Published as part of a series on research methods in the social sciences, Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab still has something to offer for those of us who walk as an artistic practice. However, it’s not an easy read, particularly if, like me, you’ve never read A Thousand Plateaux, know little about assemblage theory or affect theory or other theories that come out of the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Those ideas were circulating at the recent Walking’s New Movements conference at the University of Plymouth, and I intend to give myself a crash course on them once my comprehensive examinations are over. Still, my sense is that Springgay and Truman expect their readers to have a certain philosophical or theoretical background, and they aren’t interested in slowing down for those of us who haven’t read what they’ve read. My strategy throughout my reading of this text has been to find the articles they refer to, which I’ll read (eventually) as part of an attempt to understand what Springgay and Truman are arguing. But it’s possible that even all of that additional reading won’t be sufficient. I’m just not part of their intended audience. So this has been a frustrating read.
Given the text’s difficulty, I began with the foreword, by Patricia Ticineto Clough, a sociologist, and Bibi Calderaro, an artist, which starts by suggesting that Springgay and Truman “have a curiosity typical of walkers on a walk. But they do not rest where others might. Where others stop, curiosity moves them on; at every turn they refuse taken-for-granted understandings of land, people, movement and memory” (xii). Springgay and Truman also interrogate the “privileges of race, class, gender, sexuality, region and ableism” as they “turn their attention, and ours, to what is often beneath what has become normalized” (xii). “Definitions, frameworks, and the use of categories become objects of critical reflection as their walking becomes a performative writing of fresh conceptualization,” Clough and Calderaro continue (xii). “On their walks, and in their mode of ‘walking-with,’ Springgay and Truman seek the collaboration of Indigenous, queer, trans, women, people of color and differently abled walkers,” they write, and in this book the authors “share these collaborations of walking/writing/conceptualizing and draw on embodiment, place, sensory inquiry, and rhythm, four major concepts that shape what has already been dubbed ‘the new walking studies,’” offering “a timely and important contribution through the expanded concepts of Land and geos, affect, transmateriality, and movement” (xii). Their reflections on method “provide strategies for turning process of collecting data to experimentation that will greatly enrich qualitative research including walking methodologies” (xii).
According to Clough and Calderaro, “Springgay and Truman offer a critical account of the way the new materialisms, posthumanisms and speculative realisms can inform methods of walking,” approaches that have already “instigated a lively debate in the social sciences about knowledge production, about the subject and object of knowledge” (xii). Springgay and Truman “follow the current ontological turn deconstructing human privilege, not only inviting a reconsideration of the relationship of subject and object, but the organic and the nonorganic as well” (xii). In their idea of walking-with, “foot touches matter but matter touches foot as breeze touches skin; the world displays sensibilities other than our own, prior to consciousness, even to bodily-based perception. There is a sense, if not recognition, of the vibrancy of matter, of a worldly sensibility, of the force of the world’s casual efficacy” (xii-xiii). I am hearing in this echoes of Phil Smith’s discussion of object-oriented ontology in his book on site-specific theatre and performance, and these ideas are worth further exploration. In fact, this aspect of “walking-with” is probably more central to the model of walking Springgay and Truman advance in this book.
For Springgay and Truman, the more-than-human “points to the ethical and political relevancy of walking-with to feel/think or surface the intensities of the entanglements of knower and world,” Clough and Calderaro continue. “Becoming accountable to the more-than-human also involves taking account of the erasures of other knowledges and methods, erasures which, in part, have enabled thinking about the more-than-human as only a recent turn in thought” (xiii). “Walking-with becomes a movement of thought not only with others, but a process of engaging with erased or disavowed histories,” they write. “It is also a moving re-engagement with the ways that the earth and the elements have been understood, protected, feared and treasured” (xiii). The notion of walking-with should be understood as way of thinking “about experience differently, to experience differently, and to experience difference in experiencing” (xiii). The ontological shift encouraged by the idea of walking-with “requires a recognition of an alterity within the self, an indeterminacy prior to consciousness and even bodily based perception—that is, the nonexperienced or inhuman condition of all experience” (xiii). Recognizing the inhuman within the self is “an opening to all that has been defined as other than human, nonhuman, or inhuman. Walking-with invites a sense of multiplicities in a queering of being and time, a nonexperienced time at all scales of being that affords infinite variation and multiplicities of space” (xiii). For Clough and Calderaro, “[t]he falling of the foot, and the catching-up of the body moving along with the world, allows for the rhythmicity of a multitude of indeterminate beings diffracted through different spacetimes. But because every moment conceals the bifurcation by which anything can take a conflictive turn, utmost care must be taken to move in an affirmative register” (xiii). I’m not quite sure what those last sentences mean, except that all of this is making tremendously large claims about walking.
Walking-with, Clough and Calderaro continue, “is an important methodology for thinking ethically and politically,” although it “is best practiced with a method that betrays any strict adherence to method” (xiii). This book, they write asks questions about what knowledge is, how it emerges and how, how it becomes “settled, sedimented into racial, gendered, classed particulars, the stuff regularly called the social, the political, the economic” (xiv). It’s a book about walking and thinking together, and is best approached that way. Unfortunately, I first read it on a plane, crammed into a tiny seat in economy class, but I hope I was able to get something from it nonetheless. Maybe I didn’t. In any case, Clough and Calderaro are making big claims about this book, and part of the goal of this summary is to determine whether those claims hold up under scrutiny. I can say that the notion of walking-with is gaining traction; several of the papers at the recent Walking’s New Movements conference at the University of Plymouth referred to this idea, and I am interested in learning more about it.
In their introduction, Springgay and Truman discuss how the book came out of a “walk-with Micalong Creek” in New South Wales, Australia. Drawing on the work of Isabelle Stengers, during that walk they wondered about what it might mean to think “‘in the presence of others” (1). “For Stengers, to think ‘in the presence of others’ creates a space for hesitation and resistance that produces new modes of relating,” they write (1). It is a form of thinking that is collective, unpredictable, and open to possibility (1). Its “presentness must include a ‘geo-centred dimension,’ which requires we consider different scales than those that are human-centred” (1). It is a kind of slow thinking in which “in the event of relation, ethics and politics become situated, indeterminate, and artful,” as well as (citing Donna Haraway) accountable (1). The research project that came out of this and other “walk-withs” is WalkingLab, and this book reflects on the collaborations that WalkingLab has generated.
The introductory chapter, Springgay and Truman write, “situates the book in two methodological areas in qualitative research: i) walking methodologies in the humanities and social science; ii) qualitative methodologies that are informed by new materialisms and posthumanisms, and which are called by different names including non-representational methodologies and post-qualitative methodologies,” which they call “more-than-human methodologies” (2). In their empirical research, they bring more-than-human methodologies to bear on walking research (2). The first section of the introduction summarizes “the impact of walking methodologies on qualitative research,” focusing on four major concepts: place, sensory inquiry, embodiment, and rhythm (2). “These concepts . . . mark significant contributions to social science and humanities research in that they foreground the importance of the material body in disciplines that have traditionally privileged discursive analysis,” they write. “Building on the important walk that has been done in walking research, we offer our expanded concepts that are accountable to an ethics and politics of the more-than-human: Land and geos, affect, transmaterial, and movement,” concepts they “activate in each of the remaining chapters” (2). (Bold, italicized text is in the original.)
The book, the authors continue, “interrogates the more-than-human turn in qualitative methodologies” by making “new materialist methodologies and walking research accountable to critical race, feminist, Indigenous, trans, queer, critical disability, and environmental humanities scholarship” (3). They note that Indigenous scholars “have interrogated the more-than-human turn, arguing that it continues to erase Indigenous knowledges that have always attended to nonhuman animacy,” and that “[q]ueer, trans, disability, and critical race scholars argue that while a de-centering of the human is necessary, we need to question whose concept of humanity more-than-human theories are trying to move beyond” (3).
Next, Springgay and Truman briefly summarize the four themes—pace, sensory inquiry, embodiment, and rhythm—they found in walking research. Place, they write, is understood in this research
as a specific location and as a process or an event. Walking scholars discuss the ways that walking is attuned to place, how place-making is produced by walking, and the ways that walking connects, bodies, environment, and the sensory surrounds of place. Walking becomes a way of inhabiting place through the lived experience of movement. Walking is a way of becoming responsive to place; it activates modes of participation that are situated and relational. (4)
I’ve written about this notion of walking as place-making, and although I may not have read everything Springgay and Truman have on the subject, I think it’s very complicated, and that space and place end up being folded together (in a Deleuzian sense) through walking. Second, walking is an important way of conducting sensory inquiry, they write:
If, as walking researchers contend, walking is a way of being in place, then walking enables researchers and research participants to tune into their sensory experiences. Walking researchers interested in sensory inquiry sometimes isolate a sense on a walk—for example, a soundwalk—or they consider the ways that the walking body is immersed in a sensory experience of place, such as the texture of feet touching the ground, air brushing against the cheeks, or the smells of city streets. (4)
I think this is true, although it’s possible as well that other ways of experiencing an environment might generate similar sensory experiences, including, potentially, just sitting in a place. Third, “[w]alking methodologies privilege an embodied way of knowing where movement connects mind, body, and environment,” they continue:
Walking scholars typically describe embodiment as relational, social, and convivial. Embodiment is conventionally understood through phenomenology, where researchers and participants examine the lived experiences of what it means to move in a particular place. This experiential understanding either focuses on an individual account of a walking, or is conceptualized through community-based or group walking practices that highlight the social aspects of walking. (4-5)
I’m glad that Springgay and Truman note that individual practices are embodied as well, since not all walking is “relational, social, and convivial.” Finally, they note that “[t]he pace and tempo of walking is another theme that emerges in walking research”:
Here, researchers are interested in the flows of everyday life, pedestrian movements in a city, or the topological features of walking in a landscape. Rhythm is described through embodied accounts of moving and sensory expressions of feet, limbs, and breath. In other instances, rhythm pertains to the pulse of the city, such as traffic, crowds, music, and other environmental phenomena that press on a walker. (5)
As I read these summaries, I found myself wishing that Springgay and Truman had referred to specific examples of texts that explore these four research themes. However, that’s what happens in the actual chapters where these themes are discussed.
Next, the authors suggest that this book extends these themes “through more-than-human theories that are accountable to critical race, feminist, Indigenous, trans, queer, and critical disability theories” (5). They propose four additional concepts: Land and geos, affect, transmaterial, and movement (5). “We use these concepts to think frictionally with WalkingLab research-creation events,” they write, noting that friction “is a force that acts in the opposite direction to movement,” slowing it and introducing resistance to it (5). “Friction exists every time bodies come into contact with each other,” they suggest, citing Jasbir Puar’s argument that when two theoretical frameworks (in his case, assemblage theory and intersectionality) converge, that coming together “is neither reconcilable nor oppositional, but frictional” and that the concepts are held together in tension (5).
By Land and geos (the capitalization of Land is not explained, but it might come from the late Greg Young-Ing’s Indigenous style guide, a book that’s gone missing since I had to move out of my office this past summer and which I’m going to have to replace, so I can’t check to make sure), Springgay and Truman suggest that “[m]ore-than-human walking methodologies must take account of the ways that place-based research is entrenched in ongoing settler colonization” (5). For that reason, “place in walking research needs to attend to Indigenous theories that centre Land, and posthuman understands of the geologic that insist on a different ethical relationship to geology, where human and nonhuman are imbricated and entwined” (5). I understand the first suggestion, but not the second; perhaps all will be revealed as I continue reading. Both of these concepts “disrupt humancentrism,” they continue (5).
