Pilot Project (2020-2022): SMUS Brazil 2022 Conference

In September 2022 the four-phase Pilot Project “Spatial Methods in Action: Everyday Spatialities of Homelessness for Urban Sustainability” featured at three different types of activities at the 2nd International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Spatial Methods for Urban Sustainability (“SMUS Conference”), which was simultaneously be the “1st RC33 Regional Conference Latin America: Brazil” and took place online at the University of São Paulo (Brazil) from Thursday 8 to Saturday 10 September 2022:


1) Organization of two Conference sessions:

  • Session 11 – Spatial Methods in Transdisciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity for Urban Sustainability


Fraya Frehse (University of São Paulo, Brazil), Ariane Sept (Leibniz-Institut für Raumbezogene Sozialforschung, Germany), Ignacio Castillo Ulloa (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany), Nina Baur (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany), Angela Million (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)

Session Abstract:

Since the publication of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, transdisciplinarity has been accentually gaining traction among scholars concerned with the issue of urban sustainability. Given that it betokens a kind of knowledge production that is innately forged in research-practice collaborations between scientific researchers and local practitioners (based in NGOs, private firms or local government agencies) as well as independent policy-makers or artists, transdisciplinarity research for urban sustainability, on the one hand, makes evident that this kind of research is not only action-bent but also of transformative nature. On the other hand, transdisciplinarity for urban sustainability confronts both social scientists and urban planners with the epistemological and methodological dilemmas implicit in working together in interdisciplinary research-practice projects. After all, the disciplinary knowledge traditions and methodological understandings are different: social scientists might not accept a SWOT analysis as a method since it is normative per se or criticise the casual application of quantitative standardized methods for activating surveys in community development; planners, on the other hand, might find some spatial-sociological research pointless because it lacks applicability, and they may devalue theory building as a pure intellectual thought exercise that does not help to improve spatial conditions. In light of this state of affairs, this session aims to get to the bottom of these different trans- and interdisciplinary approaches to methods regarding spatial research on urban sustainability, and strengthen the dialogue between the social sciences and planning. We particularly welcome papers that critically address any of the following issues: (i) the theoretical, or methodological role of spatial methods in a transdisciplinary or interdisciplinarity research-practice agenda of urban sustainability, whether or not jointly led by social scientists and urban planners; (ii) incremental, evolutionary, and social learning approach in transdisciplinary research and practice; (iii) the appropriateness of spatial methods to the diverse trans- or interdisciplinary partners, issues and contexts, especially those comprising the cooperation between social scientists and urban planners; (iv) any common lines of discussion between trans- or interdisciplinary and participatory research that make use of spatial methods.

  • Session 17 – Applying Spatial Methods in Homelessness Studies: Methodological and Ethical Challenge


Fraya Frehse (University of São Paulo, Brazil), Natalia Martini (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

Session Abstract:

Homeless urban lives are characterized by spatial fluidity amidst fixity. Their spatial patterns are significantly shaped by geographies of inclusion/exclusion – service provision, resource acquisition, policing, expulsion amidst solidary interactions with peers and non-homeless people. Homeless geographies reflect how socially marginalized urbanites navigate the urban environment, i.e., how they deploy their spatial knowledge and practical skills to manoeuvre through various social boundaries and material barriers and hence get by in the city. More generally, daily paths of homeless urbanites or, from an alternative theoretical stance, their bodily uses of public places illuminate how social and material orderings of urban spaces enable or constrain (non-)belonging in the city. By taking into consideration that the spatial dimension of homelessness has become increasingly important in recent homelessness studies, given that homelessness has turned into a global social issue, this session addresses the methodological and ethical challenges implicit in the application of spatial methods in empirical research on urban homelessness. It aims at discussing the limits and possibilities of qualitative, quantitative and mixed approaches that are sensitive to the social and relational dimensions of space. In this session, we invite scholars interested in sharing especially their methodological experiences with empirical research on homeless’ mobilities, on the homeless’ daily paths, on their bodily uses of space, on the activity spaces of homeless people, on the spatial patterns of their (non-)belonging to the city, on the homeless’ geographies of inclusion/exclusion, on their perceptions and experiences of space, or the spatial knowledge of homeless urbanites. On the one hand, we particularly welcome submissions that address the difficulties and advantages of spatial methods such as GPS tracking, mental mapping, walking interviews and spatial ethnography. On the other hand, we encourage reflection on ethical issues related to obtaining and using spatial information regarding locations of homeless’ activities due to their often non-normative and sometimes illegal status.


