Space, memory and feeling: literary reading as virtual fieldwork

Authors: Dave McLaughlin*, Coventry University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Literary geography, virtual fieldwork, more-than-representational, memory, feeling
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recently, driven by more-than-representational approaches, geographical research has foregrounded affect, embodiment and the interactivity between people and environments. This attention has created fruitful new approaches to researching identity, community and landscape co-productions. Despite their role in revitalising how we as geographers conceptualise the world and our own approach to research, embodied and interactive research methods have been criticised for an inherent ‘presentism’ - that is, the tendency of these methods ‘through [an] excitement over living-in-the-moment… to ignore a more complex and nuanced temporal perspective’ (Harvey 2015: 913).

In this paper I will discuss how reading literary texts through a more-than-representational lens can be an alternative research method in these newly virtual times, and can address the presentism at work in research driven by embodied encounters. Literary texts provide a means of encountering affective, interactive and embodied happenings - past, present and future. Following from recent research into the affective force of representations (see Anderson 2018, Hones 2014, McLaughlin forthcoming), I argue that literary and semi-literary texts are more than mediations of thought or expression. They are performances and encounters which happen in time and space – and whose affects can be seen, followed and plotted. I will use three examples to illustrate the power of literary reading as a form of virtual fieldwork: two from my own recent research into Sherlockian fan communities and hikers on America’s Appalachian Trail; a third from new research into online book groups created in response to coronavirus lockdowns around the world.

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