RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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335 Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (2) - exploring identities, belonging and everyday practices
Convenor(s) Katherine Stansfeld (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
Chair(s) Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Glamorgan Building - Council Chamber
Session abstract This session explores the potential of visual approaches to research the ways in which people and communities navigate and make sense of urban localities and their changing environments; as well as how they build a sense of belonging in the city. Due to heightening urban change, transformation and migration across the world, urban life is becoming increasingly varied, complex and intertwined (Smith, 2001, Soja, 2000, Keith, 2014). As such, increasingly geographers are recognising the potential of creative methodologies (Hawkins, 2013) to gain a nuanced understanding of complex social and cultural landscapes in the city. In particular, there is a growing interest in geography in visual urbanism and audio-visual approaches to the study of the everyday city (Oldrup and Carstensen, 2012, Hunt, 2014) to uncover issues around identity and the way difference is negotiated and lived. We are particularly interested in bringing together academics, photographers, filmmakers, artists and creative practitioners to explore the insights different audio and visual approaches can give us on contemporary global and ordinary cities and the narratives people and communities shape around place.

The session will examine the interplay and relationship between people’s narratives and experiences and how they are produced, presented and meditated through visual and creative practices. Participatory and visual approaches can often shed light on personal or cultural experiences, or understandings of community and landscapes of belonging in unique and engaging ways. As participants are often familiar with genres of visual practice, these creative approaches have the potential to explore issues and mediate research in ways that are different from other social sciences methods, allowing for distinct narratives to unfold and develop. This session will encourage reflection and dialogue on how visual approaches can respond to and engage with an ever-shifting and multiple urban milieu.
Linked Sessions Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (1) - producing the urban
Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (3) - cartographic landscapes
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Laying down roots: images by women resettling after domestic violence
Janet Bowstead (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
This presentation is drawn from ongoing research on the journeys women and children make to escape domestic violence in the UK. As part of a mixed methods approach, creative groupwork and participatory photography explored women’s experiences of being forced to leave home, of temporary homes on their journeys, and of beginning to resettle in a new unknown place. As well as emotional, legal and practical issues, women are often dealing with a sense of displacement and issues of identity for themselves, and their children. In the research, two groups of women – in cities in the Midlands and on the South Coast – used photography to communicate their experiences of home, identity and belonging whilst they stayed in women’s refuges, and as they explored the area they had arrived in. For example, Mia took photographs on a night walk, whereas Nurgis photographed her journeys to her solicitor and to her daughter’s nursery. Jasmin’s photographs present the bright lights of her first experiences in a city, whereas Twinkle documented children’s spaces in the neighbourhood as she focused on her daughter’s needs. The presentation will include some of these images highlighting how the visual enables women to narrate their experiences and insights. It will draw out themes from the photographs and captions, and reflect on the participatory process and creative methods.
Young Muslims’ relational identities: photo-elicitation in Vancouver and Groningen
Laura Kapinga (University of Groningen, The Netherlands)
Including visual components is beneficial in researching identities of young people and in breaking down powerful social constructs, such as identity markers, since visual methods can trigger the mind to think differently (Pink, 2011). This paper approaches identity as a relational concept and focusses on young Muslims in their late-teens and early- twenties, which is generally considered as a period of self-exploration. In many western societies, relations to places are likely to shift during this period in the life course, because of fewer restrictions, increased independency, and changing social contexts, such as starting a career or changing education. Using photo-elicitation methods, based on informants' own photographs, this paper provides insight on how places in the city shape the identity processes of the young Muslims and how those identity negotiations in relation to places create young Muslims geographies in cities. This paper draws on empirical research conducted in two urban contexts: Vancouver (Canada) and Groningen (the Netherlands). The data shows how the act of taking pictures in the city contributes to the participants’ construction of their narratives about their (relational) identities, for example, by discussing experiences of - and strategies for - inclusion and exclusion in relations to the places on the photos.
A symbolic representation of Wellington: how participatory painting processes enabled a more inclusive urban narrative
Amber Kale (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)
In this paper I examine how a participatory painting project in Wellington enhanced cross-cultural understanding between former refugee and host-society participants and enabled a more inclusive urban narrative. In light of the current global humanitarian crisis, a climate of fear has arisen around refugees which is often exacerbated by the media perpetuating misinformation and negative stereotypes. To counteract misrepresentation, the painting project provided a space for participants to share their lived experiences of home, belonging, and public visibility. A scholar activist orientation was employed, informed by a participatory action research epistemology. These philosophical foundations influenced a qualitative multi-method methodology consisting of painting workshops, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and public feedback. Through the process of painting a collaborative mural, participants used symbolism to deconstruct language barriers, elicit new ideas, and co-construct a more inclusive narrative whereby differences were negotiated rather than excluded, oppressed, or assimilated. In this manner, social unity was achieved in such a way that it that did not over-ride diversity.
Close Encounters of the Urban Kind: The Role of Film in Shaping Everyday Urban Experiences
Earl Harper (University of Bristol, UK)
The city has been theorised as a space of spectacular and phantasmagoric relationships, intertwined in complex socio-ecological configurations. However, the question of movie culture influencing the shape of the city is, as yet, understudied. Almost every genre of film portrays a relationship (either implicit or explicit) with the ‘urban’, be it oppositional, integral, critical or supportive. Lacanian film analysis is an important resource for studying the how cities become imagined and symbolised through collective dreaming, and powerful insights can be gained in the context of new urban regeneration projects.
In this presentation I will draw out a number of methodological techniques for putting film into conversation with artistic renderings of the city and the built urbanscape itself. The most promising visual methodology available, it would seem, is a resurrection of Jencks and Choay’s ‘Archistics’ updated through Rose’s Critical Visual Semiotics. Using these methodologies, it is possible to explore two aspects of the urbanscape: the ways in which planners and architects attempt to produce space and the ways in which inhabitants of that space decode the surrounding signification regimes to understand their place within the space. This argument draws upon Eco’s work in the semiotics of architecture. The presentation will utilise fieldwork in Elephant & Castle, London, alongside extracts from films to explore how the everyday experience of urban environments is intimately shaped by cinema, giving researchers and planners a powerful tool for understanding how urbanscapes are decoded and signified.
Spiritual Flavours: using visual arts practice to explore food and faith in West London
Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
In this paper, I present the project Spiritual Flavours (the practice element of my PhD) to reflect on my experience of using visual arts, including photography and film, to investigate the relationship between food and faith. This is a collaborative arts project with members of different faith communities in the suburbs of West London, who contribute recipes that they relate to their spirituality and religious practices. These communities include a Synagogue, a Sri Lankan Hindu Temple, a mosque, a Sikh Gurdwara, an Anglican church, a multicultural Roman Catholic church and an ethnically diverse Pentecostal church. Through interviews and cooking sessions, the project pays attention to affective relationships with food, as a vehicle to explore ideas about home, gender, inheritance, tradition, difference and belief. These sessions are the basis of a 'multi-faith' short film and a photo cookbook. On the one hand, the book visually explores a wide range of relationships between food and spirituality across home and the worship spaces. On the other hand, through the use of a three-split screen, the film focuses on three people from three of the faith communities to create visual and sonic synchronies and asynchronies between home cooking, religious practices and biographical narratives. Finally, I argue that visual arts practice (distinct from visual methods) contributes a performative understanding of religious culinary traditions in ways that are inseparable from the practices involved in the creative process itself. A five-minute preview of the film is available at www.spiritualflavours.com.