Tag Archives: senses

Are we losing our way?

By Rebecca Collins and David McCullough 

A sunny weekend in Britain sees walkers flocking to areas of outstanding national beauty, eager to enjoy some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes.  Whilst most walkers go prepared with appropriate clothing, footwear, refreshment, and navigational tools, a growing number set out ill-equipped, sometimes finding themselves in danger as a result.  This year alone, one group of walkers had to be guided down off Blencathra in the Lake District, having failed to take appropriate navigation equipment, and three separate incidents in Ambleside (also in the Lake District) resulted from members of the public attempting to navigate snow and ice-bound mountain passes.  Local mountain rescuers later stated that the only navigational technologies that can provide reliable information about weather conditions are “your eyes and common sense; you can’t blame your sat-nav.”

In an attempt to tackle growing numbers of mountain rescue call-outs by ill-prepared walkers, this summer a team comprised of representatives from the National Trust, Cumbria Constabulary and the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association, questioned all walkers at Wasdale Head as to their preparedness for their journey.  Learning more about walkers’ levels of preparation is part of an attempt to ensure the future sustainability of volunteer-run mountain rescue operations, at a time when growing numbers of people depend solely on GPS-based technologies – primarily smartphone apps and in-car sat-nav systems – for everyday navigation.  In recent years questions have been asked as to whether over-reliance on these technologies is having a detrimental effect on our innate way-finding ability.

In our recent paper for Area, “‘Are we losing our way?’ Navigational aids, socio-sensory way-finding and the spatial awareness of young adults” we report on an experiment designed to explore the impact of different navigational technologies on way-finding ability and sense of place.  The experiment responds directly to the 2012 call by Axon, Speake and Crawford in the same journal for geographers to engage more actively with the potentialities at the intersection of evolving navigational technologies and spatial and cartographic literacy.

The experiment required participants to navigate between two points in a series of towns unknown to them, using a different navigational aid each time.  On one route groups used a GPS compatible unit on a smartphone; on a second route they used a paper Ordnance Survey map; and on the third route they were asked to reach the destination with no navigational aids beyond clues in the built and natural environment and their sense of direction.  Following completion of these navigational tasks, participants were individually interviewed about their experience of way-finding using these different methods, and they were asked to draw sketch maps showing as much detail of each route as they could remember.

Although all our participants (without exception) claimed that the GPS tool (i.e. a smartphone) was their preferred navigational aid, the routes navigated using it were described overwhelmingly negatively, as “cold” and “boring”, and were characterised by scant recollection of details from the journey, regardless of which route (and town) the GPS was used to navigate.  In contrast, the routes navigated using the paper OS map were viewed overwhelmingly positively and were characterised by detailed recollections of the routes, including interactions with people and observations of the natural environment.  Despite this, the paper map as a tool was described overwhelmingly negatively, in terms including “not practical”, “out of date” and “hassle”.

Our findings raise interesting questions as to how to strike a balance between the convenience, familiarity, and potential of digital navigational tools and those characteristics of non-digital methods which appear to be better attuned to engendering place attentiveness.

About the authors: Rebecca Collins is Deputy Head of Department and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geography and International Development, University of Chester. David McCullough is a Department of Geography and International Development, University of Chester alumnus. 


Axon, S. , Speake, J. and Crawford, K. (2012), ‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use. Area, 44: 170-177. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x
McCullough D, Collins R. “Are we losing our way?” Navigational aids, socio‐sensory way‐finding and the spatial awareness of young adultsArea2018;00:1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12478




London 2012 Paralympics – Spectatorship Through the Body

By Jen Turner

The opening week of the London 2012 Paralympic Games has witnessed an array of grit, determination, and World-Record-breaking sport from competitors across the globe.  As I write, Paralympic Team GB are in possession of 19 Gold medals, lying second in the table with 62 medals overall.  With 80,000 spectators at the Opening Ceremony and a predicted 215,000 per day entering Olympic Park, the Paralympics have been as successful in attracting a crowd as the Olympics themselves.  In a BBC report, London’s transport commissioner Peter Hendy said: “We already know the London 2012 Paralympic Games will see the most spectators in its history.”

However, the visual terminology concerning those who come to ‘see’ events has left a sour taste in the mouth of some disabled visitors to the games – a little at odds when we consider the kinds of athletes the Paralympics caters for.  Damon Rose’s BBC blog focuses on the limited commentary available for blind people, both at live events and on television.  Recounting his difficulty following the action at the blind person’s sport of goalball, he writes, “Oh, the irony that the only members of the crowd who can’t enjoy the blind football are those who can’t see”.  Interestingly, Rose also questions the appeal of goalball as a spectator sport for those who can see.  He explains that athletes rely on the sounds of other players and the bell in the ball.  With matches played in silence, the much praised London crowd might find the experience forces them to develop an unusual awareness of senses other than the visual.  However, as Rose discovered – for some, this merely allows the marvel of the Paralympic athletes to resonate.  “I thought the silence was amazing and it was fascinating the way the athletes felt their way across the court,” says Sue Lee, a retired teacher from Chelmsford.

