Opening up and perceiving space, with all the senses, is one precondition for what a neuroscientist might call 'learning', and this is exactly what happens on a walk. When we walk, we gain and connect knowledge consisting of feelings, visions, memories, and impressions, and walking, as a tool for ethnographers like me, offers a meaningful alternative to detached, staid, and sedentary academic practice. Walking embeds us within the environment, allows us to intensively perceive and reimagine it, through a deep spatial immersion and participation in its ever-shifting form.
Gros' provocation, in his 'Philosophies of Walking', is that innovative, creative, and meaningful ideas may first depend upon innovative, creative, and immersed approaches, and further, that knowledge progresses most when one is untethered. This untethering is firstly about a physical abstraction from the classical contexts of scholarship, and instead a deviation into the unwalled outdoors. Secondly, a mental freedom, enabled by the bodies exposure to the environment, that inspires a subsequent agility and mobility of the mind. This provocation, with clear exponents throughout artistic and literary history, is one that needs now to be heard in academia.
The potential operationalisation of walking as ethnographic method stems from a capacity to deliver insights about both person and place through experience, exposure, and participation, and to traverse actual terrains and terrains of knowing simultaneously. Walking promises to both spatialise knowledge through a deep immersion both within and through the field, and to inspire knowledge, through a psycho-physiological interrelationship between movement and thinking. The process of walking is a process of understanding, and, for ethnographers across the academy concerned with geographical issues in the broadest sense, we should not be researching space whilst sat on our asses.