Desire lines (2)



Following Melissa’s post from last week, I’m sharing here a few thoughts about other lines we’ve picked up during the last few months, and which we are currently entangling and disentangling – namely, the analysis of our interlocutors maps of their neighbourhoods and of things that matter therein.

We have employed cartography among our other methods in our ethnographic work with the children, and we were early on in the research fascinated by some early findings about the wonderful depth and amount of information that a child’s map of her/his neighborhood may contain. We have employed map-making as a process, running over time in which map-making was discussed throughout the process of its’ creation, as well as after that (and on some occasions, we even took the map with us to guide us through neighborhood walks with our interlocutors). One of the things that struck us when we started analysing the maps alongside our fieldnotes, was that in some occasions children would incorporate imaginary elements in their maps. We realised that more than just playfully managing any eventual lack of cartographic skills and knowledge of their urban surroundings, the introduction of fantasy elements in fact scrutinized the very representational practices of cartography itself.

As we weren’t interested at maps as a way to weigh children’s drawing skills or knowledge of their neighborhoods, through in-depth dialogue with our interlocutors, we realised how children’s map-making may often move beyond a representational framework and critically project desires and critique with regards to children’s relationship to life beyond the domestic and private. We have been exploring thus both how map-making may be a tool to access children’s views on their experience of their urban surroundings but also, how the children used the tools provided for a cartographic research task in order to draw out and draw themselves into these liminal intersections of the personal, political, public and private. As such, children’s cartography has proven to be a wonderful place to explore and to think about, among other things, hidden transcripts, desire lines, meshworks, disjunctive homonimities, and other epistemologies.

We had a fantastic opportunity to discuss our initial thoughts in the most suitable of a settings, when earlier this March we were invited to give a lecture at the Living maps Network. Melissa and I gave a talk on ‘Reflecting, imagining, representing: Children’s maps in a comparative ethnography’, as part of a multi-disciplinary panel on Ethnocartography. Thus we found ourselves among the very stimulating company of Jina Lee (PhD candidate at the University of the Arts London), who drew on her work with the Joseonjok people in London, to re-examine the role of drawing in map-making and to highlight the process and agency involved in creating maps; Katherine Stansfeld (PhD candidate at Royal Holloway) who discussed the intersections of visual ethnography and cartography in explorations of the super-diverse city and the multiplicity of meanings it entails, drawing on her research in Finsbury Park; and Juliet Davis (senior lecturer in architecture at Cardiff University), who, by drawing on historical, photographic and cartographic research, has presented an alternative narrative of East London’s redevelopment and dispersals around the 2012 olympics.

We were really glad to find our thinking on children’s cartographic imaginations resonate with such a diverse and lively audience – comprised of geographers, architects, social scientists, artists and activists, and grateful for the great discussions that ensued well into the night. We also did a small interview with Melissa, discussing the Connectors study and our methodology, parts of which are included in a podcast published by the Livingmaps Network.

In the near future – in fact during the coming June, we will have more chances to present, discuss and further explore these ideas in three different occasions.

First, of all – on June 1st – I will be presenting our work on children’s cartography at a workshop at the University of Athens, on Children and Space, organised by one of our local advisors in Athens, Thalia Dragona. This platform will provide a very good opportunity for in-depth discussions on the particular cultural context of the Athenian cases.

A couple of weeks later we will be presenting a paper on “Children’s cartographic imagination: Notching connections with the urban public sphere” in the 7th Nordic Geographers Meeting, in Stockholm, in a session organised by Sophie Hadfield-Hill, Peter Kraftl and Sarah Mills – and we are indeed very much looking forward to presenting our work and engage in dialogue about it, in what seems to be a really exciting panel on inequalities and children’s geographies.

Finally, by the end of June, I will be presenting a paper on the 2nd International Conference of the Europa‐University Flensburg (Germany) and the University of Education, Winneba (Ghana) on Images of childhood and future: Cross‐cultural perspectives, in Flensburg. The international and non-western focus of the conference, as well as the organisers’ interests on experimentations with visual methodologies, prescribe a very promising setting to discuss our thinking on children’s maps with and through some perspective.

Then, I guess, I will need a vacation.

Yet, I want to close this post with a couple more lines on desire lines. We are finding out that much of children’s desire lines in cities (such as Jason’s playful trespassing into a basketball court through a fence opening next to the court’s unlocked door, in the picture above) often go unnoticed and leave little trace behind them – especially in the theoretical conceptualisations of urban everyday life. We do think that they matter a lot though, and that the theoretical costs of this omission are high. And thus, picking some of the lines our interlocutors drew -in maps or otherwise, we draw and re-draw to render this omission visible and to point at possible connections and entanglements. Therefore, after any eventual vacations in July, in August we will be in Athens to present these thoughts, and two other lines (more on these later), at the 13th Conference of the European Sociological Association, on “(Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities.




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