Rescue Geography is a project that sets out to explore understandings of space and place with mobile technologies. Led by academic geographers Phil Jones (University of Birmingham) and James Evans (University of Manchester) Rescue Geography is a non-commercial body interested in trying out experimental ways of recording people’s understandings of their local environment. The project team has undertaken a series of projects using mobile techniques for collecting stories and opinions from people whilst actually in the place they’re talking about.
The inspiration for calling their practice ‘Rescue Geography’ was the practice of rescue archaeology, where archaeological traces which are threatened by new building are recorded before development. They started by trying to ‘rescue’ local people’s understandings of an area before redevelopment. Subsequently they 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 they have been refining is the use of walking interviews, where they actually get people to give them a guided tour of the area, rather than just sitting in a room somewhere asking people what they like about the area. The use of GPS (‘sat nav’) technologies during the interviews allowed the researchers 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 allowed the researchers to give a ‘voice’ to the otherwise impersonal traces left by GPS tracking.
If you’re interested in how mobile interview techniques can help to gain rich insights into how people value particular places, read this article for free in the Journal of Research Practice.
There are two main projects completed by Rescue Geography project team so far:
The Eastside project ran from 2007-8 and looked at the proposed redevelopment of the Digbeth and Deritend areas of Birmingham. Through this project the Rescue Geography approach was piloted. The researchers went out gathering people’s stories about the Digbeth area of Birmingham (‘Eastside’) which was under redevelopment. Sometimes the project team just chatted to people in cafes, but they also asked people to give them guided tours of the area, recording what they said and – using sat nav technology – where they said it.
During the summer of 2009 the Rescue Geography team recruited a series of volunteers to record their thoughts while cycling to/from work at the University of Birmingham. Using GPS technology they produced maps of these stories, some of which can be seen on the maps page.
In this project the academic researchers collaborated with documentary photographer Dan Burwood, who also did a series of portraits as part of the Eastside project. Burwood photographed some of the participants in the cycling project as part of a joint exhibition of portraits, maps and quotes that opened in September 2010.