CeMoRe Mobile Methods Workshop

Date:28 February 2008

Mobile Methods 28 February 2008, Lancaster University Conference Centre

This is an informal, interdisciplinary workshop to explore challenges and innovations in 'mobile methods'. A growing public and political interest in mobilities and the emergence of new forms of mobilities have sparked research in a number of different disciplines, including sociology, geography, computer science, interaction design, urban planning, and others. In this workshop we bring together different methodological motivations, approaches and innovations to explore difficulties, opportunities, and serendipitous discoveries.

Contributions address a range of methodological challenges and opportunities.

Participation is limited to 20 participants. If you would like to attend, please contact: m.buscher@lancaster.ac.uk.


09:30 - 09:45 Introductions

09:45 - 10:15 John Urry: Mobilities paradigm and mobile methods

10:15 - 10:45 Paola Jiron: An ethnographic approach to urban daily mobility practices: the use of photography, mapping and narratives to explain them

10:45 - 11:15 Coffee

11:15 - 11:45 Colette Wright: Young People and the Imagined Future of Mobilities

11:45 - 12:15 Steve Smith: A study of gay men and mobile phones

12:15 - 13:00 Kim Kullman: Topology and mobility

13:00 - 14:00 Working lunch

14:00 - 14:30 Luigina Ciolfi: Walks, paths and maps: discovering the lived geography of mobility Video Conference

14:30 - 15:00 Catarina Oliveira: Interview in motion Online/video presentation

15:00 - 15:30 Coffee

15:30 - 16:00 Paul Coulton: Mobile Phones: there not just for talking

16:00 - 16:30 Lorenza Mondada: Methods for reassembling fragmented and mobile geographies

16:30 - 17:00 Christian Licoppe and Julien Morel: 'I wanted to show you the beach': gathering and analyzing mobile visiophonic interactions

17:00 - 17:30 Monika Buscher: TBA

17:30 - 18:00 What next?

19:00 Joint dinner


An ethnographic approach to urban daily mobility practices: the use of photography, mapping and narratives to explain them - Paola Jiron, London School of Economics p.a.jiron@lse.ac.uk

Some believe that in the current globalisation process spaces lose their distinctiveness and become subdued and unified, hence place loses its significance and its characteristics are emptied and abstracted (Harvey 1990; others insist that place persists as a constituent element of social life and historical change (Gieryn 2000; Cresswell 2001; Sheller and Urry 2006). According to Savage, place-making is still relevant today (Savage, Bagnall et al. 2005), however, the process of place making in contemporary cities is complex. Massey argues that if social organisation of space is changing and disrupting the existing ideas about place, then the concept of place should be rethought altogether (Massey 1994; Massey 1995), and move towards understanding it as the location of particular sets of intersecting social relations and intersecting activity spaces (Massey 1995) in time.

Thus places can best be understood as dynamic and mobile and not necessarily staying in one location (Urry 2004). As a large part of our days are spent going from one place to another, the practice of being mobile (or immobile) becomes essential in the consideration of these places and how they are constructed and experienced. Within this mobility, there are sporadic places that have special meaning to urban dwellers, but there are also everyday places, both of these can either expand people's experience of a city or confine it. In this context, urban daily mobility refers to the experience of moving about the city on an everyday basis and it refers to all the ways people relate socially to change of place. However, understanding this change need not concentrate on the types and forms of transport, as mobility is mostly a means to certain socially patterned activities and not the point of such activities, but on the experience these mobilities generate.

Understanding these mobility practices and the experiences they evoke requires innovative methodologies of enquiry, representation and negotiation. Qualitative methodologies are often used to explain urban practices through verbal description. However, visual and spatial forms of enquiry and representation are also required to adequately attempt to grasp them, though never fully, at least better. This paper proposes the use of ethnographic research approach, as a way of understanding mobile places, how they are created, and more importantly how they expand or restrict people experience of the city. The way the experience is explained through narratives, time-space mapping, mental maps, and photography which present both advantages and disadvantages to understanding mobile practices in Santiago de Chile.

Young People and the Imagined Future of Mobilities - Colette Wright, Social Futures Observatory, Lancaster

This talk will focus on a project that the Social Futures Observatory has recently initiated on young British people and the future. In particular the talk will address the methodological challenges involved in researching how young people imagine the future of various forms of mobilities. On the one hand, the project involves the challenge of studying young people; not only in terms of how we can connect and invite interaction with research participants but also in terms of how we can enable young people to think about the future without setting the research questions/agenda for them. On the other hand the research project involves the challenge of studying the future and enabling young people to talk about and imagine what is yet to happen. As this research project has only recently started we hope that the talk will enable audience interaction in exploring the potential challenges and opportunities that might be encountered during the collection of empirical research.

A study of gay men and mobile phones - Steve Smith, CSMTC and Social Futures Observatory, Lancaster

Much research around mobile technologies has necessarily been conducted in spaces and places in which the practices of people who occupy, traverse and populate them help to define them as 'public' and, moreover, heteronormative. In this talk, I reflect on ethnographic research I undertook about the roles that a group of young gay men living in Brighton give to their mobile phones. This research, which took place in pubs, clubs and cafes whose owners and visitors have helped to define them as gay venues, opens up for consideration questions about how we research marginalised groups with reference to mobile technologies. Conceptually, the research engages with how we understand the notion of the 'closet'.

