Adaptable @ ESSHC

May 9, 2012

Adaptable suburbs recently made a trip to Glasgow to present at the European Social Science History Conference.  The ESSHC aims at bringing together scholars interested in explaining historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences, is characterized by lively exchange in many small groups and covers a wide variety of topics approaches methods and disciplines.  It seemed like a likely welcoming place our interdisciplinary work which brings together academics from architecture, geography, anthropology, history and engineering! 

Ashley and I presented in a session entitled GIS and Social History.  Our aim was to run through what we had called a configurationally ethnography which aims to show the relationship between movement, measured through space syntax measurements of movement potentials and how such measurements can be overliad with Business Directory information, which aims to show the socio0-economic use of the spaces as shown on historic ordinance survey maps.  We finished the presentation by making a case for deep ethnographic work in further developing anthropological understandings of such places and how they change through ‘hanging around’ (deep ethnography in a Malinowskian sense) with local people who are interested in the material built environment and the relationship to social use.  In this way we evoked historical understandings in a Anthropological sense and aimed to make a case that the way that historical ‘facts’ (or in manhy cases myths) are made to work instantiate a social and cultural value into the material forms of the suburbs which, in its agency, cannot be divorced from the material forms we see measure and understand through the statistical measurements and archival histories. 

Overall the presentation went well with Ashley introducing his development of methodologies bringing together OS, Space Syntax and GIS tools to understand the suburbs.  I finished the talk and our talk finished the session.  This allowed people interest in our talk to spill into a lengthy Q&A session.  The feedback was positive and encouraging as well as giving us much to think about.  Amongst some technical questions were points relating to the deep psychological link between people moving in place and notions of place as bounded and identifiable place.  Further points were raised about the understandings implicit in Space Syntax analysis about the nature of how people move with axial lines and street based data dominating.  We raised the point of OS derived footpath data but many questions need answering.  Further questions were made about the identifiable notions of movement, roads, footpaths and the relation of different scales of movement and how they overlap, the tube, rail and walking are often part of the same movement.  Points were also raised about the pressencing of business directories as an indicator of social space whist other spaces such as parks, free spaces, edge lands and public amenities were often lacking from our analysis.  Much to think about.

The rest of the conference was enjoyable and interesting and with four packed days it would take up t much space to list all the talks we enjoyed however both of us agreed that a session after ours provided some rich and relevant discussion on shifting borders and development.  The session looked at negotiations of social values around times of change in the built environment, particularly in large scale development projects, the use of oral histories was discussed.  Something that keeps happily popping up. 

Much to think about. 

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