This post is part of an occasional series, which has been produced in response to the PhD study weekend at Cumberland Lodge in June 2016 attended and organised by members of the Sociology PhD cohort at Goldsmiths College, University of London. The theme of the weekend was to explore creative and inventive methods in response to the question ‘how are spaces known through practice and how are spaces practiced through knowing?’
In her 1991 essay ‘A global sense of place’, Doreen Massey, living in Kilburn, north-west London writes how:
It is (or ought to be) impossible even to begin about thinking about Kilburn High Road without bringing into play half the world and a considerable amount of British imperialist history.
For Massey, walking through this ‘pretty ordinary place’, the traces of empire are visible in the papers on sale in the newspaper stand, in the shop across the road selling fabric for saris and in the posters advertising Irish comedians and Hindi concerts. Windsor Great Park is anything but ‘a pretty ordinary place’, managed by The Crown Estate, the current Ranger of the Park is the Duke of Edinburgh. Every year in June Goldsmiths Sociology PhD students spend a weekend in the Great Park at Cumberland Lodge, the former residence of the Ranger but given over to educational purposes in the 1940s by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, it also served as a venue for the crisis talks over the abdication of Edward VIII. During the weekend, Chloe Peacock brilliantly mapped traces of in and around the Lodge.
Wandering around the Park, amongst the polo players and the visitors arriving to ‘celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday by following the Golden Crown family trail in The Savill Garden’, the imperial remnants are equally as visible. I came across the 100 foot Totem Pole, a gift from the people of Canada to the Queen in 1958 to commemorate the proclamation of British Colombia as a Crown Colony in 1858. On the corner of the Obelisk Pond, a popular picnic spot, behind families celebrating children’s birthdays, is the Obelisk, a monument to the son of George II, the Duke of Cumberland, also known as Butcher Cumberland due to the violent rule he imposed in Scotland in the eighteenth century.
Empire is thoroughly present here, indeed it shapes both the Park and what is done in the Park. The traces of empire in the park and the links to other times and other places, could not be more different to Kilburn High Road. Yet these places do have one thing in common: both share a proximity to Heathrow Airport. For Massey, the planes passing over Kilburn remind us that we should not define a place ‘by drawing its enclosing boundaries’ but rather ‘a sense of place … can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond’. With this in mind, I decide to map the sonic reminders of the other places to which we are undeniably connected; connections which are indeed productive of place. Using a highlighter pen to plot a short route on a paper map, packing biscuits, pens, a notebook, a flask of tea and an iPhone, I set out on my walk pausing to take a photo every time a plane passes overhead, marking my location with a red cross on the map and noting the time: creating a silent record of a sonic interruption.
Two minutes into my walk and I realise that this is not going to be an easy task, the sounds of the planes are practically constant, it is near impossible to discern when one plane noise ends and another begins. I decide to count what I consider to be the loudest ‘boom’ as one plane and take the photo at that point: a seemingly quantitative exercise in counting and noting down times is already showing itself to be subjective. In Donna Haraway’s (1988) terms, the knowledges I am producing are certainly situated and in research:
The agencies and actors are never preformed, prediscursive, just out there, substantial, concrete, neatly bounded before anything happens, only waiting for a veil to be lifted and ‘land ho!’ to be pronounced. Human and nonhuman, all entities take shape in encounters, in practices; and the actors and partners are not all human, to say the least (Haraway 1994).
I am also disturbed by the fact that although I can hear the planes, an all-engulfing noise, a rumbling, booming and echoing, which fills not only the sky but also the entire landscape and indeed your body, I am unable to see them. As my walk progresses, stopping every two to three minutes to take a photo coinciding with a ‘boom’, I start to feel more and more nauseous, the almost-constant plane noise creates a knot in my stomach which rises up into the hollow of my chest, I feel dizzy. After an hour and a quarter, I decide to take a break to have a cup of tea and try to ignore the noises for fifteen minutes. Whilst I drink my tea, a woman nearby sings a lullaby whilst she rocks a baby in a pram; tuning out the plane noise and into the melodic, gentle song, I have an overwhelming urge to cry.
The map produced at the end of my walk full of crosses and jottings of time belies not only the decisions made about what constitutes a ‘plane sound’ but also the emotions and the embodied effects of the research. The 64 photos taken, here transformed into a GIF, equally do not reveal my visceral sensations as undeniably present in the research encounter. If anything, they appear to represent a peaceful walk through a beautiful country park. Perhaps this discordance between the apparent objectivity of the map, the peacefulness of the photos and my embodied experiences can serve to remind us that as social researchers we are not viewing (or in this case listening) from above, from nowhere but rather, as Haraway (1988) has argued, our views are from a body, ‘always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body’. For Massey, the social relations which stretch out over time and place, which meet and weave together, are productive of place. As my walk has demonstrated, these social relations are thoroughly embodied.
In Windsor Great Park, global connections and our imperial history are present, in places, in actions and in bodies.
Haraway, D. (1988) ‘Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective’, Feminist Studies, 14:3, 575-599.
Haraway, D. (1994) ‘A game of cat’s cradle: Science studies, feminist theory, cultural studies’, Configurations 2:1, 59-71.
Massey, D. (1991) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today June: 24-29.
Louise Rondel is a PhD student in the department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, her interests include: production of space; bodies-cities; promises of monsters; be(com)ing beautiful; haptic geographies; space invaders.