Walking: New Forms and Spaces for Studies of Pedestrianism
Walking is a social practice that has been subject to increased academic scrutiny during the past decade. Amongst a variety of researchers – most notably cultural geographers and social anthropologists – new ‘walking studies’ have focused attention on what might be considered the founding, or constituent, elements of this most basic of human activities, namely: the walk, as an event; the walker, as a human subject; and, walking, as an embodied act. Whether treating the walk-event, the walker-person or the walking-act as the starting point of analysis, these studies commonly figure pedestrianism as a practice (Lee and Ingold 2006). More than this, the lived, or practised, realities of walking are understood variously, as being: reflective of changing social forms and norms (Edensor 2000); expressive of diverse cultural meanings (Lorimer and Lund 2008); and, leaving distinct impressions, both corporeal and materially substantive (Michael 2000). This current preference for a cultural interpretive frame in walking studies (Olwig 2008) contrasts with the earlier, fairly slim, treatment of the subject in social science research where the primary significance afforded walking was as the locomotive means to very particular ends. Walking was destination-oriented, generally regarded a functional mode of transport, and shaped by economic choices and constraints. Its study was therefore one of time-in-motion-across-space, and determined a means to enable accurate predictive modelling and mapping of human behaviour and associated environmental preferences. The current preference for a cultural-interpretive mode of description and analysis is different once again from histories of past pedestrian cultures originating in the humanities generally taking a lead from the literary, poetic or artistic representation of lives spent travelling or journeying on foot (Bate 1991, 2000; Landry 2001; Wallace 1993; Taplin 1984; Solnit 2000). Here, contrasting versions of the peripatetic lifestyles of travellers and their shaping of landscapes are channelled through a history of greater aesthetic movements abroad in society. Thus, we find ways of walking explained according to the expressive work of Romantic poets, the picturesque tradition in landscape painting and experimental writers chronicling their experiences of the metropolis at the fin-de-siecle. Working in this tradition, the walker-writer Robert Macfarlane has attempted to classify those characters in whom he finds peripatetic inspiration:
Macfarlane’s taxonomy is not exhaustive. Such has been the level of interest in exploring and explaining different cultures of walking that the contemporary body of walking-work demands a more detailed, and suggestively systematic, typology. This definitional task, contributing to a greater configuration of mobile geographies, would need to explore the different sorts of cultural resonance that walking can have, and, consider the approaches taken in research making this social practice an identifiable subject of study. What I propose is doubtless similarly incomplete, and in places impressionistic, since cultural interest and research activity has clustered around particular fields of concern. If what it amounts to is a miscellany of walking studies – past, present and potential – then crucially it is one that seeks to understand the geographical dimensions, and inflections, of respective inquiries. In what follows, I have chosen to group interests under four thematic headings: first, walks as the product of places; second, walks as an ordinary feature of everyday life; third, the reflections of the self-centred walker, and fourth, walkers who are wilful and artful. A critical, synthetic consideration of these four thematic interests comprises the first part of this chapter. The chapter’s second part seeks to mobilise some key contentions from such ‘new walking studies’ by considering the part they play in the situated and specific context of walkers’ experiences of passage in hills and mountains.