Second, affect theory, “attends to the intensities and forces of an affecting and affected body,” needs to be considered along with more-than-human methodologies (5). There’s a caveat, however: “because there is a tendency to ascribe affect to pre-personal sensations, some uses and theorizing of affect can consequently erase identity. In contrast, ‘affecting subjectivities’ brings intersectional theories to bear on affect theories, emphasizing the ways that subjectivity is produced as intensive flows and assemblages between bodies” (5-6). Several papers at Walking’s New Movements focused on affect theory, but I have yet to discover (or put together) a coherent list of readings on this subject. Perhaps this book will help with that task.
Third, transmateriality, or “trans theories, which rupture heteronormative teleological understandings of movement and reproduction, disrupt the notion of an embodied, coherent self” (6). I thought that notion had been disrupted many times, going back to the Greeks and their notion of a division between reason and passion, or Freud’s three-part conception of the psyche—even though our lived experience of ourselves tends to suggest we are coherent to some extent (in my experience, anyway). “Trans theories emphasize viral, tentacular, and transversal conceptualizations of different,” Springgay and Truman continue (6). (Why “different” instead of “difference”?) Again, references here would have been useful, although they do emerge later in the book.
Finally, “[m]ovement, as it is conventionally understood in relation to walking, suggests directionality” (6). However, the movement theories used in this book “understand movement as inherent in all matter, endlessly differentiating. Movement as force and vibration resist capture” (6). Such an understanding of movement “is determinate, dynamic, and immanent and intimately entangled with transmaterial theories and practices” (6). Once again, references to these movement theories would have been useful, although they may appear later on.
“In addition, there are particular inheritances that proliferate in walking research,” such as the notion that walking is “inherently radical, and a tactic to subvert urban space,” an idea which “often ignores race, gender, and disability” (6). “Figures like the flâneur and the practices of the dérive become common tropes, often assuming that all bodies move through space equally,” they continue (6). These ideas will be analyzed in detail later on—but of course, they have been analyzed before, particularly by Phil Smith (who is not included in the book’s list of references) and by Deidre Heddon and Cathy Turner (who are included). As it turns out, the analysis Springgay and Truman present is significantly different from those of Smith or Heddon and Turner, and it may be blind to parts of their own walking practice, as they describe it.
Next, in “Accountability and more-than-human ethics: walking queerly,” Springgay and Truman situate the book “within new materialist and posthumanist methodological approaches to qualitative research” (6). Those theoretical frameworks are used to “enact” their “four concepts of Land and geos, affect, transmaterial, and movement” (6). They begin with the phrase “walking queerly” (6). “A key concept that has gained momentum in qualitative methodologies is Karen Barad’s ‘intra-action,’” they write, an idea that suggests that the world “is composed of intra-acting phenomena which ‘are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting components,’ meaning that they become determinant, material, and meaningful through relations,” although I’m not clear why the word Barad uses is “intra-action,” which suggests an interior relationship, rather than “interaction,” which suggests external relationships; I suppose I will have to read Barad’s text to understand (6). “Objects do not exist as discrete entities that come together through interactions but are produced through entanglement,” Springgay and Truman suggest (6). However, “such an ontological view privileges relations,” and so “a materialist ontology recognizes the interconnections of all phenomena where matter is indeterminate, constantly forming and reforming” (6-7). They cite a later text by Barad which suggests that “ethics then is not concerned with how we interact with the world as separate entities,” but rather “‘about taking account of the entangled materializations of which we are a part, including new configurations, new subjectivities, new possibilities’” (Barad, qtd. 7). “The consequences of this ethico-onto-epistemology for qualitative methodologies and walking research are significant, as it challenges individualism and humanist notions of intentionality, destabilizes conventional notions of space as a void, and directs our attention to the highly distributed nature of collectivity and relationality,” Springgay and Truman write (7). I’m not sure what “the highly distributed nature of collectivity and relationality” means, though; perhaps I would have to read Barad to get the point? Probably.
“If ontology and ethics, or being and acting, are always relational,” they continue, “then ethics shifts from a responsibility to act on the world in a particular moral way ‘to on-going precariously located practices, in which “we” are never categorically separate entities, but differentially implicated in the matters “we” engage with’” (Katrin Thiele, qtd. 7). Moreover, “if ‘we’ are intra-actively entangled in worlding, then there will never be a final solution or outcome, rather new matterings will emerge for our entangled intra-actions,” and accountability “shifts from being responsible for, to a response-ability-with” (7). Such an ethics consists of entanglements, “‘enfolded traces’ and an indebtedness of an irreducible other,’” they write, quoting Karen Barad again (7). Barad was mentioned in several of the papers presented at Walking’s New Movements, and Phil Smith mentions her in his writing, so her work seems to be part of the current discourse on walking and therefore important to read. At the same time, I saw a joke about the word “entanglement” on Facebook the other day, which might suggest that Barad’s ideas have become dominant in certain sectors of the academy, or even that people are tired of hearing about them.
According to Springgay and Truman, “[p]art of this accountability is in the use of queer theory to rupture the normalizing inheritances of walking research” (7). They suggest that while “self-identification as ‘queer’ has a place in queer theory,” “thinking beyond subject identification and with a queer relationality opens up new possibilities for understanding space and time” (7). Sara Ahmed’s work on queer phenomenology uses “queer” in a similar way, which I’m tempted to think of as a metaphor, although not to rethink space and time, as I recall. Springgay and Truman cite Jack Halberstam’s contention that “queer time” is “time outside normative temporal frames of inheritance and reproduction,” and that “queer space” involves “new understandings of space enabled by the ‘production of queer counter-publics’” (7). But those ideas speak to an notion of queer framed by sexuality, rather than one “beyond subject identification.” Springgay and Truman also refer to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notion of “queer performativity”; Donna Haraway’s suggestion that “queering” can undo the distinction between human and nonhuman; and the suggestion by Dana Luciano and Mel Chen that the queer or trans body generates other possibilities for living, including “‘multiple, cyborgian, spectral, transcorporeal, transmaterial’” possibilities (7-8). I’m a pretty down-to-earth person, though, and I’m not sure that spectral or transcorporeal or transmaterial possibilities for living actually exist—not without examples or evidence—and I’m uncomfortable, as a straight, cisgendered man, in simply adopting “queer” without actually being queer. Springgay and Truman discuss that second issue: “while many qualitative researchers in the social sciences and humanities often take up the word queer to describe letting go of traditional research boundaries . . . and utilize ‘queer’ as methodology, we need to account for the subjectivities that don’t enjoy the benefit of sliding in and out of being conveniently queer” (8). I’m not sure how to account for those subjectivities in my work or what doing so might look like, and there are no suggestions on offer here. Nor is it clear to me what it would mean, in practice, to “walk queerly,” as the section’s title suggests. Perhaps, again, this will become clear as the book continues.
In the introduction’s next section, “Unsettling the ‘ontological turn,’” Springgay and Truman suggest that the concept of the more-than-human “emerges at time in scholarly debates that seek to challenge and and de-centre human exceptionalism, taxonomies of intelligence and animacy, and the distinctions between humans and nonhumans, nature and culture” (8). They cite a number of authors on the political effects of the distinction between the human and the nonhuman, including Luciano and Chen (oh, how I hate the APA’s predilection for ignoring the given names of authors), who “posit the inhuman as a method of thinking otherwise,” and Jeffrey Cohen’s suggestion that, as a concept, the inhuman “emphasizes both difference and intimacy” (9). Karen Barad contends that “terms like human and nonhuman can’t be established as polar ends and as givens,” but rather the point ought to be “‘to understand the materializing effects of particular ways of drawing boundaries between “humans” and “non humans”’” (qtd. 9). Jin Haritaworn suggests that “the question of the inhuman is risky and requires anti-colonial methodologies that would in turn be aligned with Indigenous sovereignty” (9)—indeed, I’m finding myself wondering why, in these discussions of animacy, the grammar of Algonquian languages like Plains Cree doesn’t get mentioned. Haritaworn’s argument, Springgay and Truman continue, leads to Zoe Todd’s suggestion that the “ontological turn” is a form of colonization. According to Todd, “non-Indigenous scholars’ realization that [nonhuman] entities ‘are sentient and possess agency, that “nature” and “culture,” “human” and “animal” may not be so separate after all—is itself perpetuating the exploitation of Indigenous peoples’” (qtd. 9). I don’t quite understand this idea, and I suppose I would have to read Todd’s article to understand her point. Apparently, though, Todd is arguing that Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies are “‘legal orders through which Indigenous peoples throughout the world are fighting for self-determination, sovereignty’” (qtd. 9), and that, as Springgay and Truman suggest, “ontological discussions of matter must take into consideration not only Indigenous world-views but material legal struggles over matter and sovereignty” (9).
Springgay and Truman summarize other critiques of notions of “posthuman” theorizing and suggest that
[a]s more-than-human methodologies gain momentum in re-conceptualizing qualitative methodologies in the social sciences and humanities its fault lies in broad definitions. While consideration is given to all forms of matter and the intra-relatedness of entangled ethics, its politics is often consumed in a rhetoric of undoing dualisms where “everything matters” and thus becomes flattened. (10)
They also suggest that “[q]uestions about the politics of new materialism are typically elided” as well because “there is a tendency to think that arguments about matter as dynamic, self-organizing, and intensive are political in and of themselves,” and thinking that “politics is everywhere” ends up meaning that politics disappears (10). They cite feminist geographer Juanita Sundberg, who argues that “posthumanist scholarship in its attempt to critique dualisms actually works to ‘uphold Eurocentric knowledge’” because those attempts are silent about their own locations (qtd. 11). All of them? Really? Again, I’ll have to read Sundberg to understand.
Interestingly, though, Sundberg apparently “offers walking as a strategy for decolonizing research,” although her examples are Indigenous rather than Settler walking (11). In fact, it’s Sundberg who apparently came up with the term “walking-with,” borrowing it from the Zapatista movement (11). “Walking-with,” Sundberg states, “entails ‘serious engagement with Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and methodologies’” (11). Walking-with should not be misunderstood as “conviviality and sociality, or the idea that one needs to walk with a group of people. You could walk-with alone” (11). Springgay and Truman write that their “conceptualization and practice of walking-with” is situated alongside Sundberg and “the walkers she works with,” and also that they are “indebted to the rich feminist work on citational practices” (I’m not sure what “citational practices” means in this context) and Alecia Jackson’s and Lisa Mazzei’s “thinking-with theory” (11). They write:
Walking-with is explicit about political positions and situated knowledges, which reveal our entanglements with settler colonization and neoliberalism. Walking-with is accountable. Walking-with is a form of solidarity, unlearning, and critical engagement with situated knowledges. Walking-with demands that we forgo universal claims about how humans and nonhumans experience walking, and consider more-than-human ethics and politics of the material intra-actions of walking research. (11)
In other words, despite the various caveats and critiques they have offered about their theoretical perspectives, their practice of walking-with is nonetheless rooted in those perspectives, and in order to seriously engage with their notion of “walking-with,” one would have to read that body of theoretical material. The work of reading and learning, it seems, is endless.
