Geographical Review 106(3)

Peta Wolifson

American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Peta Wolifson: To better understand how residents and visitors from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds use Surry Hills at night, the study used two types of emplaced, mobile methods. These techniques aimed to reveal the individual character of experiences in Surry Hills at night to examine urban sociality in these gentrified nightlife zones and to understand how experiences there are framed. In doing so, the study reveals a complex narrative of place and highlights the role of expectation in experience of place.

American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Peta Wolifson: Increasingly neoliberal planning strategies in cities around the world has seen a privileging of their most economically-viable cultural elements; in night-time economy planning this plays out through the promotion of more ‘vibrant’ nightlife areas. This study examines how such areas are actually experienced by people using them, through fieldwork in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. By revealing the complex character of these individual experiences of nightlife, this study begins to break down privileged images of urban nightlife in order to improve lived inclusivity. This challenge to understandings of place has valuable implications for community consultation in the policy making area.

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Peta Wolifson: This study builds on recent work on encounter (Amin 2002; Valentine & Sadgrove 2012; 2013) that critiques the notion that social contact through everyday life may break down social barriers and promote inclusiveness. In this vein, the study adds to arguments stressing the significance of mobility and emplacement for creating conscious moments in which prejudices may be questioned. The study also contributes to the growing body of work on the value of mobile methods in social research (Kusenbach 2003; Sheller & Urry 2006; Büscher & Urry 2009)

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Peta Wolifson: The study found that personal histories – including upbringing, medical conditions, significant life changes and previous residences – had a strong bearing on how experiences of nightlife were framed. These experiential framings, revealed through emplaced and mobile methods, also explicated participant’s prejudices in the nightlife. The study also explored the role that emplaced methods play in interrupting discourses framing place. The study found that levels of sociability in place were tied to expectations of place that were shaped by such discourses. The ability to fit into the nightlife scene was shown to be related to the financial ability to participate as a consumer. 

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Peta Wolifson: The study shows how dominant discourses penetrate into everyday language that may incorrectly reflect the complex individual character of experience and understanding of place. The study findings suggest that a more mindful and conscious consideration of understandings and experiences in place has the potential to interrupt and challenge existing discourses. The use of emplaced, mobile methods is shown to be of value in exploring the complex conscious and unconscious relationships between self and landscape.

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Peta Wolifson: This research helps us understand more about the interactions between place, perception and experience. Emplaced, mobile methods are shown to interrogate these complex relationships, challenging existing power relations through the questioning of widespread discourses.

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