Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Encountering the Night with Mobile Methods

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Encountering the Night with Mobile Methods

Article excerpt

In recent years, Sydney, Australia, has joined a host of cities in which the governments, as part of broader neoliberal shifts, have enacted policies promoting more vibrant nighttime economies (Chatteron and Hollands 2002; Roberts and Eldridge 2009; City of Sydney 2013). The gentrified, postindustrial spaces of the city's inner suburbs--most notably, Surry Hills--provide key spaces for such development (van Liempt 2013); the economic foci of these policy shifts support the continued gentrification of these nightlife areas. Nightlife settings facilitate the degree of urban sociality--that is, conviviality, participation, and cooperativeness among people in these urban environments. Nightlife settings may also be sites of social conflict--both overt and covert (Hae 2012; Brands, Schwanen, and van Aalst 2013; van Liempt 2013). Despite an awareness of both the potential benefits and drawbacks of nighttime economies, little research has focused directly on understanding people's experiences and encounters in nightlife settings. This paper addresses this gap, and positions such an exploration in the context of nighttime economic planning and recent research on "encounter."

STUDY AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

Recent work on encounter suggests that contact through everyday life may not produce longer-term outcomes for urban sociality (Amin 2002; Valentine and Sadgrove 2012, 2013). This contrasts to the long-held belief that social contact--such as that available in nightlife settings--offers opportunities to break down social barriers and promote inclusiveness and understanding (Allport 1954; Pettigrew 1998; Laurier and Philo 2006). In Surry Hills, an inner-city locale with a mixed residency of high and lower socioeconomic outcomes, promoting inclusivity and cohesion should be a key aim of social planning. Gill Valentine and Joanna Sadgrove have discussed the difference between conscious and nonconscious encounters with difference by using biographical narratives (2013). They stress the significance of mobility and emplacement for allowing those conscious moments in which prejudices are "developed, challenged or interrupted" (Valentine and Sadgove 2013, 1981). This paper scaffolds from their work, and attempts to address an apparent diffidence in the outcomes of people's encounters in the night spaces of Surry Hills. In doing so, the paper illustrates the use of mobile methods in nightlife spaces to garner a more nuanced understanding of how forays into planned nighttime spaces are experienced and understood by people using those spaces.

This exploration involves the use of two emplaced, mobile methods--adapted versions of the "go-along" (Kusenbach 2003) and walking interview (see Methods section)--for examining urban sociality in gentrified nightlife scenes. Mobile methods are increasingly used for research that examines mobile practice(s) and/ or uses mobile techniques (Buscher and Urry 2009). I use the term "emplaced" here to describe the setting of methods within the physical spaces and locales being examined: the nightscape of Surry Hills, and particular night spaces within it, including "pubs," small bars, restaurants, and music venues.

These techniques were employed to reveal individual experiences of Surry Hills at night and to interrogate how these experiences were framed by multiple and multilayered discourses, memories, and world views of participants. By using these methods in place, and moving through place, I sought to reveal how meaningful and valuable encounters in the nightscape unveil complex narratives of those places. I was interested in the way in which experiences in small bars (1) were affected by popularly espoused discourses about these spaces, such as those outlined in formal nighttime economy planning documents. More generally, I sought to interrogate how expectations of place shaped experience. As a resident of Surry Hills, my familiarity afforded me insights into the effects of the gentrification on this nightscape and how this mediated participants' experiences and feelings of belonging in place. …

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