, that is community-based, and that is attuned to more-than-human entanglements and encounters. In an era of complex social and political issues—such as climate change, capitalism, and forced migration, to name a few—there is an increasing demand for public and community action. Further, academics continue to grapple with ways to present research findings to non-academic audiences, while marginalized and oppressed people take up ways to transform and decolonize social and political space and institutions. To this end, walking has become more than a utilitarian or pedestrian mode of getting from place to place; walking is an ethical and political call to collective action.

Significantly, amidst the urgency and renewed interest in walking, is a shift in the ethical and political (in)tensions that are brought to bear on questions of who gets to walk where, how we walk, under whose terms, and what kind of publics are produced. Against the backdrop of health and well-being that promotes walking as a free and accessible way to exercise, critical walking scholarship accounts for the ways that walking is imbricated in legacies of settler-colonial harm, white supremacy, and functions to police and regulate diverse bodies.  

To that extent, the flâneur is a problematic walking trope in that he is conditioned by autonomy, ability, Whiteness and masculinity, and as such he is able to walk anywhere, detached from the immediate surroundings. The flâneur emerged as a distinctive figure in nineteenth-century Paris. He was portrayed as a disinterested, leisurely observer of the urban scene, taking pleasure in losing himself in the crowd and becoming a spectator. As an elite figure, the flâneur was able to wander the city, with no purpose or destination in mind. The flâneur enjoys a tremendous amount of spare time, is free to move in urban space, and possesses the detachment of a scientist, although he often writes or is written about poetically. The flâneur remains anonymous and detached from the city and thus is supposedly able to observe the world around him. Walter Benjamin wrote on, and popularized the anaesthesia of the flâneur. In the decades since, many qualitative researchers, particularly those interested in urban ethnographies, use the flâneur to inform their practices. 

Instead of the flâneur WalkingLab posits different conceptualizations of walking that think critically about what it means to move. For example, disability scholar and activist Eliza Chandler narrates how when walking in the city her body is figured as being in-place and different at the same time. Chandler’s critical disability research emphasizes the problematic images and representations, including those offered via walking, that need to be disrupted. Instead of the strolling flâneur, Chandler’s walking narratives of dragging legs, and tripping toes enacts a different narrative of moving in the city. In another example, Garnett Cadogan details his experience of walking in New York City and the list of tactics that as a Black man he has to employ such as no running, no sudden movements, no objects in hand, no hoodies, and no loitering on street corners. Quite unlike the invisible and detached flâneur, Cadogan’s tactics emphasize the material realities of ‘walking while black.’ 

Feminist walking artists and scholars Deirdre Heddon and Cathy Turner argue that the history of walking engenders a ‘fraternity’ and valorizes individualistic, heroic, and transgressive metaphors. Taking up Heddon and Turner’s convictions, WalkingLab is attuned to critical walking methodologies that don’t assume walking is a convivial, automatically embodied, inclusive and depoliticized mode of doing research and pedagogy. Theoretically aligned with feminist theories, anti-racist theories, queer and trans theories, critical disability studies, affect studies, and anti-colonialism, WalkingLab insists that walking methods must engage with the intersections of gender, race, sexuality and disability. Critical walking methodologies attend to walking beyond health or as an innovative method, and in particular take up walking with an attention to anti-ableism, anti-racism, and anti-colonialism. Critical walking methodologies insist that the intersections of identity, the place where research takes place, and how one moves through space be critically complicated and accounted for. 

For example, WalkingLab collaborated with Carmen Papalia to re-create the project White Cane Amplified. Here Papalia replaces the white cane with a megaphone, which the artist, who himself is a ‘non-visual learner,’ uses to instruct other pedestrians and vehicles about his presence and to request help from participants in crossing streets and navigating urban spaces. Papalia, in contrast to heteronormative notions of a self-reliant male strolling through the city, requires participation from others in order to navigate safely. Although dressed in dapper clothing reminiscent of the historical figure of the flâneur, Papalia queers the notion of a flâneur who is described as an incognito spectator who strides effortlessly through crowds in detached anonymity.

Papalia instead continually speaks through his megaphone, “Is anyone there? Can someone help me cross the street? Is it safe to cross? I can’t see.” Papalia requests assistance from strangers, yet the megaphone rather than serving as a device that provides assistance, amplifies his anxiety and vulnerability. 

WalkingLab approaches critical walking methodologies as a practice of ‘walking-with.’ Walking-with is informed by Indigenous scholars Juanita Sundberg, Bonnie Freeman and Jon Johnson, who articulate with as a ‘more-than’ orientation. With is a preposition. It is used to indicate associations and connections between entities. However, walking-with is more than merely additive. It is not simply a + sign, rather with is the ethico-political (in)tensions brought to bear on walking, the place where one walks, and the concepts, bodies, and archives that are co-composed by walking. What this means is that with does not simply indicate that a walker is walking-with a dog, with a sunset, or with another walker. Rather, with is a milieu; an active set of relations that are composed of dimensions and vibrations that materialize a moment of space-time. Withness emphasizes complicated relations and entanglements with humans, non-humans, Land, and an ethics of situatedness, solidarity and resistance. Walking-with is a deliberate strategy of unlearning, unsettling and queering how walking methods are framed and used in the social sciences and the arts. After the break we’ll discuss walking research-creation.

WalkingLab’s critical walking methodologies materialize through research-creation practices. Research-creation combines creative and scholarly research practices, and supports knowledge and innovation through artistic and scholarly investigation. Research-creation can be described as the complex intersection of art, theory, and research. Research-creation asks important questions about how we come to do what we do in the university at this moment in time? How can we create transdisciplinary practices that disorient and disrupt disciplinary, methodological, and ideological boundaries in the university or more broadly in many different institutions?

Research-creation is a geographically specific term that has emerged in Canada as a signifier for artistic-research, where emphasis is placed on the co-imbrication of creative practices and academic research. Notably, it is the term used by our major funding body, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and therefore must also be recognized as constructed within increasingly neoliberal institutional models of knowledge mobilization. 

While research-creation might very well be driven by an institutional desire for legibility and value, if informed by feminist, queer, and anti-racist practices, it has according to Natalie Loveless the potential to interrupt the university as we know it. Loveless claims that research-creation has enabled artist-researchers the opportunity to re-story their interdisciplinary practices within institutions, and challenge questions about the legibility of art as research. 

Research-creation is composed by concepts rather than discrete definitions or procedures. Rather than thinking about existing data to be mined and extracted from a research site, the generativity of thinking-making-doing of research-creation germinates and seeds. Research-creation is not a thing but an event that emerges from the middle. To practice research-creation requires being inside a research event. This means that quite often an artist-researcher does not have all their directions or procedures determined prior to beginning an inquiry.

Walking research-creation insists that walking scholarship open up transmaterial relations between human and nonhuman entities, become accountable to Indigenous knowledges and sovereignty to Land, consider the geosocial formations of the more-than-human, prioritize affective subjectivities, and emphasize movement as a way of knowing. Walking research-creation is accountable to an ethics and politics of critical walking methodologies. 

Thank you for listening to WalkingLab’s podcast series on Walking Research-Creation. You can find print publications and references on their website: walkinglab.org. You can subscribe to the podcast series using our RSS feed. 

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