This summer, the mindful walking project was created in London: a participatory action research project to advance the theory and practice of walking and sensory research methodologies.
Walking, as a qualitative research methodology, has a profound and diverse history in the social sciences and humanities. It is valuable as it conducts research that is situated, relational and material and builds on the importance of place, sensory inquiry, embodiment and rhythm. Walking in this context does not restrict itself to bipedal locomotion. It is rather a conceptual activity (or movement) offering the opportunity for ‘walkers’ to establish relationships with lived social, natural and built environments regardless of ones capabilities.
During the summer around eight walk leaders were trained to develop and guide sense walks in the Bloomsbury and Kings Cross neighbourhoods in London. Together with the walk leaders, we discussed and experimented different approaches. This resulted in the implementation of six different walks, each with its own route and focus. People who live, study or work in those neighbourhoods were invited to participate in the walks as a collective exploration. The initial question central to our temporary project was: ‘What does wellbeing look like through a physical and sensory embodied practice?’
Through different and sometimes overlapping themes (such as energy, ‘productivity’, damage, recycling, wellbeing) and mindfully navigating through contrasting spaces, many questions were raised about social and political structures and how they come together in constructing different personal experiences. One of the walks for instance focused on productivity and wellbeing questioning the conceptual construct of productivity and whether wellbeing and productivity are mutually exclusive. The mindful walks mediate the focus between sounds, sights, smells and rhythm in the city and wider historical and cultural contexts, enabling the broadening of perspectives. Social media has been used as an innovative approach to engage all those involved creatively and to collect, document and reflect on the walks.
To conclude this project, a final workshop will be organised to share the results and learning and various articles will be published.
This project is a collaboration between the University College London (UCL) environmental planning unit, the global health unit and the Calthrope project, funded by University College London’s Grand Challenges Wellbeing Program. Our Perspectivity colleague Marjolein (also UCL alumnus) has been involved in co-creating this project together with the UCL team.