Topology and mobility - Kim Kullman, Dept of Sociology, University of Helsinki(Lancaster University) kim.kullman@helsinki.fi

My previous research has examined the multiple relations between mobile bodies, architecture and visual technology in skateboarding. Currently, I am conducting ethnographic research on how Helsinki school children manage the complexities of everyday traffic, including its shifting configurations of humans, technologies and risks. Methodologically, I am interested in bodily engaged ethnography and the possibilities to incorporate visual technologies in mobile research praxis. In my workshop presentation, I will discuss the methodological implications of topology as developed in Science and Technology Studies. In experimenting with the properties of spatial objects, topology draws attention to the conditions for thinking space, as it, by extending space, makes us aware of its limits. I will argue that, in recognising the topological character of mobile spaces, we can better understand the intersecting normativities, experiences and relations shaping everyday mobility. Above all, the explorative nature of topology allows us to bring out alternatives to existing mobility formations.

Walks, paths and maps: discovering the lived geography of mobility - Luigina Ciolfi, Interaction Design Centre, University of Limerick (Ireland) Luigina.Ciolfi@ul.ie

My research is concerned with the study and design of technological augmentations within the physical world through notions of space and place as they have emerged from the tradition of phenomenological geography. The study of place making and place experience in situations of mobility or "nomadicity" is an important aspect of my work, for I see mobility as a situated experience, contrasting with many views in the HCI, CSCW and Interaction Design field that think of mobility as place-less, and develop the design of mobile technology support according to the "everytime, everywhere" philosophy.

In recent work focused on the study of human practices and experiences on the move, I have employed -as well as ethnographic methodologies - techniques that are less used in the Interaction Design field, but quite consolidated in geography and other human sciences, such as walkthroughs and mapmaking.

Whilst cognitive walkthrough is a method used in HCI whereby the designer follows all the possible "paths" of interaction on an interface and points out critical events, "physical" walkthroughs occur through a space and are to be undertaken in the company of the users in order to highlight how the features of the physical space are embodied in personal narratives.

Walkthroughs belong to the ethnographically-based family of methods, where the researcher documents practices as they occur in-situ. Participants are observed and engaged in dialogue while on the move through the environment where the activities being investigated take place. Whereas cognitive walkthroughs are concerned with issues such as task execution and cognitive responses (Polson et al, 1992), physical walkthroughs are focused on participants' experiences. We argued in previous work how human experience of place is grounded in the physical and material fabric of the world, investing social, personal and cultural meanings into our surroundings (Ciolfi, 2004). Similarly, McCarthy and Wright (2004) articulate experience as an emergent notion alongside intellectual, sensual, emotional, and spatio-temporal dimensions. Experience is also relational, meaning that self, object and setting are constructed as multiple centres of value. Understanding experience of a place means paying attention to the situated nature of people's activities as they unfold within the environment.

Other methodological approaches also focus on the physical environment. Situated action (Suchman, 1987) highlights the relationships between activities and the artefacts and spatial structures they relate to. This approach is focused on the shaping of activities by external artefacts and resources, rather than on the emergence of experiences, and has no particular concern for the spatial "path" of movement alongside which activities unfold. Similarly, methods such as "shadowing" are more concerned on the documentation of activities and what triggers and shapes them, rather than on the unfolding narratives that is tightly interlinked with the environment at experiential level.

Movement across the space or "path-space" has been studied extensively by philosophical geography (Bollnow, 1967; Stein and Niederland, 1989). More recently, increased attention has been paid in the field of anthropology to how walking and pathfinding can be used as a methodology for narrative enquiry (Lee and Ingold, 2006).

Elements of the environment do not simply provide us with physical support, or act as triggers for behaviour, rather they are essential elements of the structure of values and meanings we attribute to situations. Our experiences are spatial in nature as we are embodied and placed in the physical world. Particular experiences emerge on the move, and unfold according to the changes in orientation and perception we embody. In order to understand how these experiences emerge, it is important to observe them and inquire about them as they occur (Rowles, 1978). Walkthroughs consist of emplaced dialogue and physical movements, as they are both essentially connected to each other. Other methods for capturing these elements - such as the "urban songlines" (Marling, 2004)- are devoid of engagement with the movement. Ingold (2004), on the other hand, argues for movement as essential component of our perception of the world, and of our conduct.

Maps are powerful representations of geographical space through the perspective of the mapmaker, who chooses which aspects of the space to highlight and connect. As described by Harmon (2004):

"(…) Part of what fascinates us when looking at a map is inhabiting the mind of its maker, considering that particular terrain of imagination overlaid with those unique contour lines of experience. If I had mapped that landscape, we ask ourselves, what would I have chosen to show, and how would I have shown it?" (Harmon, 2004: p.11).

