Taking our methods for a walk

Taking a lead from social anthropology and geography, it is clear that movement and mobility are key elements of the everyday places and practices of the datafied school. As such, we need to engage in “the study of people and things in movement” (Pink 2012, p.32). As such, our study of the datafied school cannot be static or sedentary – in fact this is research work that demands to be conducted ‘on the move’. The aim here is not to merely describe and/or reflect movements and mobilities, but to engage in research activities that “embody movement and bring it to life” (Back 2012, p.29). In enacting moving, embodied forms of empirical inquiry each day spent in the field can be seen as “a kind of social ballet” (Back 2012, p.29).

One important form of ‘mobile methodology’ is walking. In fact, there has been a distinct ‘ambulatory turn’ of late within fields such as anthropology, sociology and urban studies. Much of this interest draws inspiration from de Certeau’s writing on the ‘walker at street level’, therefore framing the act of walking as a key tactic through which to disrupt and problematize the ‘legible’ functional order assigned to any environment by planners and other authorities. The idea of walking as an act of critical surveying and sense making also resonates with the popular resurgence of psycho-geography and the associated practice of urban wandering. There is renewed interest in the notion of the flâneur (the uninvolved but highly observant gentleman stroller of the streets) and also the more urgent, haphazard and emotionally charged practice of the dérive. Against this background, it makes good sense that educational researchers also entertain the possibility of “tak[ing] our research tools and devices for a walk” (Back & Puwar 2012, p.10).

So, in researching the realities of the datafied school we should strive to ‘walk’ our empirical inquiries whenever and wherever possible. One means of doing this is to ask people to purposively walk us around their schools – therefore representing their datafied environments to us and collaboratively exploring how the data-driven school is experienced in movements. Sarah Pink’s research has made good use of such ‘place-making walking tours’. In particular Pink has developed a form of ‘collaborative video touring’ where participants lead camera-wielding researchers around their home, school or other intimate environments. Similarly, Rachel Hurdley’s (2010) ethnographic study of ‘corridor cultures’ drew upon lengthy strolls with participants through the corridors of their workplaces, chatting, making notes,stopping at points of interest and interacting with people along the way. As Hurdley reflects, “as a person walks through the corridors, she also mobilizes a series of possibilities, contingent upon who or what she might encounter” (Hurdley & Dicks 2011, p.278).

These are all research activities that fit well with the concerns of our own project. For example, the Canadian data researcher Alison Powell has developed the notion of ‘data walking‘ as means of provoking reflection on data infrastructures and data mediations in urban environments. Similarly, the artist Ingrid Burrington has developed the notion of walking the urban internet infrastructure of New York City.  There is no reason that thee techniques cannot be transposed to the context of the school campus – inviting participants to walk us around where data resides and where data is ‘done’ in their school … the main uncertainty is where such inquiries might take us.



  • Back, L. (2012).   Live sociology: social research and its futures. in Back, L. and Purwar, N. (eds)  Live methods. London, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Back, L. and Puwar, N.   (2012).   A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities. in Back, L. and Purwar, N. (eds)  Live methods.  London, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Hurdley R (2010) The power of corridors: connecting doors, mobilising materials, plotting open­ness. The Sociological Review 58: 45–64
  • Hurdley, R. and Dicks, B. (2011). In-between practice: working in the ‘thirdspace’ of sensory andmultimodal methodology. Qualitative Research 11(3):277-292
  • Pink, S. (2012).  Situating everyday life. London, Sage