The introduction concludes with summaries of the chapters to come, which I’m including here in hopes of understanding what’s coming. “In Chapter 1 we walk-with Indigenous theories of Land and critical place inquire; posthuman theories of the geological that disrupt taxonomies of what is lively and what is inert; and a posthuman critique of landscape urbanism,” they write, noting that their central example is the “WalkingLab research-creation event Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail (12). The second chapter “examines a number of WalkingLab walking projects through sensory, haptic, or affect theories,” using Stefano Harney’s and Fred Moten’s “use of hapticality to think about how walking constitutes a politics-in-movement” (12). The second chapter also discusses affect theory in relation to the politics of walking. The third chapter “examine a sonic walk called Walking to the Laundromat by Bek Conroy, in order to develop a theory of transmateriality” (12). That sonic walk “probes bodily, affective, and gendered labour including domestic labour, money laundering, and the proliferation of new age self-help audio books to question how some bodies are perceived as disposable in order for other bodies to thrive” (12). They critique the notion of the flâneur, and “introduce Stacy Alaimo’s important concept ‘transcorporeality,’ which takes into consideration the material and discursive entanglements between human and nonhuman entities,” along with “a number of trans theories,” including work by Karen Barad, which “complicate walking as embodied and emplaced in order to disassemble and disturb taxonomies, and confound the notion of an embodied, coherent self” (12).
The fourth chapter looks at notions of walking as participatory or inclusionary and therefore convivial by critiquing “how participation has been framed through inclusionary logics and as rehabilitation,” looking at two walking projects to do so: Ring of Fire, a “mass procession for the opening of the Parapan Am games by Trinidadian artist Marlon Griffin and the Art Gallery of York University,” and “The Warren Run, a group orienteering event by Matt Prest commissioned by WalkingLab” (13). “Following these crucial critiques of participation as inclusion, we ask questions about how we might think differently about participation drawing on theories of movement,” particularly those of Erin Manning, “to argue that participation begins before the invitation of inclusion commences” (13). They also look at Carmen Papalia’s project White Cane Amplified in that chapter as well. Chapter 5, they write,
responds to agitations that are occurring in qualitative research, particularly issues related to: the incompatibility between new empiricist methodologies and phenomenological uses of methods; the preponderance of methodocentrism; the pre-supposition of methods; a reliance of data modeled on knowability and visibility; the ongoing emplacement of settler futurity; and the dilemma of representation. (13)
“These agitations have provoked some scholars to suggest that we can do away with method,” they note, but their position is “that methods need to be generated speculatively and in the middle of research, and further that particular (in)tensions need to be immanent to whatever method is used” (13). They use a variety of WalkingLab projects as examples in that chapter.
The sixth chapter examines walking and mapping and the fact that “the prevailing history of mapping is entrenched in imperial and colonial powers who use and create maps to exploit natural resources, claim land, and to legitimize borders” (13), reasons I will be avoiding mapping in my current walking project. However, in this chapter Springgay and Truman look at forms of “counter-cartography” in WalkingLab projects in which “re-mapping offers possibilities of conceptualizing space that is regional and relational, as opposed to state sanctioned and static,” and how “walking can re-map archives and disrupt linear conceptualizations of time” by paying attention to how “walking as ‘anarchiving’ attends to the undocumented, affective, and fragmented compositions that tell stories about a past that is not past but is the present and imagined future” (14). “As counter cartographies and anarchiving practices the walking projects disrupt dominant narratives of place and futurity, re-mapping Land ‘returning it to the landless,’” they write (14), although that return is probably metaphorical, I would imagine, rather than literal. I don’t understand the word “futurity,” particularly in this context, unless the reference is to settler futurity, but perhaps that becomes clear in that chapter.
Chapter 7 moves away from standard conceptions of walking in education to present “two examples of walking-with research in school contexts” (14). Those examples “offer the potential for students to critically interrogate humanist assumptions regarding landscape and literacy” (14). In that chapter, Springgay and Truman “examine the complex ways that students can engage in walking-with as a method of inquiry into their world-making” (14). The eighth chapter “functions as a speculative conclusion or summary” and “is enacted in a series of walking-writing propositions that respond to questions concerning the relationship between walking and writing, and our collaborative process” (14). “Propositions,” they continue, “are different from methods in that they are speculative and event oriented”; they are “not intended as a set of directions, or rules that contain and control movement, but as prompts for further experimentation and thought” (14). The chapter “unfolds through a series of walks that we invite the reader to take: differentiation walks, surface walks, activation devices, ‘with,’ touch, and contours,” and they once again cite Karen Barad’s contention that ethics “is ‘about responsibility for the lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part” (qtd. 14). “As a research methodology walking has a diverse and extensive history in the social sciences and humanities, underscoring its value for conducting research that is situational, relational, and material,” they conclude:
Yet, as we argue throughout the book, walking is never neutral. In a time of global crisis—emboldened White supremacy—it is crucial that we cease celebrating the White male flâneur, who strolls leisurely through the city, as the quintessence of what it means to walk. Instead, we must queer walking, destabilizing humanism’s structuring of human and nonhuman, nature and culture. (14)
Again, I find myself wondering what such “queer walking” would look like in practice, and whether it would be open to those who do not identify as “queer.” Finally, Springgay and Truman suggest that walking is a slow methodology: “Slowness is a process of unlearning and unsettling what has come before,” they write. “In approaching walking methodologies from the perspective of slow, we intend to critically interrogate the many inheritances of walking, to agitate, and to arouse different ethical and political concerns” (15). I’ve been told that Settlers walking is inevitably colonial because walking is slow, so I’m interested to read about slow methodologies. It’s always frustrating when a summary is longer than the original text, as is the case here, but Springgay and Truman introduce a tremendous amount of theoretical material in their introduction, and I have struggled to follow along; the length of this summary (so far) is a sign of that struggle.
The first chapter begins with a description of the geology and history of the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the site of Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail, the WalkingLab event through which this chapter “is activated” (16). That event “sought ways to disrupt the typical uses of the trails in order to think about walking-with place through geologic forces and animacies, and in relation to Indigenous Land-centred knowledges,” they write. “As White settlers, we write about place informed by our conversations and readings-with Indigenous scholars and artists” (16). (Springgay and Truman use hyphens to attach the suffix “with” to many different words: “walking-with,” “thinking-with,” and now “readings-with.”) They note how place is central to walking research but point out that Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie “argue place-based learning and research is entrenched in settler colonial histories and ongoing practices and have not sufficiently attended to Indigenous understandings of Land” (17). I have Tuck’s and McKenzie’s book and it’s on my reading list; it’s time to turn to it, I think. Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail “sought to unsettler settler logics of place by thinking-with i) geo-theories; ii) Indigenous theories of Land; and iii) posthuman critiques of landscape urbanism” (17). These theoretical orientations are not analogous, but rather “we frictionally rub them together to think a different ethics-of-place” (17). Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail was nothing if not ambitious, and I’m always suspicious that such ambitions are difficult to realize.
Springgay and Truman reject “[d]ominant sustainability discourses” which “assume that knowledge of, and preservation through, technological fixes will control the ecological crises” (17). Instead, citing Stacy Alaimo, who argues that “‘the epistemological stance of sustainability, as it is linked to systems management and technological fixes, presents rather a comforting, conventional sense that the problem is out there, distinct from oneself’” (qtd. 17), they suggest that those dominant sustainability discourses turn walkers into spectators who “are external to wider transcorporeal relations including an entanglement with the geosocial and Indigenous Land” (17). (I’m not sure what the neologism “geosocial” means.) “Our research-creation event, Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail aimed to queer and rupture walking-with place,” they write (17).
Next, Springgay and Truman look at conventional distinctions between space and place, using Tim Ingold (the specific text they refer to is one I haven’t read) and Doreen Massey to critique those distinctions. However, they note that “[p]lace, much like embodiment, figures in almost all walking research regardless of the discipline and is a fundamental part of walking research” (18). Place is understood (not exclusively) through five threads: “the go-along or walking interview,” “pedestrianism,” “walking tours and ethnographic research,” “mapping practices,” and “landscape and nature” (18). Walking interviews, they suggest, citing Evans and Jones (again, I shudder at the way that APA format turns individual writers expressing ideas into oracular authorities), “‘produce more spontaneous data as elements of the surrounding environment prompt discussion of place’” (qtd 19). I’m planning to incorporate walking interviews into my work as a way of moving beyond a solo walking practice, and so I ought to read Evans and Jones along with the other writers Springgay and Truman cite on this subject. (The amount of reading I have yet to do feels overwhelming; sometimes, despite all the work I’ve done preparing for my comprehensive examinations, I feel that I have hardly begun.)
What Springgay and Truman are actually talking about here, I think, in their discussion of these “threads” are forms of qualitative social science research that involve walking. For instance, pedestrianism includes “walking as a means of questioning and examining everyday practices and places,” they write (20). Walking tours and ethnographies have been used by many researchers (20-21). One form of “walking in relation to pedagogy and place” that has become “ubiquitous” is the dérive or drift through urban space; its “aimlessness disrupts the habitual methods people typically move from one place to another, and instead directs the walkers’ attention to the sights, sounds, smells and other psychogeographic details of a place” (21). I’m surprised to learn that the dérive has been used by social scientists, given contemporary psychogeography’s resistance (through its interest in the occult and other nonrational ways of “knowing”) to being absorbed by the academy. Mapping is also a way of “materializ[ing]” place, typically by using GPS but through analogue technologies (pencil and paper) as well (22).
Nature and trail walks are ways “of doing nature, as if nature is separate and distinct from humans,” but understood in that way, nature “is exclusionary” because certain bodies—“queer, disabled, racialized”—are “marked out of place in nature,” since “nature reserves and hiking trails are shaped around a compulsory neurotypicality, able-bodiedness, and normativity” (22-23). In Australia, the practice of “bushwalking” “is a place-making practice that is ‘invested in settler futurity’” because it typically ignores the land’s traditional owners (Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernández, qtd. 23). Some scholars, including Sarah Pink, use the term “emplacement” to suggest the interrelationship between body, mind, and environment, but Tuck and McKenzie argue that emplacement “‘is the discursive and literal replacement of the Native by the settler,’” evident in things like property rights and broken treaties (qtd. 23-24). (I’m not sure how emplacement could be considered the sole paradigm that is entangled in settler colonialism; clearly I don’t understand how Tuck and McKenzie are using that word.) “[P]lace-based research needs to be put into conversation with Indigenous knowledges, practices that ‘unsettle’ white settlers, and critical environmental studies to move place from the periphery of social science research,” Springgay and Truman suggest, citing Tuck and McKenzie; Tuck, McKenzie, and McCoy; Delores Calderon; and many others (24).
With this critical and theoretical framework in mind, Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail, Springgay and Truman write, “ruptured and queered the trail, challenging the nature-culture binary, demanding that we think otherwise about human and more-than-human entanglements” (25). They cite Margaret Somerville’s use of the term “queer in relation to place as a strategy or method for research and writing” that “disrupts and decenters the human, and emphasizes a new theory of representation” (25). Thus “Queering the Trail refuses and understanding of geology and Land from a human linear time-scale that can be reduced to heteronormative reproductivity” (25). (I don’t understand the relationship being posited here, through critique, between geology and Land, on the one hand, and “heteronormative reproductivity” on the other. What are they talking about?)
