Launch For New CUCR Publication ‘Writing Walking’ 

by Emma Jackson

1 March 2023

There is a rich tradition of using walking in research and teaching at the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths. For years, we have been organising, thinking and writing from walks. These have consisted of local walks in our immediate neighbourhood of Deptford and New Cross. And walks with collaborators in other cities, including Beijing, Berlin, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Paris and Coventry. The focus of these walks has been plural too. There have been infrastructural exploration walks, sound walks, music walks, anti-racist walks, feminist walks, soil, plant and tree walks. 

Despite building this body of scholarly research practise through walks, we have not often discussed together how we translate these into written pieces. So, one morning in May 2021 we organised an online event where we could think, walk, and write together with others. The collected writing from this event is now published in a beautifully illustrated booklet that will be launched at Goldsmiths on March 9th 2023.

The event was put together in direct response to the time of the pandemic that for many of us had reconfigured our relationship with walking, with the places in which we live and that had also reshaped the public life of the city. This was a very particular time then, to consider questions of walking and writing. 

We wondered, what can these new repeated walks tell us about the places we live in and move through? Can we use these ways of walking to help us to interpret these changes? Perhaps to tease out subtle – and not so subtle shifts – in how power is working through urban space? Or at least to help us to find the questions that we want to ask. 

In order to give participants some ideas to take for their walks we heard from three speakers.

Nirmal Puwar, spoke about her work as what she terms ‘the writer as resident’ in Coventry, her home town. She explores care in the city, histories of racism and conviviality in the run up to it being the city of culture. Caroline Knowles discussed her writing up of walks through Mayfair to examine the world of the super-rich and their impact on urban space. And Amani Hassani, talked about the walks she has taken with young Muslim people in Montreal and Copenhagen, in order to tease out how racialisation and spatialisation work through and are challenged in their navigation of the city.

Each speaker posed a question for the participants to take for a walk in real time in their local vicinity. 

We then went our separate ways to walk, in Glasgow and Mumbai, in Sheffield and North Shields, in Lisbon and London, in the woods outside of Cardiff and of Kungälv, among other places.

The walkers then reconvened online for a writing workshop, led by Nirmal, who offered another set of writing prompts. 

The pieces contained in the booklet were created in real time during the workshop and in reflection in the hours immediately afterwards. We have also used passages of the Zoom chat from the event to include more voices and to capture snippets of our discussions.

In his wonderful short book An attempt at exhausting a space in Paris, the writer Georges Perec sets out his task as discovering ‘what happens when nothing happens’. And some of these pieces have Perec-like undertones in their attention to the everyday rhythms and the easily overlooked. Looking back on this collection from the vantage point of two years later, it also serves as a rather extraordinary time capsule. The pandemic shapes these walks in explicit and implicit ways, the inclusion of a trip to get a vaccination, the reflection on being in hospital during this time, but also in the references to pandemic ways of walking and in tone – a sense of yearning for the ‘before times’. 

Other, more longstanding, concerns and forms of spatial processes echo through these walks, gentrification in Lisbon and in New Cross, the encroaching bio-medical campus in Cambridge. As well as other manifestations of the sociological imagination. Our walkers move between other times, they cross borders, two are led by their canine companions. 

Trees are blown over, political graffiti is read. 

What happens when nothing happens on a day in late Spring during a global pandemic? How might writing walking sociologically help us to make sense of it?

Writing Walking (One Day in Spring During a Global Pandemic) launches on 9th March 2023 at 5.30-7pm. Limited edition hard copies will be available at the event. A digital version is available here.

Dr Emma Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Director of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, University of London

She tweets @EmmaKJackson

︎ Images by Lily Mae Kroese