Monday, February 4, 2008

Using the Geographer's Tools to Address Local Issues

This site was set up to engage the greater Athens - Ohio University community to examine some local social issues geographically in order to better understand their nuances and help contribute to the production of knowledge - local and not-so-local.

The main issue that has been followed is the 'free speech zone' debate at OU. There are some postings below. I have been personally interested in how the zoning of speech affects traditional public forum. In this case the College Green.

Other posts explore the role of psychogeography, namely the derive (French Situationists), in deconstructing our previous perceptions of the city of Athens. By taking purposeful walks throughout the city we saw things we never experienced in the normal paths of everyday (to/from work, to/from class). By creating mathematical algorithms (i.e. first left, second right) we went out on walks and documented some of what we saw. There are many ways to do this. We also walked and traversed the path of least resistance. At any given time along the way if we felt like we should turn, especially because we felt resistant to going down a certain block, then that is what we did. I think we did it the other way, too - following the path of most resistance.

The name 'Athens Geographic Expedition' comes from the pioneering work of Bill Bunge in the cities of Detroit and Toronto with his Detroit and Toronto Geographical Expeditions. He helped to redefine how geographers could engage their work with local communitites.


switchgrass said...

Well done. A "purposeful walk" through the city seems to me analogous to a biological expedition through the woods. In both cases observations are made and recorded based on what's located near one's path. That information can then be analyzed to assess the makeup of the study area. One can use this info to assess the health (to be defined as how, though?) of both environments. Very interesting field of study indeed. Psycogeography. I'll be sure to read through the rest of your blog.

One question (maybe it's been answered already): What kind of kicks do you suggest to keep the feet good?

"At any given time along the way if we felt like we should turn, especially because we felt resistant to going down a certain block, then that is what we did."

Wow, this blows my idea of the observational walk into a whole different genre! Whereas simply collecting data is deemed purely scientific (objective, that is), this turning because of some kind of thought or feeling leads this investigation over to the psychological (subjective). So are these walks then not just about the city at large? Do they also include an analysis of the walker's response to encounters on the path? Scenarios I imagine where resistance is strong include the dark alley, a broken sidewalk, an industrial district, pure concrete vs. greenery. I'm curious what created "resistance" along your paths in Athens: certain groups of "longhairs", dead ends, stray dogs, northeasterly winds perhaps?

Thanks for the posts. BTW- nice shout out to Detroit. They'll be proud of your contributions!

Kevin said...

Thanks for the comment Switchgrass.

I am remembering a quote from F.J. Monkhouse (1955) that might answer part of your questions...

"Field-work is essentially personal observation and recording; it brings reality to geographical study; it helps the geographer to acquire his all-important understanding “eye for country”; and thus it enriches his descriptive and explanatory powers. I would say that an essential part of the training of a young geographer is for him to choose some small accessible unit area that attracts him; acquire a pair of stout boots, perhaps the geographer's first item of equipment; study in the area itself the association of physical and human conditions which there prevail, and in fact give the area its individuality; and record the information which he collects in a series of original maps" (As quoted in DOING FIELDWORK: EDITORS' INTRODUCTION. By: DELYSER, DYDIA, STARRS, PAUL F., Geographical Review, 00167428, Jan-Apr2001, Vol. 91, Issue 1/2)

So, perhaps a 'pair of stout boots' answers your question.