Springgay and Truman now describe Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail: the participants (a group of artists and academics) and the event itself, which included performances, “pop-up lectures” (26) on the history of walking, the word “queer,” the area’s geology, and the way that the word for “Haudenosaunee clans, which Euro-Western scholars have assumed is a human designation for groups of people, in fact is a Mohawk word that refers to Land, clay, or earth” (26-28). “Queering the Trail deliberately engaged with a relational politics that does not flatten all entities into equitable vitalism, but accounts for the ways that different phenomena come to matter as matter,” they write (29). The event, they continue, “enacted what Tuck and McKenzie invoke in their understanding of critical place inquiry”:
They ask social science researchers to do more than simply collect data “on and in place, [but] to examin[e] place itself in its social and material manifestations.” After each pop-up lecture we asked walkers to continue walking the trail and to use that time for questions and discussions with the guest lecturers, artists, and WalkingLab. As we left the Iroquoia Heights side trail after the final walk . . . we invited the group of walkers to walk in silence for an extended period of time. Unlike sound walks that might ask participants to tune into their sensory surround, the silence was intended as a form of Place-Thought, where the confluence of the days’ events could come together. As a walking methodology, Stone Walks enacts a conjunction between thinking-making-doing. Walking-with place insists on a relational, intimate, and tangible entanglement with the lithic eco-materiality of which we are all a part. (33)
I wasn’t present at Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail, but it seems to me that while it would have been a provocative experience, it’s hard to imagine that such an event could carry all of the theoretical freight articulated in this account. How is one event’s walking in silence merely sensory, for example, while Stone Walks on the Bruce Trail: Queering the Trail’s silent walking was “a form of Place-Thought,” a term which comes from Anishinaabe academic Vanessa Watts and suggests that the earth has “aliveness and agency” (29)? How can one be certain that the event’s intentions were realized for its participants? How could a period of silent walking undo hundreds of years of settler colonial, religious, and philosophical baggage? Is that remotely possible? Are lectures along a trail really able to enact the radical programme this account claims they enacted? Could any event do all of the things that this event is described as being able to do? It’s hard for me to imagine. I would never make such claims about my walking; in fact, I’m always wondering whether my intentions are realized or whether I’ve failed to do what I set out to do. I don’t see any similar self-reflectivity or self-questioning here.
The second chapter, “Sensory inquiry and affective intensities in walking research,” begins with this statement:
Walking methodologies invariably invoke sensory and affective investigations. Despite the fact that sensory studies and affect studies emerge from different conceptualizations of sensation, both, we maintain, prioritize corporeal and material practices. Sensory studies and the various approaches to affect share an interest in non-conscious, non-cognitive, transmaterial, and more-than representational processes. (34)
Springgay and Truman cite a long list of sensory studies and note that the senses have been considered to be important for qualitative research, while affect studies focus on “pre-, post-, and trans-individual bodily forces and the capacities of bodies to act or be acted upon by other bodies” (34-35). “This chapter examines a number of WalkingLab projects and categorizes them as either sensory, haptic, or affective,” they continue. “This pedagogical exercise is arguably problematic and arbitrary, as many of the walks intersect sensory inquiry and affective understandings of corporeality,” but by conducting this exercise, they “are able to demonstrate the degree of complexity and the many variations by which sensory knowing and affective tonalities shape walking methodologies” (35). The first section of the chapter focuses on walks “that isolate a particular sense,” followed by a section that looks at walks “that use synaesthesia to defamiliarize the ordinary, paying attention to visceral and immanent encounters of walking in urban space” (35). That synaesthesia must be metaphorical or otherwise constructed, because true synaesthesia is rare and wouldn’t necessarily take forms that would be activated by walking. Then they discuss hapticality—“a sense of touch felt as force, intensity, and vibration”—and the discussion of hapticality in Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s articulation of “a politics of the feel” (35). That leads to affect theories and intersectionality. Finally, they argue that “‘feelings futurity’ in walking methodologies requires that sensory inquiry, haptic modulations, and affective tonalities ask questions about ‘what matters’” (35).
To illustrate these ideas, Springgay and Truman discuss “experiments with multi-sensory and multi-species ethnography with early childhood teachers and students” in the WalkingLab project “Thinking-with Bark” (35), a project called StoryWalks (also with young children as participants) (36), several sound walks (36-38), and “a smellscape walk” in Toronto’s Kensington Market (38). “The interest in the proximinal senses in walking research is significant for the ways that it has unsettled occularcentrism,” they write, noting that “sensory inquiry ephasizes the body and corporeal ways of knowing,” although “such sensory turns need to account for the social, cultural, racial, sexual, gendered, and classed constructions of the senses. The senses are not neutral, but already exist as ethical and political demarcations of difference” (39). They cite Sarah Pink’s suggestion that the identification of five senses is a Western cultural construct (39). Next, Springgay and Truman turn to synaesthetic walks. “In walking research, synaesthesia can be deployed intentionally to defamiliarize a sensory experience of place and as a non-representational strategy,” they suggest, citing a project in which participants were encouraged to map smells “using words from another sensory register” (40): not true synaesthesia, then, but a textually constructed or metaphorical synasthesia.
They then explore haptic walks: “Hapticality relates to the sense of touch,” they write, and “[i]n walking research, hapticality attends to tactile qualities such as pressure, weight, temperature, and texture,” sometimes organized “around kinaesthetic experience such as muscles, joints, and tendons that give a sense of weight, stretching, and angles as one walks” (40). They cite Laura Marks’s work on haptic visuality, which draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the haptic (40-41), and discuss a variety of walking projects which think about tactile knowledge and corporeality, including Deirdre Heddon’s and Misha Myers’s Walking Library project, John Wylie’s description of “the rhythm of walking as a corporeal event,” and Tim Ingold’s suggestion that “walkers ‘hear through their feet’ emphasizing the proprioception of movement,” although they suggest that Ingold’s “embodied hapticality . . . foregrounds an individual’s experience and understanding of surfaces and textures, privileging the human,” which is a problem they will address later in “discussions of human embodiment through trans theories” (41). “Hapticality emphasizes transcorporeal touching encounters,” Springgay and Truman continue (42). They discuss the use of the term “hapticality as a political mode of touching and being touched” in the work of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (42). “Hapticality or a politics of the feel,, lies below cognitive perception,” they suggest (42). This exploration ends with Métis artist Dylan Miner’s WalkingLab event To the Landless “as a politics of the feel” which “might also be understood through theories of affect, where affect is force and intensity” (42-43).
“Affect has inflected qualitative research methodologies with an attention to matter as dynamic, energetic, and emergent,” Springgay and Truman write (43). They acknowledge that “affect surfaces in the previous sensory experiments and walks, as affect circulates constantly” (43). However, they continue, “the focus in the previous experiments was on the ways in which walking shaped a sensory understanding of embodiment and place,” and affect, “although not synonymous with sensory experience, extends and complicates the ethical-political work of walking methodologies” (43). For instance, in the WalkingLab project Evaporation Walks, participants “carry broad dinner plates filled with pigmented water” until the water evaporates, “leaving a trace or silt residue on the bottom of the plate” (43). “The project speaks to pain and grief, and the weight of carrying a dying body both literally (in the form of evaporation) and metaphorically (loss of a child),” they contend. “If affect demands that sensation be understood as intensities, vibrations, and forces that are transcorporeal, as opposed to located in a particular body, then pain and grief are palpable in the circulation of affects between bodies. . . . Affect signals a capacity for the body to be open to the next affective event, an opening to an elsewhere” (43). “Affect is about surfaces,” the continue, “[q]uivering, vibrating surfaces that affect bodies, sticking to them” (44). In Evaporation Walks, they write, citing Deleuze’s claim that affects are “created through encounters, which force us to thought,” “there is a difference between the walkers feeling emotions that are already recognizable—for example, grief—and pre-, post- and trans-personal affects that unsettle and force us to resist identification. The affects that circulate might be anguish, but they could also be joyful” (44). What confuses me here, though, is why the evaporation of water necessarily literally or metaphorically speaks of pain or grief at all. What am I missing? I don’t understand how Evaporation Walks has become such a totemic example of walking and affect. It’s as if the theory and practice are not cohering, or at least not cohering in a way that is intelligible for me.
“The political potential of affect lies in intensities—which can be either deliberate or incidental—and in the ways that intensities instantiate feelings,” Springgay and Truman write. “These feelings, while immediate and in the present, arrive with a past that is never in the past , and engender an indeterminate future” (45). They cite Sara Ahmed’s suggestion that distinguishing between affect and emotion comes with particular dangers, along with other critiques that “emerge in affect studies suggesting that there can be a tendency to avoid the messiness of identity politics and a refusal to engage with issues of oppression,” a situation that “neglects the way that affect and feeling participates in the formation of subjects” (45). Nevertheless, “many affect theorists have turned to affect precisely because affect enables a form of thinking about politics as ‘processes of circulation, engagement, and assemblage rather than as originating from the position of a sovereign subject,” citing the work of Lara, Lui, Ashley, Nishida, Liebert, and Billies (45). “Numerous scholars have attended to the entanglements between affect and politics, including the ways that power and control circulates and flows and the formation of animacy hierarchies that condition corporeal threats,” they continue (45-46). “What affect theory helps us do is re-think the assumption that agency and politics begins with the human subject, and that the human is the only animate agent,” they write:
Affecting subjectivity offers possibilities for exploring material and visceral processes of subjectivity, re-thinks categories previously associated with identity, and considers the emergence of subjectivity as an assemblage of conscious and non-conscious matterings. Affectivity becomes a practice and process of defamiliarization, where subjectivities are not flattened or erased but neither are they fixed, known, or assumed. (46)
They then discuss two water walks, one in Toronto and the other in Hamilton, and “the ways that affecting subjectivities contributes to the scholarship on the intersections between affect and politics” (46-48).
In the chapter’s conclusion, Springgay and Truman write, “There is no denying that sensory experiences, haptic feelings, and affective intensities course through walking research. What matters, we contend, is how we tune into sensation, hapticality and affect” (48). They suggest that what is important is “the politics of the feel” (48). “It is our contention however, that feelings futurity in walking methodologies not only lies in these meaningful and vital contributions to qualitative research, but in the politicality of sensation and affect,” they continue. “This means that walking methodologies need to account for the ways that more-than-human sensations and affects circulate, accumulate, and stick to different bodies and spaces in different ways” (48). I find myself confused by the term “feelings futurity,” but Springgay and Truman discuss it further:
Feelings futurity arises as forces that act through and upon us. The future of walking methodologies requires not only innovative techniques to experiment with and account for sensory and haptic understandings, but must also attune to affecting subjectivities and the ways that affect flows and sticks to different bodies and spaces. Feelings futurity insists that we turn our attention to how matter comes to matter. (49)
Unfortunately, that elaboration doesn’t help. Why use the term “futurity” here? What does “futurity” actually mean in contemporary theoretical discourse? It’s as if there’s a code I’m not able to break, and it’s frustrating. Perhaps as I continue reading, this terminology will become clear. I can only hope.
Chapter 3, “Transmaterial walking methodologies: Affective labour and a sonic walk,” begins with embodiment. “As we walk we are ‘in’ the world, integrating body and space co-extensively,” Springgay and Truman write, citing Sarah Pink and Tim Ingold (50). But, they continue, “the linkage between walking and embodiment is contentious because particular ways of walking might not be embodied, such as mindless daily commutes to work” (50). What’s the connection between mindfulness and embodiment? Is there one? My “mindless” commute to work, particularly these days, when the temperature dips to minus 20, are embodied, not least because they can be uncomfortable, and that discomfort brings me back to my body as I walk. This morning, for instance, although I was thinking about this summary as I walked through the park, I was also aware of the rhythm of my footsteps and of the cold air entering my lungs, and since I was slightly overdressed for the temperature, of the patch of sweat forming on my back. Is that awareness not embodiment? What about flow states? Are they not embodiment? When I used to run, I would occasionally find myself in a flow state in which the running was effortless. Is that not embodiment? How did mindfulness sneak into notions of embodiment? I don’t understand.
“Likewise,” they write, “when walking is described as embodied, it is typically assumed to be productive, lively, convivial, and therefore positive. However, mass refugee flights experienced globally enact vulnerable, exposed, and brutalized embodiment.” Of course, the walking that is called “lively” and “convivial” is made by choice, not out of necessity, and from a place of relative privilege and safety; comparing it to the walking experienced by refugees misses that point. “Normative understandings of embodiment are framed as affirmative, but do not take into consideration antagonism or power,” Springgay and Truman state (50). Plus, I’m not convinced that accounts of embodied walking require conviviality; I think examples of that argument would have to be provided.
