Conjuring Geographies: Using Experiential Techniques to Explore and Evoke Place

Dr Meg Mundell1

1Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC


This paper explores the how of literary wheres: the “backstage” work of conjuring place in textual form. While geography and literary studies have long been in fruitful dialogue, the emergent discipline of creative writing has until recently remained on the fringes of this conversation. Taking a process-based perspective, this paper examines how experienced creative writers harness personal and shared understandings of place to evoke it vividly on the page. Drawing on interview-based case studies of four authors – Tony Birch, Elizabeth Knox, Ross Gibson, and Jane Goodall – I present a model to help explicate how literary practitioners imbue textual place with meaning and emotion. Encompassing site visits, sensory engagement, spatial memories, cultural knowledge, collaborative tactics, and what I call “vicarious emplacement”, the Place-Oriented Experiential Techniques (POET) model is a set of generative methodological tools available to writers, geographers, and other researchers/creative practitioners seeking to explore and evoke the multidimensionality of place.


Dr Meg Mundell is an ECR/cultural geographer/writer with a focus on place, spatial justice and narratives of homelessness. Her current research explores understandings of place amongst people who have experienced homelessness, and she is editing We Are Here: Stories of Home, Place and Belonging (Affirm Press, October 2019), featuring creative writing by participants. Her novels Black Glass (Scribe, 2011) and The Trespassers (August 2019, UQP) employ plausible dystopias to explore experiences of displacement. Meg is a Research Fellow (Deakin University) and steering committee member for the interdisciplinary HOME Research Hub, which focuses on homelessness, affordable housing and social inclusion.

GoProing: Becoming participant/researcher

Dr Susannah Clement1

1University Of Wollongong


GoPro is a brand synonymous with small but relatively high powered, versatile and durable, sports action cameras. As they are lightweight and able to be mounted to bodies and equipment they are increasingly being used in ethnographic research. Yet a GoPro is not just a recording device which non-intrusively ‘captures’ everyday life. Rather, a GoPro’s agency, in particular its affective capacity to shift relations between bodies and place, means its place in the research assemblage is important to consider. This paper considers the use of a GoPro in a research project which investigated the everyday walking experiences of families with young children. It explores the moments where families’ recorded walks with a GoPro, renamed in the paper as GoProing, blurred the divides between participant, researcher, human and technology. The paper concludes by highlighting some of ethical dilemmas that should be addressed when doing research with families and GoPros.


Dr Susannah Clement is an early career researcher interested in exploring everyday mobility and family life through a material feminist lens. She is an Honorary Associate Fellow with the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, University of Wollongong.

Assembling research by listening to refugees’ emotions and stories

Ms Charishma Ratnam1

1UNSW Australia


In geography, the multiple approaches of conducting research has meant that emotions are given less attention. However, central to the remit of conducting/understanding our research involves a suite of embodied, verbal, non-verbal and emotional experiences that occur in place(s). As geographers, we have an interest in how people experience past, present and future places, and embedded (with)in these places are emotions. Thus, there is a need to focus on the emotional entanglements of people and place.

This paper investigates the emotional geographies of listening to difficult stories from Sri Lankan refugees. The interviews involved participants (re)telling stories of fleeing Sri Lanka, which were emotional, distressing and traumatic. I frame this paper within verbal and non-verbal methods of listening. I explain how participants (re)told their stories, how I listened to them and how emotions constructed these stories. Then, I discuss my own fieldwork experiences. This paper provides space for researchers undertaking sensitive research to discuss lessons learnt in the field.


Charishma Ratnam is a PhD candidate in geography at UNSW Australia. Her research focuses on the intersections of mobility, memory and identity among Sri Lankan refugees during their settlement in Australia. She is interested in how memories and identities are fostered, maintained and (re)created in private spaces, such as the home. Her ethnographic fieldwork focuses on the Sri Lankan refugee diaspora to analyse their home-building practices that contribute to building a wider sense of place.

Towards Many Ways of Knowing: A Dialogue

Mr James Jang1, Ms Anna Carlson1

1University Of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


What does it mean to think and write collectively within and against the neoliberal, still-colonial university? What possibilities for divergent or subversive knowledge are there in the confines of these institutions? And how might we come together to think across diverse subjectivities? This paper extends ongoing discussions and collaborations between the authors about the role of diverse subjectivities in the production of knowledge; and the violence of making ourselves legible to/in the contemporary university. We wonder: what kinds of tensions are produced when we attempt to articulate “diverse” modes of knowledge-production in academic institutions? Who bears the brunt of those tremors and anxieties? For us – a man of colour and a white settler woman, living and working on the unceded lands of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples: is it possible to write and think together in the spaces of the university, or must we plot moments of retreat, escape, refusal?

In this paper, we draw from cultural studies and critical geography to think about spaces of knowledge production, the politics and poetics of authority and authorship, and the (perhaps insurmountable) challenge of thinking together in the context of continuing colonialism; across intersections of race, gender and sexuality.


James is a PhD student working between the disciplines of anthropology and cultural studies investigating how the self is made and performed in South Korea. James has an ongoing interest in and relationship to the question of how bodies are articulated and negotiated in everyday spaces.

Anna is a radio producer, illustrator and researcher, currently based in Meanjin. She is an organiser of the Brisbane Free University & co-produces 4zzz’s Radio Reversal. Her PhD research investigates the relationship between surveillance and colonialism in Brisbane from an intersectional, spatial standpoint approach.

In the eye of the researcher: Unravelling the elusive contours of participant groups

Ms Karen Paiva Henrique1

1University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia


Given the complex nature of social research, identifying, categorising, and assembling research subjects into discrete participant groups is often considered a logical and necessary step in data collection and analysis. It allows researchers to order their empirical inquiry, ensure methodological clarity, and approach research questions from multiple standpoints. Assembling participant groups, however, is not an impartial process; it reflects researchers’ a priori understandings of the landscape being studied, reproducing preconceived notions of formal/informal, insider/outsider, and good/evil as these relate to research participants. This paper explores how assembling participant groups shapes the way urban landscapes are examined, understood, and chronicled. Drawing on my work on the politics of flooding in São Paulo, Brazil, I demonstrate how assembling participants into groups essentializes their role in the city’s contentious adaptation landscape. I argue that pushing understandings of vulnerabilities and agency forward requires methodologies which embrace research subjects’ messy, fluid, and deeply entwined positions.


Karen Paiva Henrique is a Ph.D. Candidate in Geography and Planning at the University of Western Australia. Her work lies at the intersection of climate change adaptation, social and environmental justice, and urban development.

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