Session 9

SMUSI_09- Ethnographic Methods: Constructing Public Space

Today, public space in urban as well as rural environments is more important than ever. With the pandemic, it has become clear to all of us what was previously evident within subcultural and youth cultural activities such as cornering or games like beer pong: public spaces are places of encounter, social contact and participation in social life. The proposed session is about ethnographic research of public spaces such as streets, bridges, squares, where everyday life takes place. Using a practice-theoretical approach, the aim is no longer to focus exclusively on human interactions in public space (e.g. Erving Goffman), but to understand public space as a product of socio-material practices of diverse actors. The session will show what ethnography can contribute to such an understanding of public space. The session combines the issues of spatial methods and qualitative methods. The aim is to explore the usefulness of the ethnographic research approach regarding how research can be conducted through and with it in public space. The intention is to gain knowledge about space as public space, both through the research practice on site and through the methodological reflection on ethnographic data collection. Situations of construction or reconstruction, interventions and installations in public space seem particularly suitable for tracing these questions: The interaction between the intervention and the existing built, social and cultural environment serves as a vehicle researching public space. These interventions or irritations of the lived public space are taken as an occasion to understand public space ethnographically in the respective specific and situated public sphere. This is also the constructive moment of the ethnographic approach. Since the researcher are the central research instrument, research practice and object of knowledge are closely interwoven. The session aims to highlight these peculiarities of ethnographic methods in public space and to work out the potentials of this method for understanding the public sphere as a collection of different human and non-human actors, milieus, socio- material practices and forms of life. For example, the distinction between the body and the corporeal can be given even greater epistemological attention. This is shown by recent reflections on affective ethnography (Gherardi 2019), for example, or concepts of theorizing that operate on a flat hierarchical level and that locate theoretical ideas emerging from doing or feeling as material theorizing (Neubert/Trischler 2020; Schmidt 2017; Swedberg 2016). One example is that the researcher’s own corporeality can get in the way in public space. In the course of my own research on construction sites, I am part of the construction meeting, which takes place publicly and circularly on the street. This makes me visible, also as someone who is in the way from the point of view of pedestrians. At the same time, this insight has a theory- generating effect. In the sense of the questions of how social practices can be observed, how data can be collected in the field and ‘be pocketed’ (Neubert/Trischler 2020), the perceivable publicity of one’s own ethnographic activity plays a central role. It is my present researching body that reflexively uses affective self-attributions and attributions to others as a research tool and “resource” (Gherardi 2019, p. 743) to penetrate the everyday life of road construction sites as a public one, among other things. In addition, conflicts around construction projects, interventions, etc., as well as participatory processes of involvement, are largely played out in public. As discursive practices, they are part of the public space that I am researching on the ground. In order to discuss this, I invite papers that 1) present empirical-ethnographic studies on public spaces and reflect on ethnographic data collection and analysis procedures with regard to constructing public spaces and/or papers that 2) fundamentally discuss and critically question ethnography as a methodological approach to spatial research. I am particularly excited about proposals for presentations that pursue a multi-species approach and explicitly include non-human actors (such as animals, bacteria, plants, etc.) in their research on public spaces.