Springgay and Truman turn to the work of Stacy Alaimo, who argues that embodiment “does little to account for ‘networks of risk, harm, culpability and responsibility’ within which humans find themselves entangled; to Lindsay Stephens, Susan Ruddick and Patricia McKeever, who reject “a model of embodiment based on individual experience” and “argue that embodiment theories need to account for more politically emplaced and spatially distributed understandings of bodies and space”; and to Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie, who also argue that most understandings of embodiment ignore power and perpetuate “ongoing settler colonial practices” (50). Alaimo’s notion of transcorporeality, which describes “more-than-human embodiment that includes ‘material interchanges between human bodies, geographical places, and vast networks of power’” (qtd. 50) is, for Springgay and Truman, a more satisfactory way of understanding embodiment. “Transcorporeality posits humans and nonhumans as enmeshed with each other in a messy, shifting ontology,” they write. “Transcorporeality cleaves the nature-culture divide and asserts that bodies do not pre-exist their comings together but are materialized in and through intra-action” (50). For example, Astrida Neimanis suggests that water is transcorporeal because it exists inside and outside of our bodies in “leaky entanglements” (50).
In this chapter, Springgay and Truman argue that walking methodologies are “transmaterial,” although it’s not clear to me that transmateriality and transcorporeality are necessarily the same things (51). There’s a slippage from one term to the other. Their primary example is a sonic walk by Rebecca Conroy called Walking to the Laundromat; that is what they “think-with” in this chapter (51). “Commencing with Alaimo’s transcorporeality we draw on different trans theories to disassemble and disturb taxonomies, and confound the notion of an embodied, coherent self,” they write (51). This chapter also critiques the flâneur (everybody does) and introduces “transspecies and viral theories to further complicate humanist conceptualizations of environment,” before discussing how sounds “render some bodies as inhuman” (51). “Transmateriality,” they argue, “enlarges understandings of corporeality and takes into account more-than-human movements and entanglements that are immanent, viral, and intensive” (51).
Walking to the Laundromat is a 106-minute work of sound art “that participants listen to while doing their laundry at a public laundromat, interspersed with walks around the neighbourhood in between cycles” (51). (I’m guessing that the work instructs listeners to go to a laundromat with their laundry; the sound file is online, but I don’t have time to listen, unfortunately.) Springgay and Truman argue that this chapter uses excerpts from the work “to transduce and shape the writing with rather than about the sonic walk” (51). “In thinking trans, we invoke a transversal writing practice that attempts to rupture a reliance on lived description of artistic and bodily work,” they continue. “A challenge of writing and thinking-with more-than-human methodologies, and their experimental, material practices, is how to attend to their fleeting, viral, multiple, and affective intensities without reducing walking and art projects to mere background. There is a tendency to ‘interpret’ contemporary art practices, privileging the researcher’s voice over the artists’” (51-52). So, rather than interpretation, what? The “sonic walk” is “an instantiation of theory,” they write (52). Perhaps, but does that approach not continue to privilege their voices over Conroy’s? What’s the differentiation between interpretation and theorization in relation to a work of art? How can one talk about art without ending up privileging one’s own voice?
“In using the prefix trans, we understand that trans and non-trans people have different stakes in the field of trans studies,” they continue (52). That’s obvious; I have almost personal no stake at all in trans studies, as a cisgendered man. They note objections to the use of the term that erase “the material and social conditions of transgendered people’s lives,” but also cite those who, like Susan Stryker, Paisley Currah, and Lisa Jean Moore invoke the prefix “to consider the interrelatedness of all trans phenomena” (52). They cite Rosi Braidotti, “who describes transpositions as ‘intertextual, cross-boundary or transversal transfer’” which weave “different strands together” (qtd. 52). “Transpositions are non-linear and nomadic, and as such accountable and committed to a particular ethics,” they write (52). What links non-linearity and nomadism to ethics? I don’t understand. Does that mean that linearity and sedentarism are not linked to ethics? “Trans is a prefix that denotes across, through, or beyond,” Springgay and Truman write. “Transversing from embodiment to trans theories of walking requires us to move beyond questions that position particular kinds of human experience at the centre” (52). “[T]rans shifts the focus from a being or a thing to intensities and movement” (53). But linear understandings of trans are incorrect; rather, they suggest, quoting Eva Hayward and Che Gossett, trans “‘repurposes, displaces, renames, replicates, and intensifies terms, adding yet more texture and the possibility of nearby-ness’” (qtd. 53). “Trans refutes the nature-culture divide proliferating in nonhuman forms,” Springgay and Truman write, and it “includes the interventions of critical race studies and postcoloniality in posthuman or more-than-human conceptualizations of difference, where difference is not between entities, but constituted through movement and affect: a trans touching materiality” (53). Trans undoes “animacy categories” and “foregrounds Black and Indigenous Studies” because, as Abraham Weill suggests, it is about “entangled linkages, or transversality. Trans for Weil becomes a process of pollination and murmuration,” what Springgay and Truman will call “viral” (53).
Conroy’s sonic walk addresses labour “through the intersections of reproductive labour, capitalism, and affective labour,” because it’s about doing laundry (53). “One of the ways that labour gets circumnavigated in walking research is the reliance on two specific tropes: the flâneur and the dérive,” they continue, since the flâneur is a man, and a man of leisure (54); “[i]nstead of the flâneur, we need different conceptualizations of walking that deterritorialize what it means to move,” such as critical disability research (55). The dérive, for its part, is part of a “‘fraternity’” of walking because it is detached, although “[t]here are a number of feminist psychogeographers and collectives that use the practices of the dérive to critique and subvert the myth of urban detachment” (55-56). Walking to the Laundromat “resists the tropes of the visually privileged flâneur and queers the dérive, underscoring the labour, violence, and structures that enable some bodies to walk more freely,” Springgay and Truman contend. “The audio track emphasizes the violence of labour and transnational mobility, and the performance, of washing clothes, walking, and returning respectively to the laundromat, further positions the performance itself as a form of labour,” and unlike a dérive, the walking involved is restricted by the need to return to the washing machines periodically (56). Instead of casting off “usual relations,” the work, “through the labour of walking and washing, embodied affective labour” (56).
“We insist that walking researchers need to stop returning to the flâneur to contextualize their work, and instead consider transmaterial walking practices,” Springgay and Truman, well, insist. “Researchers must recognize that walking is not always a leisure activity, and that particular bodies already labour over walking as work” (56). Those who do draw on the dérive must “remain critical and not assume that it is automatically radical. Some bodies literally walk on foot for miles carrying laundry, water, or other commodities” (56). Conroy’s sonic walk “thinks about urban space, access, and labour associated with walking, borders, and mobility,” and it “disrupts the occularcentrism of the flâneur, focussing instead on sounds, bodies, and transmigratory spaces” (57). (Is a laundromat a transmigratory space?) “Walking to the Laundromat interrogates the ways that capitalism and neoliberalism render some lives disposable, and asserts the violence and Whiteness of colonial sovereignty,” they continue, and the laundromat itself becomes “both a space of care and cruelty” (57). “Conroy describes her project through three threads: mindfulness and penetration; invisible leaking bodies; and viral strategies,” and the audio walk also “takes up the issue of necropolitics, where queer, trans, and racialized populations are subject to occupation, conquest, and elimination” (57). How it does all of this is not clear.
Next, Springgay and Truman turn to Julie Livingston and Jasbir Puar and their term “interspecies,” which refers “to ‘relationships between different forms of biosocial life and their political effects’” (qtd. 59). “Interspecies theories and research insists that the human can no longer be the dominant subject of analysis,” and that interspecies “‘offers a broader geopolitical understanding of how the human/animal/plant triad is unstable and varies across time and place,’” (qtd. 59), a provocative statement that requires reading Livingston’s and Puar’s work to understand. “Interspecies also departs from privileged sites in posthuman work—the human and the animal—or what Donna Haraway calls companion species, to include “‘“incompanionate” pests, microscopic viruses, and commodified plants—in other words, forms of life with which interspecies life may not be so obvious or comfortable’” (Livingston and Puar, qtd. 59). Eliza Steinbock, Marianna Szczygielska, and Anthony Wagner write “that trans ‘enmeshes . . . transgender, animal, a[n]imacy, intimacy,’” and that “[t]he frictional intimacies of trans undoes the animacy hierarchies” (59). (I am finding the subject/verb agreement problems in this text very distracting.) This undoing is featured in Walking to the Laundromat as well, Springgay and Truman contend, through the use of “discordant sounds,” whose “viral penetration undoes” the soundtrack’s use of “tidy, human-centric narratives” (59-60). “‘Being open’ becomes transspecially linked to exploitation and environmental degradation,” they suggest (60).
Springgay and Truman then turn to Claire Colebrook’s “trans concept—transitivity—which emphasizes the linkages and intra-actions between entities that are non-linear. For Colebrook ‘transitive indifference’ undoes the notion of difference ‘from.’ When things are set against one another, and are different from each other, one entity remains in the centre, and is the basis for comparison and measurement,” the way the human is the standard of measurement for taxonomies of difference (60). “Indifference for Colebrook stresses the self-differentiating singularities of becoming,” they argue (60). Conroy’s sonic walk,” they claim, creates “various flowing assemblages” that have “vectors, speeds, rests, modes of expression and desiring tonalities” to construct “an instantiation of transitive indifference” (60). Carla Freccero “uses the term transpecies to invoke a form of becoming that breaks down species taxonomies questioning origins and materializations of classification hierarchies,” they continue, suggesting that “[t]rans is less ‘place bound,’ and more like the concept of ecology often invoked in posthuman discourse, and as such interrogates the logic of human exceptionalism and heteronormative reproduction” (60). How it does so, though, and what the link between “human exceptionalism” and “heteronormative reproduction” is, remains unclear; I would find the argument here more satisfying if it proceeded more slowly. Karen Barad “forms another reading of trans as a process of self-touching animacy, regeneration, and recreation” by deconstructing “the reductionist ontology of classical physics” and describing “instead how [indeterminacy] is entangled through all being” (60). For Barad, trans is about a radical undoing of the self (60). “Trans, as we’re building in this chapter emphasizes movement as flows, vectors, and affective tonalities,” Springgay and Truman write. “Trans shifts the focus from a being or a thing, to intensities and movement” (60). In doing so, might it not be radically disembodying the bodies with which this book began? Where do those intensities and flows and movements exist? Where are they located? I’m growing increasingly confused.
Another trans idea is “the viral,” which Puar uses “to untether sexuality from identity and hetero reproduction, in order to think about sexuality ‘as assemblages of sensations, affects and forces’” (qtd. 62). Hayward’s term “tranimal” “similarly reconfigures heteronormative sexuality and reproduction” by perverting “an understanding of embodiment that relies on bounded and distinct identities,” and by considering “reproduction as ‘excess, profusion, surplus’” (62). For Hayward, trans “is about a kind of viral movement,” not from one point to another, but rather “it replicates as difference. In the viral, difference is affective and affecting modulation. It is speculative, activating potentiality and futurity through mutant replication” (62). Conroy’s various laundromat projects become, Springgay and Truman contend, “a mutant, virally reproducing, affective site that has the potential to re-imagine labour in different terms. While viruses operate parasitically and they penetrate a host, they are not adjacent to or simply touching a host, but alter and stretch the host,” as Conroy’s soundtrack apparently does (62). “In shifting from embodied theories that perpetuate a coherent sense of subjectivity, trans theories insist on an ethical-politics of walking,” Springgay and Truman continue (63). So having “a coherent sense of subjectivity” disallows ethics or politics? How so? “Thinking alongside transspeciation, Myra Hird argues that trans interrogates the idea that there is ever a natural body—the one we are born with—which must also parallel particular normative behaviours and desires,” they write (63). What if one’s desires and behaviours are normative, though? Where does this line of thought lead?
