Wild walking: A twofold critique of the walk-along method
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Over the last decade the mobile research method known as the “go-along” (in its various manifestations such as the “ride-along” and the “walk-along”) has become increasingly popular. The popularity of the go-along makes great sense in light of evolving theoretical and substantive agendas across the social sciences toward embodied, sensory, and mobile ways of knowing (e.g. see Büscher, Urry, and Witchger 2010). Walking has a tremendous potential to animate spatial and sensory dynamics which static modes of inquiry cannot quite scrutinize. Nevertheless, not all is well and right with walk-alongs. As we will argue in this chapter, much of the methodological literature on walk-alongs and a great deal of the actual research conducted through walk-alongs still suffer from many of the same ailments that go-along methods were devised to cure. Walk-alongs, by and in large, are still too often informed by textualism, cognitivism, and representationalism. Walk-alongs are too often not sensuous enough, not spatialized enough, not mediated coherently enough, and not imaginative enough. Walk-alongs are also often too methodical, systematic, and pre-determined by a priori research agendas. Take for example this excerpt from the method section of a recent walk-along study which we reproduce nearly in full to evidence the style and orientation of the research approach: Three researchers conducted the walk-along interviews: a faculty member and two graduate assistants. Each graduate assistant received instruction and shadowed before conducting an independent one-to-one go-along interview. The interviews lasted an average of 48 minutes (range = 24 to 88 minutes). [...] Each interview began with an exercise that included “warm-up” questions about where to find a snack on campus; this was done to familiarize participants with the format of a go-along interview. The interview guide comprised four primary questions for the go-along interview on sexual health resources: […] (d) You’ve given me a lot of examples of sexual health resources at [name of college]. Can you tell me what your top five most important or helpful resources on campus would be, including what is actually here and any other ideas you might have? When the participant named a specific resource, the researcher asked to be shown it, and the two walked to the physical resource or went to a computer for online resources (Garcia et al. 2012, 1397-1398). In this paper we present a twofold critique to the walk-along method. Because we believe that walking is an embodied way of knowing, in what follows we each speak from our own embodied perspective, voice, and viewpoint. Thus, following this introduction we each follow a trail of our own in developing our own individual critiques of the walk-along method. Phillip’s critique focuses on enlivening the kinesthetic and cinematic potential of the walk-along method, whereas April’s critique concentrates on rethinking the very notion of walking as method. Regardless of our individual perspectives, we write our reflections on the basis of a shared event: a walk in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park together with Chris Townsend, a British walker known worldwide for his multi-day walks. Though our arguments and critiques are distinct, they are similarly inspired by that walk with Chris and similarly motivated by our will to rethink the nature of walk-alongs and to reimagine walking as a “wilder” way of knowing.
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