A geographical focus on the sensory experience is provided by Longhurst, Ho and Johnston in their (2008) Area article. Focusing upon how different bodily experiences shape interactions with people and places, the article raises the importance of the body as a research tool.   As the human body is the primary vehicle through which all emotions and worldly interactions occur, its significance in generating and shaping meaningful interactions with place is great.  Thinking about this in relation to the Paralympic Games, how far will the sensory requirements portrayed by the athletes themselves impact upon the able-bodied spectator experience.  What is there to be learned from these alternative bodily experiences?

Longhurst, R., Ho, E. and Johnston, L., (2008) Using ‘the body’ as an ‘instrument of research’: kimch’i and pavlova, Area, 40.2, 208–217

Commuters urged to prepare for Paralympic Games, BBC News, 21 Aug 2012

Blind man watching goalball – silence please, BBC – The Ouch! Blog, 31 Aug 2012

Beanz Meanz Home; migrants, food and place

by Fiona Ferbrache

As geographers, we are aware of the problems associated with reverting to stereotypes.  However, I do wish to draw upon the notion that France is synonymous with good food, if only that you might share my surprise on finding an article suggesting that British citizens living in France are creating a high demand for food imports from the UK.  This demand has led to a successful business venture catering to cross-border grocery shopping.

The Guardian report highlights how some Britons in France are online shopping at their favourite UK supermarkets and ordering food (UK and French food – including boxes of croissant) that is then delivered to one of four specialist depots.  From here, a delivery firm, catering to these international customers, drives the lorry-load of goods to consumers in France.  Geographers might be interested to pursue these behaviours for they reveal much about affective relations between migrants and place.

Longhurst et al. (2009) do just this.  Focused on migrant women’s cooking experiences in Hamilton, New Zealand, the researchers explore the visceral experiences of food and how it can help migrant women to connect with their ‘old home’.  The research rests on migrants’ senses of food; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and what this tells us about their emotional relations with place.

Bon appétit!

Hickman, L. (2010) Expat orders for British supermarket food surge on strength of euro: The Guardian. Wednesday 09 June, 2010

Longhurst, R., Johnston, L. & Ho, E. (2009) A visceral approach: cooking ‘at home’ with migrant women in Hamilton, New Zealand. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.34, 3 pp.333-345

Haptic Technologies and the Geographies of Touch

Sarah Mills

Touch-screen mobile phones and other electronic devices are increasingly part of our everyday business and leisure engagements.  However, the BBC recently reported on the commercial race to launch ‘new’ haptic technologies, where “for the first time, people will be actually be able to have a virtual feel of some of the images that are placed before them.”  This article reports on research at the Disney Laboratories in the US where technologies are being developed to let people ‘feel’ objects on screen by stroking them with their fingers.  A senior researcher states: “We do this by applying a high voltage to a transparent electrode on the glass plate – in this case people will feel a texture on the glass. By varying the frequency and amplitude of the signal we can create different sensations.”  Other examples of this type of technology include developments in localised tactile feedback – aimed to enhance haptic phones where “people feel them, stretch them, bend them and have them react to these interactions”.

In a recent issue of Geography Compass, Deborah Dixon and Elizabeth Straughan chart “recent efforts to place touch, touching and being touched within non-essentialist, human geographic analyses”.  They highlight how “Considerable attention within geography has been paid to the physiologies, knowledges and practices that give substance and import to the senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – and the manner in which these work alone, or in concert, to facilitate particular forms of relations between and amongst people, other life forms and objects.”  Dixon and Straughan draw on examples of work that explores the “inter-play between the ‘interior’ psychologies of intimacy and indifference, acceptance and alienation (i.e. feelings of being in/losing/being out of touch) and the ‘exterior,’ corporeal work of texture and friction, push and feel.” In conclusion, they call for more critical attention to the work of touch.  The advent of haptic technologies reported in this BBC article demonstrates new ways in which various senses – in this case touch – frame our experiences and understandings of the world around us.

Read M. Fitzpatrick ‘Haptics brings a personal touch to technology’ on BBC Online

Read Deborah P. Dixon & Elizabeth Straughan (2010) ‘Geographies of Touch/Touched by Geography’ in Geography Compass 4 (5): 449-459