“Trans theories are invested in thinking about assemblages and viral replication rather than heteronormative future-oriented reproduction,” Springgay and Truman write. “Trans insists that the transitive state is not that some bodies matter while others continue to perish. . . . Trans emphasizes movement and vectors” (64). Walking to the Laundromat “as a transmaterial practice emphasizes the underpaid, repetitive, and bodily labour of service work,” they continue. “The project intervenes into the comfortable ways that walking is described as relational and convivial, recognizing that not all bodies move freely and that walking itself is a form of labour” (64). But when I think back to the book’s introduction, the “queer feminist Bush Salon in which texts were read, photographs taken, “perambulatory writing techniques” experimented with, and cherries eaten (1), I wonder where the labour was during that event, and how it might have addressed walking as labour, which the flâneur and the dérive fail to do. Again, I find myself looking for some degree of self-awareness in the argument. Conroy’s art work demonstrates “that embodiment, as a form of mind-body awareness and mediation, has been co-opted by liberalism,” they continue (64), although is that what embodiment is? A definition of embodiment would be useful here. “In bringing trans theories to bear on walking research we open up and re-configure different corporeal imaginaries, both human and nonhuman that are radically immanent and intensive, as an assemblage of forces and flows that open bodies to helices and transconnections,” they conclude:
Trans activates a thinking-in-movement. By conceptualizing walking methodologies as trans, we shift from thinking of movement as transition (from one place to another) or as transgression (that somehow walking is an alternative and thereby empowering methodology), towards trans as transcorporeal, transitive, transspecies, and viral in order to activate the ethical-political indifferentiation of movement. Trans activates new ways to talk about, write about, and do walking methodologies that take account of viral, mutant replication, and recognize the intra-active becomings of which we are a part. (65)
That is a huge task to lay at the feet of walking, and I find myself stumbling over almost every word. What, for instance, is meant by “the ethical-political indifferentiation of movement”? My dictionary tells me that “indifferentiation” refers to a lack of differentiation—but is that what is meant here? I can’t tell. Is it a term taken from Deleuze and Guattari? Or does it come from Brian Massumi? And what is flowing? I remember that, years ago, Deleuzians used the metaphor of “circuits”; not the language is the more organic flows. But what is actually flowing? Perhaps I really shouldn’t be reading this book without the appropriate philosophical background, and in a way I’m reading it in order to find out what I would need to read in order to understand the argument. This is extremely difficult stuff, and the argument structure, which rushes through texts and summarizes by repeating key terms, is more than a little confusing.
Chapter 4, “An immanent account of movement in walking methodologies: Re-thinking participation beyond a logic of inclusion,” suggests that it will engage with “mass forms of walking” to “consider participation from a vital and materialist perspective,” one that does not frame participation “as democratic interaction where individuals come together by choice, and as a convivial mode of collectivity” that is “emancipatory, liberatory, and transformative” (66). “The problem with this understanding of participation is that while it seems to promote diversity and equity, it operates as a symbolic gesture that fails to undo the structural logical of racism, ableism, homophobia, and settler colonialism,” Springgay and Truman write. “Furthermore, participation in contemporary art practices assumes audiences become active in the work versus passive spectators. This produces a false binary between active participation and passive viewing” (66). Nevertheless, they argue that participation “is important in walking research and as such we need different ways to think about participation’s potential” (66). So this chapter asks, “How might vital, material, and immanent theories ask different questions about the how of coming together and taking part?” (66). “The main thesis of this chapter is a critique of participation as inclusion,” they write (66). they use Ring of Fire, “a contemporary art event that resulted in a procession for the opening of the Parapan American Games” in Toronto in 2015, The Warren Run, “a running-orienteering race executed in an urban neighbourhood in Sydney, Australia,” and White Cane Amplified, “a performance in which a cane used by a walker who is visually impaired is replaced by a megaphone,” as ways of thinking about participation beyond inclusion (66)—although these examples seem to be negative ones. “[I]nclusion in events like Ring of Fire and the Parapan Am Games produces and maintains settler colonialism and White ableist homonationalism,” they argue, while The Warren Run “and the ways in which participation framed as inclusion in public art projects diffuses conflict, dissension, and difference through convivial notions of rationality” (67). “Our critiques aim to demonstrate the failure of thinking about participation as inclusion, rather than the limits of these particular projects,” they continue. “Following the crucial critiques of inclusion, we draw on theories of immanent movement, to ask questions about how we might think differently about participation,” “beyond a rhetoric of inclusion” (67). They argue that “participation begins before the invitation of inclusion commences,” and they suggest that they will conclude with “an analysis of participation that is composed from within, is immanent, vital, and of difference” (67).
The first example, Ring of Fire, brought together a wide range of communities in a procession for the Parapan Am Games. Springgay and Truman describe such “mega-events” as “corporate, neoliberal sites of homonationalism, crip nationalism, and settler colonialism” (68), which seems to be a critique of the project’s intention. They use Sykes’s (oh, that APA) distinction between “taking part” and “taking place”: “‘Taking part’ celebrates queer, disabled, and Indigenous participation in mega events”; it is “a form of inclusion” (69), while “‘taking place’ . . . perpetuates the displacement of Indigenous peoples from their traditional territories” (69). “Taking part” is “a practice of managing dissent” (69), while “mega events ‘take place’ from Indigenous peoples” (70). They cite Puar’s contention that “[r]acism, lack of medical care, settler colonialism, occupation, and incarceration are all tactical practices deployed by the State to create and maintain precarious populations through debilitation,” which, they conclude, means that “inclusion functions to produce and sustain debility” (70). “Rather than a ‘taking part,’ which continues to pathologize the differently abled body, critical disability and crip scholars . . . insist that the body-technology-environment be understood not as a supportive device that helps an individual overcome limitations, but as a moving assemblage that has different configurations and rhythms,” they continue, noting that people using a variety of assistive devices were encouraged to participate in Ring of Fire (71). “If participation as inclusion continues to normalize and pathologize different bodies, maintaining White, ableist, heteronormative, settler colonialism then what other ways can we think-with participatory projects like Ring of Fire?” they ask (71). One possibility is the notion of affirmation as a form of participation that, quoting Erin Manning, “‘keeps things unsettled, a push that ungrounds, unmoors, even as it propels’” (qtd. 71). Okay, but what would that look like in practice? Is there an example the authors can point towards? The section ends without any.
The chapter’s next section, “Conviviality and conflict-free participation,” looks at The Warren Run, an orienteering-inspired race through a neighbourhood in Sydney, Australia. “Walking art projects like The Warren Run that include communities and groups of people in the work, are often described using an assortment of terms including socially engaged art, social practice, relational, and participatory,” Springgay and Truman note (73). The same could be said of Ring of Fire. They review various critiques of this art form, including the idea “that there is a unified, pre-existing, and self-determining subject who participates, which obscures the complex ways that humans and nonhumans act” (73). They cite Brian Massumi’s claim “that participation occurs prior to cognition, before the act of thinking about taking part” (74), which might sometimes be true, but also might sometimes not be true. This idea leads into the next section, in which Springgay and Truman “tease out an immanent conceptualization of participation, arguing that such an ontology of participation might propose a more ethical-political understanding of taking part and coming together” (74). That section, “Relative and absolute movement,” begins with a discussion of rhythm, particularly as Deleuze and Guattari use the term (75). That leads to a distinction between absolute and relative movement in the work of Erin Manning. Relative movement is about the body moving while other objects in space remain stationary; absolute movement “is a form of movement that proliferates endlessly” (75). “In absolute movement, motility does not pass between points” (76); like a yoga pose, it involves “a composition of ceaselessly moving micro-movements” (76). Walking involves both absolute and relative movement (76). Manning suggests that movement becomes a vibrational force, and so rhythm “is composed of vibratory micro-movements that are constantly in flux and change. These vibrations of micro-movement are imperceptible and molecular” (76). If they are imperceptible, though, how does one know they are actually happening? “A vibrational account of rhythm provides a means to interrogate how encounters that are imperceptible produce affects across different entities,” they continue. “Thus, vibratory accounts of rhythm enable different kinds of analysis that attend to the immanent and affective dimensions of participation” (76). How so? Springgay and Truman provide no examples to support this idea.
Instead, in the next section, “Volitional and decisional movement,” they discuss Manning’s distinction between volitional, or conscious movement, and decisional, or unconscious movement (76-77). “In decisional movement, a body reacts and moves, in relation to other decisional movements,” the way a trained baseball player can respond to a ball without thinking through that response (77). Manning seems to think that decisional movement is more important, that volitional movement gets in its way, and that decisional movement “leaves room for mutation” (77). I don’t understand the hierarchy that is being asserted here. “The problem with volitional movement is that it conceives of participation through inclusionary rationalities and, as we have demonstrated, these continue to support White, ableist, settler, and heteronormative logics,” Springgay and Truman write. “Volitional movement as ‘taking part,’ while inviting different subjects and different bodies to participate, supports and reinforces norms. Furthermore, this rhetoric of inclusion is in fact exclusionary, where certain bodies are always marked as different and only included by conforming” (77). On the other hand,
if participation is composed of absolute and decisional movement, where bodies—human and nonhuman—are rhythmically moving in variation and difference—then we can begin to think of participation beyond the rhetoric of inclusion. This is crucial. We need different ways to conceive of and understand participation, and think about participation’s political potential. This is where absolute and decisional movement become important. (78)
“If participation isn’t reduced to the volitional act of an individual, but is rendered in rhythmic terms of assemblage and composition, participation engenders a politics of potentiality,” they continue. “Instead of ‘taking part,’ which privileges inclusion, and evaluates the kind of interaction inclusion creates, we ask: how to tend to the proliferation of difference, the immanence of participation?” (78).
Their answer lies in the importance of decisional and absolute movements. Because inclusionary participation “implies volitional movement, a form of free will or choice,” it is “linked to individual agency, rationality, and mastery” and “continues to render some bodies outside of an event, or outside of what it means to be human. Inclusionary logics reinforce and inside and an outside” (78). However, decisional movement “engenders variation and difference”; decisional movements “are rhythmic relations that are produced in and of the event. They are immanent to the event itself” (78). As a result, “[p]articipation becomes intensive, it is internal to itself, and constituted through movement and affect. In other words, participation is produced without knowing what the production will look like. It is creative and experimental” (78). How would one be able to tell that this participation was taking place, though, if it was only made up of decisional and absolute movements? What would that kind of participation look like? Is it the only “creative and experimental” form of movement? Is volitional movement really that bad? Am I not choosing to type these notes, for instance (a form of volitional movement) while reading this book (another form of volitional movement) that Springgay and Truman researched and wrote (a third form of volitional movement)? Writing can’t be a decisional form of movement—at least, it isn’t all the time; one makes a conscious choice to write. The same goes for research. Without a tangible example of the kind of participation Springgay and Truman approve of, one based in decisional and absolute movements, I really have no idea what the thing they are advocating might look like.
