Rescue Geography  

Exploring understandings of space and place with mobile technologies

About Rescue Geography

Essentially the inspiration for calling what we do 'Rescue Geography' was the practice of rescue archaeology, where archaeological traces which are threatened by new building are recorded before development.  We started by trying to 'rescue' local people's understandings of an area before redevelopment.  Subsequently we became interested in how these techniques might be more widely applied to help investigate people's relationship with their local environment

One of the techniques we refined is the use of walking interviews, where you actually get people to give you a guided tour of the area, rather than just sitting in a room somewhere asking people what they like about the area.  The use  GPS (‘sat nav’) technologies during the interviews allows us to record the extent to which comments about particular spaces/buildings are made in/adjacent to them. This precise matching of qualitative ('story') data and spatial location allows us to give a ‘voice’ to the otherwise impersonal traces left by GPS tracking.

We believe this technique produces rich insights into how people value particular places.  If you're interested in mobile interview techniques, read this article for free in the Journal of Research Practice.

The Rescue Geography approach was piloted in a project looking at the redevelopment of the Digbeth area of Birmingham ('Eastside') in 2007-8.  We also used these techniques to look at the commuter cyclists travelling to the University of Birmingham in 2009 followed by an exhibition in 2010.

Some academic context...

Rescue Geography was underpinned by a particular approach to research, committed to making academic work more publicly accessible.   In 2004 Michael Burawoy, President of the American Sociological Association, called for a more critical and engaged ‘public sociology’. The debate Burawoy started has moved beyond the boundaries of sociology and geographers have been keen to engage with these ideas. Public geographers seek to produce accessibly written work in a variety of non-traditional media, with efforts focused on collaborative/participatory forms of research with non-academics and the co-construction of knowledge.

The methodological assessment and development of these techniques has clear usefulness to academics seeking to advance the debate on public geographies. The pilot study itself also gave a voice to a community which was being radically affected by the re-visioning of Birmingham’s Eastside district and its subsequent redevelopment. This accessing and validating of non-academic knowledges of an area is at the heart of the public geographies agenda.

What was Rescue Geography?

Rescue Geography was a project examining people's understandings of their local environment.  Much of the work involved the use of mobile technologies.

The project leaders were two academic geographers, Phil Jones from the University of Birmingham and James Evans from the University of Manchester.