Urban spaces and scalar traces

Workshop 3 – 28 March 2019

Clancy Wilmott from the University of Manchester (now at University of California Berkeley) led Workshop 3, in collaboration with Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck). The workshop asked its participants to consider urban cultural studies through spatial theory: specifically, the concepts of scale, situatedness, and global-local encounters.

Clancy began the workshop situating her own work on mobile mapping, and the emerging relationships between space, cartography and digital technologies, with specific reference to her research in Hong Kong and Sydney. This discussion led Clancy to underscore an important conceptual point for the participants. If cities embody the spatialisation of planning, order, control, ideology and imagination, maps and cartography do not merely describe this process, but propose and inscribe it.

With this conceptual primer in mind, participants were organised into smaller groups, and tasked with a mini-investigation based on outdoor field research in the rapidly-changing urban spaces that surround Birkbeck’s Stratford Campus. As much as possible, participants were asked to undertake the exercise in ways that drew on, or explored, areas evident and pertinent to their own research – and they were grouped accordingly.

Equipped with pens, paper and smartphones (pre-loaded with various location-based and audiovisual apps), the groups set out to: first, explore the relationship between digital and material planes of urban spaces; and second, produce at least one critical intervention mimicking, critiquing, challenging or otherwise playing with the ideas brought out from that exploratory process.

The groups returned for lunch, over which they reviewed their notes, migrated their data to laptops and tablets, and in some cases unpacked various collected physical artefacts. This led into the afternoon’s final two-hour workshop, which involved each group preparing a short and informal presentation that would interpret or make sense of their findings. These findings were presented to the entire group for further critical (and often quite funny) discussion and reflection, unfolding various interpretations around how different scales – such as global, local, architectural and bodily – blend together, co-forming and conflicting in everyday urban spaces.

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