RC21 Conference is fast approaching, and the Urban Ethnography Lab is very looking forward to meet you on Saturday, Sept 21, from 1-2.30 pm in Room Willow (India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi) for our Panel on “Doing Urban Ethnography.” We are happy to provide some detailed insights on our panel.

Carolin Genz (Humboldt University of Berlin, Geography Department/CRC 1265 “Re-Figuration of Spaces”, Georg-Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies)

Aylin Y. Tschoepe (Department of Social Sciences/ University of Basel, Academy of Art and Design/ FHNW Basel)
Miro Born (Humboldt-University of Berlin, Geography Department/CRC 1265 “Re-Figuration of Spaces)


Seeing like the sick: understanding landscapes of support and health-seeking from the perspective of homeless persons and health migrants in Delhi
by Devaki Nambiar and Bincy Mathew (George Institute for Global Health)

ABSTRACT | James Scott’s Seeing Like a State offers a lens – both theoretical and methodological- to understand state interventions (or their lack) as large acts of exercising bureaucratic and political power. Our work is among recent adaptations using marginal vantage point to visibilise the unseen in such exercises of power.  We reflect on a year-long study employing ethnographic methods aimed at understanding health seeking behaviours, experiences and aspirations of homeless persons in Delhi as well migrants to the city seeking health-care. First, organisations working with each vulnerable group were chosen. Then, a nosology was developed to arrive at subgroups whose perspectives varied while also identifying gatekeeping individuals to facilitate interaction. Through gradual interactions and peer nomination, participants were observed, interviewed, and invited to participate in focus group discussions. Our data gathering – in shelters, waiting areas, footpaths and the street –  revealed health-seeking is mediated by quotidian struggles related to lack of housing, food, water and sanitation. Landscapes of support constructed by/for homeless and health migrants providing nutrition, shelter, sanitation and health-seeking included places of worship, sites and organizations operating in peripheries of the city hidden in plain sight of other urban dwellers. This is particularly the case of health migrants, whose encounters in the city are characterized by increasing poverty, anxiety, and often, diminishing, rather than improving health. These encounters and trajectories led us to propose an expansion to the growing global movement around street medicine, expanding its scope to include the notion of ‘social prescribing,’ where health is the fulcrum that enables referral to a wide range of services that are mindful of and build upon relationships characterizing the everyday of these groups. Were the state to consider formally offering support– especially to health migrants, a growing but unacknowledged group- such forms of support could be recognized and perhaps, institutionalized.

Accessing and Mapping Social Fields
by Christian Rosen (Technische Universität Darmstadt, Fachgebiet Entwerfen und Städtebau)

In this paper I would like to bring together methodological observations from two research projects from the last 6 years. My main argument focusses on one of the most important steps in ethnographic work: gaining access to a field. While methods of field work and the process of ethnographic writing are already topics of high interest for scholars on a global scale, questions originating from the earlier stages often find less attention. Still, we know from practicing ethnography that contacting the right people creates opportunity for a successful research trip. Therefore, my questions for the proposed paper are as follows: (1) How can we access a social field for ethnographic research? (2) Which tools can we use in the beginning of the field research process to navigate through the field?
Considering Pierre Bourdieu’s (2010[1979]) definition of social space and social fields, I spent a long period of time working on the national political fields of Berlin and Madrid (Rosen 2018). In a recent study, I focused on local actors and the urban development processes of the Peruvian Cities of Trujillo and Arequipa. In all four cities I conducted ethnographic research using different strategies in relation to entering and navigating the field. My experiences show how local experts acting as co-researchers can facilitate access but also predetermine contacts. They also demonstrate that the individual structure of a social field matters when deciding access strategies. Actors in national politics for instance, are reached with different tools versus citizen initiatives at the local level. Yet, all fields share the similarity that they are acting in the urban sphere of a certain city thus creating a comparability of their processes of social interaction and their accessibility for ethnographic research.

Rummaging around. Researching place ethnographically in a commercial district in Santiago, Chile
by Paz Concha (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile & Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES))