“‘Taking part’ in an event assumes that any negative limitations have been removed and that by being included the subject is now transformed, empowered, and liberated,” Springgay and Truman write. (They’ve never seen me grudgingly agree to participate in an office softball match; my limitations remain, and I am neither empowered by striking out nor liberated by missing a fly ball.) “However, inclusion continues to render an outside and an inside,” and it “implies a degree of choice” (78). They cite Elizabeth Grosz’s notion of “free acts,” which do not involve “rational choice and individual agency,” but are “indebted to decisional movement, to cleaving, cuts, intra-actions and transcorporeal entanglements between all bodies” (78). Their example is Carmen Papalia’s White Cane Amplified project, which “replaces the white cane with a megaphone,” allowing Papalia, who is a “non-visual learner,” Papalia’s term for blindness, which doesn’t reduce his sightlessness to a disability, “to instruct other pedestrians and vehicles about his presence and to request help from participants in crossing streets and navigating urban spaces” (79). Papalia, “in contrast to heteronormative notions of a self-reliant male strolling through the city, requires participation from others to navigate safely” (79). (Why “heteronormative”? Are there no gay flâneurs?) Papalia does not ask people to participate in guiding him “as an act of community building or empowerment,” Springgay and Truman contend. “Rather, the participants—much like the megaphone, the sidewalk, and other obstacles he encounters—are decisional in that they become inflexions that alter his movements discretely” (79-80). But aren’t those participants making a conscious decision to participate? Aren’t their movements thereby volitional? I honestly don’t understand how the theoretical paradigm they have outlined has any practical significance. I’m missing something important and I don’t know what it might be.
“Walking methodologies are commonly understood as participatory,” Springgay and Truman conclude; it is “social and interactive, whether you walk with others, or commune with your senses on a solo walk” (81). “But the inclusionary logics of participation, as we have outlined, normalize, commodify, and stratify particular bodies,” they write (I don’t recall the words “commodify” or “stratify,” but maybe I missed them), and also “establish an inside and an outside are distinct. To participate means to move from the outside into the inside. In this regard, participation would appear to be a concept that stifles a work” (81). How does it stifle a work? Were Ring of Fire or The Warren Run stifled? How so? “But if participation is immanent to life, to walking, to events, and as such to research, different questions can be asked about what participation does, or how it operates,” they continue. “Participation as immanent proliferates and multiplies endlessly. Participation as relational, always taking part, emphasizes movement and rhythm as difference” (81). But how could one tell if that kind of participation were to be taking place? What, in practical terms, would participation as an immanent proliferation that multiplies endlessly look like?
The fifth chapter, “On the need for methods beyond proceduralism: Speculative middles, (in)tensions, and response-ability in research), begins with the “agitations that are occurring in qualitative research”: a host of conflicts that suggest that qualitative research is “stuck . . . between new empiricist theories as methodologies and traditional phenomenologically informed methods” (82). I don’t know what those new empiricist theories might be, and I’m not a qualitative social scientist, so I’m not that concerned about my lack of knowledge. This chapter responds to the suggestion that method can be done away with. “First, there is an assumption that methods are particular things, such as interviews, participant observation, or video ethnography,” but methods already “resist representation” (83). “Second, although we agree with a radical empiricist understanding that posits thought as a form of inquiry,” they feel that “methods are significant and very much present in a research event” (83). “Thus, rather than a refusal of methods, the remaining sections of this chapter propose that particular (in)tensions need to be immanent to whatever method is used,” they write. “If they intention of inquiry is to create a different world, to ask what kinds of futures are imaginable, then (in)tensions attend to the immersion, tension, friction, anxiety, strain, and quivering unease of doing research differently” (83). (I’m not convinced that the neologism “(in)tension” is communicating very much—what is the crossover between “tension” and “intention” supposed to produce?) I would like my walking practice to imagine different futures, but I’m not sure that any of this speaks to the kind of work I do and intend to do.
“We approach methods propositionally, speculatively, and experimentally and maintain that it is the logic of procedure and extraction that needs undoing,” they continue (83). Yes, extraction is something I hope my walking practice can avoid: relatively easy in a solo practice, but perhaps harder when one is walking and talking with others. “We attend to the how of research by thinking-with various walking projects from WalkingLab and beyond,” they continue. “We use the idea of the walk score as a catalyst for movement” (83). Such walk scores are propositions, “different from research methods or a research design in that they are speculative and event oriented,” and “not intended as a set of directions or rules that contain and control movement” (83). Rather, walk scores “emphasize chance and improvisation” (83). “We need to shift from thinking about methods as processes of gathering data towards methods as becoming entangled in relations,” a perspective which “requires a commitment to methods in which experience gives way to experimentation” (83-84). Since I’m not engaged in qualitative social science, though, I’m not sure this discussion is relevant to my work—although Springgay and Truman do cite Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre’s argument that one can’t simply employ new empiricist methodologies (informed by Deleuze and Guattari) or the new materialisms along with phenomenological methods, because these methodologies are situated in different “‘ontological arrangements’” (84-85). That’s worth thinking about, and St. Pierre is always worth reading. Springgay and Truman suggest that they agree with St. Pierre’s contention “that reflexiity (humanist) and radical empiricism (more-than-human) are incommensurate,” because reflexivity, “even as an entangled practice, presupposes a subject and is founded on interpretive practices” (86).
“In instrumentalizing walking as a method there is the presumption that walking is going to do something specific before the event occurs, and that walking is uniquely situated to discover and gather data,” they write. The problem with this notion “is that instead of attending to the ecologies of research, or what we prefer to call the thinking-making-doing of research, researchers fall into the trap of believing that creating new methods will offer different solutions” (86). “We posit that methods are not the issue,” they continue. “Methods must be engaged with in the speculative middle and (in)tensions must be brought to bear on them” (87). That’s because research begins in that speculative middle, the place where Deleuze and Guattari claim “things grow, expand, and pick up speed” (87). “In the middle, immanent modes of thinking-making-doing come from within the processes themselves, rather from outside them,” they write. “In the middle, the speculative ‘what if’ emerges as a catalyst for the event. The middle is a difficult place to be,” a place where it’s hard to see clearly (87). “That is the point. The middle can’t be known in advance of research. You have to be ‘in it,’ situated and responsive. You are not there to report on what you find or what you seek, but to activate thought. To agitate it” (87). Of course, that would be hard to put on a Research Ethics Board application.
“A speculative middle does not stop a researcher,” they write. “It’s a thrust, a future provocation for thinking-making-doing. . . . Speculative middles, through processes such as walking, reading, and writing, emerge as agitations and as affective force” (89). The “speculative middle” is “an event” in which “(in)tensions, concerns, and gnawings continually emerge. As the agitations take shape, it is the (in)tensions that incite further action,” changing “the how of methods the research event” (89-90). I wish the word “(in)tensions” had been defined here. “Deleuze’s thought compels researchers to experiment with problems rather than seek solutions,” they continue, citing Elizabeth Grosz’s argument that political activism should be about dreams of the future which are unattainable, rather than solutions (91). Springgay and Truman describe their use of pinhole photography as a method that is “entangled with an (in)tension of problematizing what matters” and that “demands we reimagine ‘land care’” (92). “Our methods of walking-with insists that the Land, the sediment of the escarpment that consist of rocks and Indigenous peoples, stays with us in unrestrained fullness” (92-93). (I’m not sure how the sediments of the Niagara Escarpment, which were formed by oceans that predate the existence of our species, consist of Indigenous peoples.) Another technique Truman used in her PhD research was the dérive, which was problematized in the “speculative middle” by a number of techniques, “including mapping using literary devices, writing poems that examined the spatial politics of their walks to and from school, and writing exercises that activated rhythm in conjunction with movement” (94). “What these minor gestures opened up for the dérive was a place for different (in)tensions to matter,” they continue. “But a dérive inflected with minor gestures is infused with intimacy where knowledge of place is not something grasped from a distance but emerges through proximity; where proximity is not a voyage of discovery, but where one bears the consequences for the things that are not even known yet” (94). I’m wondering, once again, if the theoretical conclusions that the authors place on their practical examples aren’t too strong, too certain. I would certainly be more tentative in evaluating the results of my work. Maybe that’s one of my problems.
Chapter 6, “‘To the landless’: Walking as counter-cartographies and anarchiving practices,” begins with a recognition of the way walkers have experimented with a variety of mapping techniques, although it remains “entrenched in imperial and colonial powers who use and create maps to exploit natural resources, claim land, and to legitimize borders” (99). For that reason, many artists and social scientists “deploy counter-cartographical approaches to map against dominant power structures, question the assumptions that conventional maps produce, and recognize different spatial knowledge systems” (99). Three WalkingLab projects, they suggest, “re-map—as a form of counter-cartography—erased and neglected histories” (99). They “consider the ways that re-mapping offers possibilities for conceptualizing space that is regional and relational, as opposed to state-sanctioned and static. As White settler artist-academics, we problematize the ways that new materialisms and posthumanisms have failed to account for a deeper understanding of the Anthropocene as racialized” (99-100). Walking “can re-map archives and disrupt linear conceptualizations of time,” they state. “Walking as ‘anarchiving’ attends to the undocumented, affected, and fragmented compositions that tell stories about ‘a past that is not past but is the present and an imagined future.’ As counter cartographies and anarchiving practices, the walking projects disrupt dominant narratives of place and futurity, re-mapping Land and ‘returning it to the landless’” (100). The three WalkingLab projects they discuss are Dylan Miner’s To the Landless, Walis Johnson’s The Red Line Archive and Labyrinth, and Camille Turner’s Miss Canadiana’s Heritage and Cultural Walking Tour: The Grange.
Next, Springgay and Truman discuss borders as “social and physical constructions that paradoxically connect and divide” (101). They note that Miner (among others) argues “that settler colonial borders have impacted and limited ancestral Indigenous practices and fail to recognize Indigenous spatial knowledges” (102). They describe in detail his To the Landless project in Toronto, describing it as “a counter cartography” that “re-mapped anarchism onto the Toronto landscape” (104). The Red Line project is another example of counter-cartography that “re-claims the community spaces within the red line” that excluded African-Americans from certain neighbourhoods in New York City (105). “Walking the red line becomes a transcorporeal materialization revealing the connections between race and place on and through the lived body,” they write (106-07). These counter-mapping practices are “‘anarchival’” because they “rely on fragments of memories, oral stories, songs, marginal ephemera, and affects and emotions” (107). They also rely on archival research, I think, despite the critique Springgay and Truman make that archives are “technologies that served the production of imperialism and settler colonialism” (107); indeed, Brian Massumi states that “the archive . . . becomes the departure point for the anarchive” (108). Anarchives, though, “resist mere documentation and interpretation in favour of affective and material processes of production. . . . approaching matter from new perspectives that may be incongruent with conventional archiving practices, in order to activate erased, neglected, and hidden histories” (107). Camille Turner’s walking tours “re-map” the “erased and forgotten history” of racial intolerance in Canada “onto the Canadian landscape” while questioning “the mechanisms that enable this ongoing erasure” (109). Because there is very little documentation of African-Canadian communities in Toronto, Turner uses “alternative methods, including creating composite fictions” (110). Turner also “materialize[s]” Afrofuturism in her anarchive: “the narratives, songs, sounds, and places encountered on the walk. This is a time that is looped and haunting, rupturing teleological and linear understandings of time. Afrofuturism as a walking methodology could be described as both a method of recovering histories and futures and as an anarchiving of aesthetic productions that enact such a method” (112). Afrofuturism, they write, “is not only literary-based but can be a theoretical, material, sonic, performative, mapping, and anarchival practice” (112).
“The WalkingLab projects that we have assembled in this chapter take up walking methodologies in relation to space and time, acknowledging the possibilities and tensions that such work might produce,” Springgay and Truman conclude. “Counter-cartographies and anarchiving practices might in face reproduce the very geographies they seek to undo. However, in attending strategically to re-mapping the past that is not past, these projects offer avenues for imagining a different future. Re-mapping space and time are significant components to a counter-cartographical approach to walking methodologies” (112-13). Futurity, they continue, “refers to the ways that the future is projected and re-imagined” (113). (I’m very happy to read that definition!) “It also considers how the future is implicated in the past and the present, through different conceptualizations of time. Here time shifts from heteronormative colonial chronos”—why, again, “heteronormative”?—“to vectors, hauntings, spectres, regions, and relations. It also speaks to the ways that any reference to the future makes some futures possible while disavowing others” (113). As a counter-cartographical and anarchiving practice, walking can “enact these understandings of futurity, where the future is not a romanticized ideal, but in constant re-figurations” (113).