Participants are invited to draw a map of their movements through a day and a week of their working life, and to label each relevant "landmark" in the way they consider more appropriate, thus creating a personal representation of path-space, labelled in ways that are meaningful of the participants' lived experience.

In the presentation, I will discuss the use of this methods as part of research conducted in three different projects.

Interview in motion - Catarina Oliveira

As societies have become more complex, in particular in the way(s) of life prevailing in today's Western world, the dynamics of mobility of populations have also developed. With the emergence of communication technologies, allied to the great improvement of use of motor car, symbolical of the nowadays lifestyles of western societies, the study of Mobility, or rather Mobilities is an emerging field in sociological production, being presented by certain authors, like John Urry (Urry, 2002)[1] as a new paradigm. We frame this new concept of Mobilities in our research and apply it to the analyse the relationship between mobility and city living.

The central goal of the study is to analyse the class dynamics of the actors involved in mobility processes and describe the scenario under analysis in Portuguese society, especially the reference issues of mobility and communicability, changes in lifestyles and use and symbolic value of technological products.

The object of analysis of this project is Portuguese metropolitan areas. We raise the question, in our analytical framework, of commuting as both a physical boundary but also a time experience and a place in itself in a globalised context where distances are being kept shorter and overlapped by technical and technological means and when each day more flexible and nomadic forms of work are being used.

We want to get the mobility patterns underneath this metropolitan population, characterized for being high middle class, highly educated and with an income clearly over the mean of the Portuguese population.

Aiming to study mobilities, we considered important to have an enlarged vision of the phenomena, including both zoom in and out. For that effect we used a combined methodology of both qualitative and quantitative techniques, applying a survey to a big population of workers and developing in deep interviews with a small range of them. This interviews are done in motion, what means that the interviewer participates in the mobility process of the interviewed, combining participant observation with in deep interview. We hope this way to get deeper in the field and mainly to study our object - mobilities - while it happens, in motion.

[1] Urry, John (2002), Proximity and Mobility, Sociology, vol 36, nº2, pags. 255-274,, Sage Publications, London

Methods for reassembling fragmented and mobile geographies: collectively establishing caller's location in calls for help- Lorenza Mondada, ICAR research lab (CNRS) and University of Lyon

One of the central activities performed in call centres is the identification of places where callers needing help are stuck, and where other partners such as policemen, ambulances, taxi drivers, mechanics can be dispatched to provide help. Establishing locations - and especially relevant locations for the task at hand - is crucial for an efficient action at distance and for a quick and adequate dispatch of help. Even within a technological context where mobile phones, communication technologies, GPS, and sophisticated cartographical tools are available, establishing locations can be a very difficult activity, especially in call centres coordinating actions at distance, between very different types of users, having very different knowledges of the territory.

Thus, call centres dispatching help can be a "perspicuous setting" where to investigate the way in which call takers actively search for relevant space identifications, descriptions and formulations in order to coordinate the action of various persons having very different perspectives on their space of action. In a large corpus of videotaped calls in a call centre, we observed that misunderstandings concerning locations are very frequent and that they take enormous amounts of time to get solved. This displays an interesting phenomenon, the fragmentation and divergence of references to what is dealt with by participants as the "same" place, although being handled within very diverse geographical knowledges, organizing space in various - often contradictory - ways. For instance, in a call between three persons, a call taker, a caller for help and a mechanic supposed to tow the caller's car to his garage, all participants speak about the same place but display very different spatial competences: the call taker has a rather abstract notion of the location found on an internet map; the caller is within the place and has an direct perception of it, but, as a foreigner to that region, does not know exactly where it is; the mechanic has a good regional knowledge, which is notwithstanding organized by other relevances and landmarks than those given by the caller (e.g. by means of physical descriptions) and the call taker (e.g. by means of postal code numbers).

The paper examines the praxeological, situated, embodied nature of these divergent geographies, as well as the ways in which participants achieve, through complex negotiations, a shared spatial perspective for the practical reasons of their common action. This analysis reveals that space is not a preexistent and fixed reality which only has to be identified, recognized and referred to, but is a complex material and discursive entity which is achieved through various symbolic and mobile actions by the participants.

'I wanted to show you the beach' : gathering and analyzing mobile visiophonic interactions - Christian Licoppe and Julien Morel, Dept of Social Science, Telecom Paritech

Our contribution deals with the organization of visiophonic communications on mobile phones. We have constituted a corpus of such interactions, by using either a capture device on the mobile phones (in which we record what goes on on the mobile phone screens and the sound of the conversation) or video-glasses worn by one of the participants (in which case we have a wider perspective on what he is able to 'see' than the mobile phone screen. We use these data to understand the procedures by which participants organize their interaction through voice, gaze, gesture and image- related resources. We will discuss a particular interaction oriented towards one participant showing to others where she is (namely at the beach), that is case in which an ongoing 'mobile' experience is turned into a salient resource for the ongoing interaction.

Who can attend:Anyone

Further Information

Associated staff:Monika Büscher
Organising departments and research centres:Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe), Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Sociology
  • Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA)
  • The LICA Building, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YW, UK