ABSTRACT | An important methodological challenge in ethnographic research about placemaking in commercial areas in cities is the use of techniques that could capture their urban features and the cultural and social aspects of making place. This paper connects with the panel theme by discussing the complexity of inquiring commercial districts ethnographically as urban forms, taking into consideration size, density, diversity or materiality, but also as cultural forms looking at atmospheres and flow, social relations or conflicts over the use of place from the perspective of a multiplicity of actors (shopkeepers, managers, vendors, curators and customers). This paper uses go-alongs, qualitative interviews, participant observation and policy and social media data to study the case of Barro Franklin-Persa Bío Bío (an area with the highest density of formal and informal commercial activity in Santiago de Chile); and it makes a theoretical contribution to the concept of placemaking when proposing the research question of: how place is made through the everyday practices of urban actors? I use the native concept of “cachurerar” (similar to “rummaging around” in English) to analyse the main ordinary activity that participants do when making place: moving and looking around for things to buy or just browsing. Go alongs rummaging around with participants allow us to think of the relationship between body and place, flows and movements, materiality and the sensorial, as well as discursive aspects motivating conversations about the place itself, its history and how it is produced or formed. The methodological challenges of this approach are discussed in terms of the limitations of goalongs to understand the multiplicity of experiences in the making of place according to participant’s social, cultural, gender an ethnic identity and positionality on site. Also, on how to combine go-alongs with other spatial and qualitative techniques in a long-term ethnographic work about placemaking.

Digital Spatial Imaginations: a cross-cultural comparison of urban planning
by Martin Schinagl (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS))

ABSTRACT | “Digital Urban Planning” is a research project that empirically studies affects and implications of digitalization processes on urban planning practices through ethnographic research. To some extent, planners and designers are drivers of urban transformation. The way planners see the world, shapes the world we live in. As planning practices are incorporating digital tools like Computer Assisted Design (CAD), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), 2D- and 3D-Simulation tools decision making, design, and communicative processes are shaped along with. The research questions focus on the interrelations between spatial imaginations and the digital in urban planning. Methodological approaches are sought to elicit knowledge, visions, imaginations and narratives as part of planning actions in the context of urban planners’ processes of spatial production. I strive to bring together theoretical threads (sociology of space, anthropology and planning theory) and wish to generate a theorization that explain the aforementioned interrelations. The research design is set to conduct a cross-cultural comparison by field work in three different cities on three continents (New York/USA, Lagos/Nigeria, Frankfurt/Germany). A variety of ethnographic and qualitative research methods are going to be applied ranging from focused ethnography in the context of work place studies and go-alongs to different sort of mappings while elaborating the idea of hybrid mapping, and ethnographic interviews. Working in the global North and South, the culturally differing contexts of research call for methodological considerations implying an approach of experimental comparison. More so, the theoretical and empirical approach need to be informed by post-colonial strands of thinking

Exploring Translocal Homing Practices – Reflections on go-along methodology and “scaling from below” among Migrants in Malmö, Sweden
by Laleh Foroughanfar (Lund University)

ABSTRACT | This paper aims at presenting the methodology of my ongoing PhD project. It explores the interplay of spatial and social life of migrants; whether and how this relates to the construction of multiple, flexible, relational, multi-scalar and translocal home-places (domestication), beyond their national boundaries. The setting is Malmö, Sweden’s 3rd largest city (population of ca.350 000), a city that stands out for its transnational character, rapid growth, cultural diversity but also neoliberal housing policies, socio-economic fragmentation, spatial injustice and marginalization – not least of its migrant population. With its placebased approach, this study is conducted in inner city areas both gentrified working class neighborhoods with significant migrant amenities, as well as in and post-industrial low maintenance areas, currently subject to gentrification. The latter function as interstices where migrants and newly arrived refugees have found opportunities to settle. In order to explore the spatiality of migrants’ embodied experiences through everyday practices and strategies of homing as well as material culture and symbolic exchanges, this study builds on an agency-oriented approach and methodology. Central to the argument is scale. Rather than understanding scale as any pre-defined geographical concept, the agencyoriented approach conceptualizes scale as socially produced and bodily experienced through everyday encounters: a scaling from below. This requires a methodology reflecting lived experiences and spatial imaginaries, facilitating a relational, sensual, interactive and reflective production of knowledge. Accordingly, this study builds on and critically explores the go-along methodology, combined with biographical narratives and mental map drawing, participatory photography, critical mapping and observations, in order to explore immigrants’ translocal domestication strategies and sense of belonging. This paper will discuss the concept of scale in relation to go-along methodology, and critically explore to what degree and in what capacity it is productive for exploring the opportunities as well as barriers migrants face in processes of translocal home making.

Please have a look on the RC21 website for further information on the conference program. Image Copyright – Nooreen Fatima via https://rc21delhi2019.com/.

Posted in UEL
Posted by:Dr. Carolin Genz

Dr. Carolin Genz is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Department for Cultural and Social Geography at the Humboldt-University and Research Associate in the Collaborative Research Centre 1265 "Re-Figuration of Spaces" in the project area "Knowledge of Space" at Technische Universtität Berlin. As an urban anthropologist in the intersecting fields of social anthropology, human geography, and urban studies, she constantly develops ethnographic methods to capture the socio-spatial constitution of urban practices. Her research focuses on spatial theory and practices of resistance, housing, and gender.

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