2) Presentations in two Conference sessions

  • In Session 11 – Students’ Critical View on Spatial Methods Applied to Homelessness in Transdisciplinarity


Giulia Pereira Patitucci, Caio Moraes Reis, Anna Carolina Martins Silva, Ednan Silva Santos, Ana Carolina Martins Gil and Giovanna Olinda dos Santos Bernardino

Presentation Abstract:

Between November 2020 and April 2022, within the Action 4 of the Global Center for Spatial Methods for Urban Sustainability (GCSMUS), a team of eight graduate students from different backgrounds (from architecture and urban planning to nursing, including sociology, humanities, and psychology) took part in a pilot research-practice project aimed at unveiling the contributions of transdisciplinary spatial methods to urban sustainability, based on the study of the everyday spatialities of homelessness in the city of São Paulo during the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, this team (which we were part of) was trained in empirical research techniques sensitive to the social and relational dimension of space (notably, ethnographic observation, and visual techniques such as mapping, drawing, and photography) in order to investigate the ways in which homeless people daily order space and time through their bodies (both verbally and non-verbally) while assigning meanings to their interactions with people, objects, institutions, animals, and plants there, in Covid-19 São Paulo. Later, the team returned to the field to train local practitioners who attend the homeless population (in social movements, and NGOs that provide services to the City Hall of São Paulo) in the same spatial methods. This training course enabled an exchange of knowledge about homelessness in Covid-19 São Paulo oriented towards intervening in the daily professional practice with homeless population therein. For having been vectors of the dialogue between university and professional practice in the pilot-project, the students’ critical point of view about this dialogue sheds light on the potentialities of their role in transdisciplinary projects addressing the issue of urban sustainability. Therefore, we propose to critically interrogate the documents that these students produced throughout the research-practice project (research reports, and presentations in two seminars held at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the University of São Paulo, respectively in December 2020 and April 2022) to answer four questions: (i) What have the students learned about homelessness in Covid-19 São Paulo? (ii) What have they learned about professional practice attending the homeless population there and then? (iii) What contributions have transdisciplinary spatial methods offered to their research on homelessness? And (iv) What contributions have those methods offered to the practitioners who attend homeless people? We argue that (i) the students have identified four everyday spatialities of homelessness in São Paulo during the Covid-19 pandemic; (ii) the students also have described seven elements that compose the common sense knowledge guiding the practitioners who attend homeless people; (iii) the spatial methods have offered the students a methodological perspective that instilled in them an estrangement in relation to the research objects and methods of investigation of their individual research projects; and (iv) provided the practitioners with four types of estrangement regarding their own professional performance and personal lives, and the homeless population. We thus hope to add to the session’s discussion of the social learning approach in transdisciplinary research and practice, promoting the transdisciplinary character and social reach of the dialogue between university and professional practice around urban sustainability, with a focus on homelessness.

  • In Session 17 – Spatial Methods in Homelessness Studies: An Overview and its Methodological and Ethical Challenges


Fraya Frehse and Natalia Martini

Presentation Abstract:

In this presentation we will give an introductory overview of the Session’s concept. This firstly implies addressing the currently major spatial methods applied in empirical research on urban homelessness, including homeless persons’ mobilities, daily paths, bodily uses of space, their activity spaces, their perceptions and experiences of space, the spatial patterns of their (non-) belonging to the city, and the spatial knowledge of homeless urbanites. We will then pay special attention to the methodological and ethical challenges related to studying the spatial dimension of homelessness, by dwelling, on the one hand, on the analytical (dis)advantages of using methods such as GPS tracking, mental mapping, walking interviews and spatial ethnography, and, on the other hand, as well as on the ethical facet of obtaining and using spatial information related to the homeless activities, which are all too often socially conceived as non-normative, not to mention its sometimes illegal status.


3) Organization of one LONG Advanced Methods Course:

  • Course 5: Addressing spatial methods for homelessness research


Fraya Frehse (USP-GCSMUS) – coord.

Ana Carolina Martins Gil (PUC-SP-GCSMUS)

Caio Moraes Reis (USP-GCSMUS)

Giovanna Olinda dos Santos Bernardino (UFABC-GCSMUS)

Ednan Silva Santos (UFABC-GCSMUS)

Course syllabus:

How can spatial methods be mobilized in the homelessness studies? And What do they offer to the researcher? Arguing that spatial methods contribute to homelessness studies by highlighting the everyday spatialities of homelessness, this workshop aims to teach in two steps how to apply a specific methodological toolbox (comprising the ethnographic observation of everyday spatialities and techniques of visualization of those same spatialities) in homelessness research: (i) by presenting the aforementioned toolbox and the empirical object it discloses and (ii) by furthering a short fieldwork experience comprising the production of fieldnotes which are to be discussed in the final session.