The seventh chapter, “Reflective inversions and narrative cartographies: Disrupting outcomes based models of walking in schools,” examines two research-creation projects that WalkingLab conducted in schools in Toronto and Cardiff. Regarding the project in Toronto, they write: “Working against the history of Canadian landscape, which is temporal, spatial, and racial, the walking-with events contest the imagined images of citizenship and identity. The work contributes to critical discourses and contemporary art practices on race, ethnicity, colonialism and land” (121). The organizers and the students “resisted the racialized dispossessions of belonging, creating new spacetimes and landscapes” (121). Again, the claim that the project created “new spacetimes and landscapes” seems hyperbolic to me. The project in Cardiff, which involved students participating in dérives, produced “narrative cartographies” that “mapped students’ understandings of how language functions to control and dehumanize students. Walking-with became a method for exploring inside and outside of school place collectively, to consider the ways that language is already pre-supposed and pre-determined in advance” (126). The maps created by the students “enabled new connections and different ontologies to become possible” (126). That seems like a lot: new ontologies? “Walking-with can be a significant and important method for working with students in educational contexts, if it does not become instrumentalized as an anti-technology and as an uncritical mode of being in place,” they conclude. “Walking-with is an ethical and political response-ability that intimately understands that any step towards a different world is always imbricated in a particular conceptualization of the human, one that continues to re-inscribe a separation between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, landscape and Other” (128). “[W]alking-with materializes horizontal and sideways ontologies where spacetimes reflect, invert, and bend,” they write, in another example of hyperbole, or perhaps metaphor (128).
Finally, Chapter 8, “A walking-writing practice: Queering the trail” is a set of propositions. “We use the propositional form for this chapter because propositions are not directions or procedures for writing,” Springgay and Truman state. “Propositions act as hybrids between potentiality and actuality: they propose what could be” (130). “In the first walk queering, we introduce walks by women, Indigenous walkers, people of colour walkers, and queer and trans walking artists, whose methods of walking defamiliarize the historical tropes of the lone walker drawing inspiration from the landscape,” they continue. “Some of these artists’ projects link walking and writing, while others illustrate a thinking-in-movement” (131). The following five walks “are walking-writing propositions that shape our collaborative practice. These are: differentiation; surfacing; activation devices; with; and touch. The seventh walk, contours, re-visits key concepts in the book and reflects on the implications of walking methodologies in a more than human world” (131).
“Walking-writing is a practice of invention, where the movement of thought is more-than a moment of walking, thinking, or inscribing,” Springgay and Truman contend (131). I’m not sure quite what that means, but they offer further description:
Walking-writing is a thinking-in-movement. Walking-writing is a practice of concept formation. We do not conceptualize walking in one register and writing in another, any more than we understand our research-creation walking events as pre-writing. Walking activates the creation of concepts. To walk is to move-with thought. In addition, we understand writing as something more-than what exists on a page or in a book. Walking-writing is experimental and speculative. Walking-writing surfaces. It is viscous and intense. Walking-writing is collaborative. (131)
I’m not sure that paragraph clarifies much for me. On one hand, to claim that walking “activates the creation of concepts” suggests an almost Wordsworthian claim that walking encourages creativity or thought, which I’m sure is not what is meant at all here. And the claim that writing is more than what gets recorded “on a page or in a book” baffles me. Is writing a metaphor, then? For what? What does it mean to say that walking-writing “is viscous and intense”? Does it have to be collaborative? What if one is alone? Are one’s collaborators then more-than-human? Would they be more-than-human even if one were with other walkers?
The first provocation, written in the imperative, states: “Read this section and then go on a walk. Queer the trail. Defamiliarize Euro-Western traditions and other heteronormative, solo peramulations that link walking with unfettered inspiration” (131). Again, heteronormative? What about, to take one example, Virginia Woolf? And I’m not entirely sure what, in this context “queer the trail” necessarily means. In any case, as promised, the section describes the work of a variety of artists and writers: “African American poet Harryette Mullen” and her 2014 book Urban Tumbleweed; Anishinaabe artist Lisa Myers’s Blueprints for a Long Walk project; “[t]rans Black artist and activist Syrus Ware’s practice,” which “takes on many different forms”; Latai Taumoepeau’s performances; and “queer Black writer Rahawa Haile,” who walked the Appalachian Trail (132-33). “In academic scholarship and popular literature, walking is extolled and prized because: it benefits health; inspires creativity; attunes the walker with the landscape; and is a tactic for re-writing the city,” Springgay and Truman state. “While these fraught inheritances nudge at our practice, WalkingLab has intentionally sought out collaborations with women walkers, Indigenous walkers, queer and trans walkers, differently abled walkers, and people of colour to Queer the Trail. This is the ethical-political thrust of our walking-writing practice” (133). That’s commendable, but what if one doesn’t fit those categories? What if one is a straight, White, cisgendered man in his mid-fifties? What then? I suppose that kind of person is excluded. That seems ironic, given the radically inclusive practice being advocated here—and yes, I know that the authors have already argued that inclusivity is the wrong way to frame the issue, but I’m pretty sure that going for a walk is volitional, rather than decisional, so I’m not convinced that the theoretical justification for those terms works in actual practice. And Springgay and Truman can collaborate with whomever they choose; I’m not really complaining. It’s time to let people from a variety of identities into the walking game. However, I’m still not quite sure what the command to “queer the trail” might mean for that hypothetical middle-aged man: to make walking strange and different and new, I suppose, perhaps through one of the prompts that follows.
“Walk two: differentiation” begins with a command to walk to a destination, but to walk “a different path than you might normally walk” and to “[w]alk slowly” (133). The text then describes the collaborative practice Springgay and Truman have developed. which involves periodic walking. “Walk three: surfaces” suggests that a long walk “surfaces” (134), drawing on the work of Kathleen Stewart, who “describes place through terms like atmosphere, surface, and event” (134). “Surfaces are ambient and effective,” they write. “Surfaces do not refer to a specific location or form but the tonality, the expressiveness, and undulation of body-space. Surfaces vibrate, flow, and move. Surfaces are not without duration” (134). A walk that surfaces is “visceral, bodied, and shimmer” (134). “Surfacing is writing,” they continue. “Surfacing writes the body” (134). “Surface walks foreground bodily intensity,” but they also “disorient and defamiliarize” (134-35). “Walk four: activation device” demands that the reader go for a walk with an activation device, which could be anything that enables a documentary or creative response to the walk. However, the prompt demands that the device not be used for documentary purposes, “but to alter the function of the walk” (135). “The activation device experiments with the walk and enables new ways of thinking-making-doing,” they explain. It “pushes walking-writing to an edge. It forces something new to occur. The activation device is not intended to extract or collect information, but to insert itself within the walking-writing practice as a thinking-making-doing” (135). One might carry helium balloons or a bucket of water or fill one’s pockets with rocks; it doesn’t matter, as long as one is able to “modify habits of walking through various modalities” (135). Those modifications, those activation devices, “rupture and queer the walk, they slow us down and change our gat, they problematize what it means to walk, they agitate and provoke,” they write (136). Activation devices “propel us into a speculative middle and churn our thinking. They surface. They function propositionally because we don’t have a clear procedure of how they will activate the walk beforehand. They are prompts for further walking-writing, as opposed to a representation of the walk” (136).
“Walk five: ‘with’” is a group activity (the group can be composed of humans or nonhumans), but the group “composes only one aspect of ‘with.’ ‘With’ is about co-composition rather than inclusive collaboration” (136). The purpose of the activity is to find a place where the group can write together (probably that will be more difficult for the nonhumans). WalkingLab organizes Itinerant Reading Salons, in which participants walk and read out loud (237). “Walk six: touch” calls upon readers to “[f]eel the haptic; the corporeal” while walking, preferably in a graveyard (because they evoke chronological time) (138). “Walking-writing invokes the intimacy and rhythm of touch,” they write. It evokes what Karen Barad calls “a queer self-touching” in which we “encounter an uncanny sense of the stranger or otherness within the self” which “is a queer perversion of being and time” (138). “Touch queers and perverts individual identity,” they continue, generating an ethics “that queers and undoes the limits of what counts as human or otherwise in the first place. Self-touching means thinking about alterity—our touching indifference—within ourselves. It requires an ethics response-able to the inhuman within us” (139). Walking-writing, they suggest, “recognizes the radical alterity and openness, the ongoing inventive intra-actions of difference that make up the world” (139). “Walk seven: contours” demands that the walker follow edges (141). “Walking-writing contours thinking-in-movement,” they write. “As a practice of edging, contours are thresholds—an in-between space. Thresholds are full of potentiality. They seed things” (141). Part of their own contouring “has been to hold in tension the history and inheritances of walking and walking methods. Who walks, how they walk, and where requires constant queering” (141). The book concludes with a sort of manifesto about their work:
Shifting the focus from walking as a method to move from one point to another, towards an emphasis on walking as an entangled, transmaterial, affective practice of experimentation, our research considers the ethical and political dimensions of ambulatory research. Frictionally theorizing walking scholarship with feminist new materialisms, posthumanisms, queer and trans theories, critical race theory, Indigenous scholarship, and critical disability studies offers vital interventions into walking’s potential as a research methodology. Our queer orientation to walking methodologies is significant because it emphasizes the speculative and experimental potential of walking as research, while simultaneously attending to the complexities of subjectivities, mobilities, and situatedness. Queering the Trail, as [a] concept for critical walking methodologies disrupts the all too common tropes of walkers drifting through the city or rambling along a country path, and the normative narratives that inscribe walking as inherently healthy and meditative. (142)
“Walking can be overlooked in qualitative research because of its able[i]st Euro-Western history or because it is assumed to be uncritical,” they continue (142). Other assumptions are that it is too quotidian in nature, or that it is romanticized “as a method to counter technology,” or that it is naively embodied (142). “The theories and experimentations that compose this book attest to walking’s capacity to interrupt these assumptions,” they write. “Walking-with becomes a practice of thinking-making-doing that attends to the transmaterial knottings between all matter” (142).
If I had the appropriate theoretical or philosophical background, or if the book’s form welcomed those without such a background into its argument, then I might be in a position to determine whether that concluding manifesto—or the rest of the book’s argument—holds up to scrutiny. But since I don’t, and it doesn’t, I can’t. However, the good news is that the references and citations, if pursued, ought to provide readers with a crash course in the theoretical background required to assess the book’s merits. After my comprehensive examinations are finished, I’ll start doing the work of acquiring that theoretical background. Springgay and Truman aren’t the only walking researchers or artists who begin with Deleuze and Guattari, assemblage theory, or affect theory. So I will need to catch up to my peers. Then perhaps the points in this text where I was left confused will become clear. Or perhaps they won’t: in either case, I’ll be returning to this frustrating text in the future.
Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press, 2006.
Deidre Heddon and Cathy Turner. “Walking Women: Shifting the Tales and Scales of Mobility.” Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 2012, pp. 224-36.
Smith, Phil. Making Site-Specific Theatre and Performance: A Handbook, Red Globe Press/Macmillan International, 2019.
Springgay, Stephanie, and Sarah E. Truman. Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab, Routledge, 2018.
Young-Ing, Gregory. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, Brush, 2018.