Theoretical Approach and Methodology

A la fois lieu de construction sociale,
la ville n’est pas un objet extérieur qui s’impose à nous.
Elle est rencontre, croisement entre un objet regardé par un sujet
et un sujet fabriqué par cet objet.
M. Roncayolo, Le géographe dans sa ville, Paranthèse, 2016

Over the last five years, we have formed a mixed research group consisting of researchers in geography and audio-visual professionals who work together on the idea of observing cities from a unique standpoint. To this end, we employed methodologies, techniques, multimodal tools and narratives that could help us to investigate how people express their emotions. By using this approach, we could consider the city as a “category of practice” (Cooper and Brubaker, 2000) whereby practices stem from social experience. As Cooper and Brubaker explain, we need to see: “the city as a category of practice, as a representation of people’s relationship to urbanization processes, rather than an as a category of analysis adequate to describe these processes themselves”.

Conducting research via visual texts involves a number of issues, such as the need for the researcher to reflect on their role, immersing themselves in the context they observe and making their presence felt. Hence, they must think that they are both the subject and object of their own observations and reflections, otherwise they run the risk of adopting a biased perspective. Moreover, they need to perfect their ability to interpret a multifaceted reality so as to be able to look at others as well as themselves. Accepting this approach is to deal with people’s dreams, (typical) folklore tales, spatial narrations, local facts made evident by everyday practice, contemporary planning for everyday living, that leads to the production of an imaginary and spatial reality.

The aim of this project is to tackle social observation through the analysis of people’s representations and practices that can help us to reveal how they build on their relationship with the surrounding space. These types of practices show what people do, how they act as they: “qualifie l’action en tant que conséquence d’une vue théorique ou que mise en œuvre d’un projet” (Morfaux, 1980, p. 281). In this sense, representations can be defined as “pertinent schematizations of reality” (Guérin & Gumuchian, 1985) that are linked to space via social practice (Debarbieux, 1991; Gumuchian, 1991, Bouhaddou, 2016). By the same token, observation can be seen as “pratique sociale avant d’être une méthode scientifique” (Arborio & Fournier, 1999, p. 5-6), which can lead the researcher to be either distant or actively involved with the space and reality they seek to investigate.

While creating photographs and videos, residents and researchers become the main actors in the visual narration process of a given space. Choosing a space to be photographed or filmed very much depends on the emotional connection the observer naturally establishes with the object they observe. Supported by a (solid) set of quantitative data and after completing a brief period of technical training, the residents could freely choose what space deserves their narrative attention.

Le réel que Simmel souhaite rendre intelligible, échappe à la logique de la seule raison
Thierry Paquot, Désastres urbains, La Découverte, 2015.