Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Introduction to Walking Studies

The fledgling discipline of Walking Studies finally looks set to emerge onto the world stage as more and more scholars start to take it seriously, no longer regarding it as an unscientific field of study, or at best an adjunct to Running Studies. In the early years of this globalised new millenium it has started to make a noticeable interdisciplinary contribution to the Academy. This has led to increased recognition of the invaluable work carried on by walkers, a long-maligned and neglected group of people. Once perceived as a marginal activity, walking is beginning to be seen as a fundamental act of human exchange. Today interest in the field has never been stronger and the study of walking is taking place alongside an increase in its practice all over the world.

Walking has a crucial role to play in traversing an increasingly fragmentary world. The walker, as the Irish scholar Michael Cronin has pointed out, is also a translator, someone engaged in a journey from one culture to another. The coming century surely promises to be the great age of travel, not only across languages, cultures and space, but time. Significantly, a major development in Walking Studies of late has been research into the history of walking, for an examination of how walking has helped shape our knowledge of the world in the past better equips us to shape our own futures.

The immediate task of the Walking Studies student is to establish a viable, scientific, empirically based theory of walking. In this field great strides have been made. The old dichotomous model of A–>B has long since been rejected as too simplistic and a plethora of exciting new approaches have made their appearance, each attempting to fundamentally re-interogate the nature of walking.

The dictionary tells us that walking is going from place to place by using one’s legs. But how many legs? And does a dancer not go from place to place? How much may one bend one’s knees before a walk becomes a run? International Sports Associations have sought to define this for the purposes of organising walking races. But such definitions are arbitrary and, as we shall see later, are open to accusations of patriarchalism and colonialism. What all of the approaches to Walking Studies which we will look at now have in common is their attempts to wrestle with the knotty problem of defining the activity of walking. It is hard to keep pace with developments, but an all too brief overview of some of these new definitions would have to include the following:

Skopos Theory (from the Greek skopos meaning “huh?”)
The German scholars, Katarina Verloren and Hans Verpasst, laid out the basis of skopos theory in their seminal Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Schulenstheorie. The question here is not “where?” but “why?” How does the destination of one’s walk influence the nature and speed of the walk? It is immediately apparent that not all walkers will have the same motivation and therefore old A–>B traversion models are revealed as inadequate for explaining the phenomenon. The walk is seen not as a movement from one place to another but a goal-based activity resulting in the transposition of the subject from a position of sub-optimal location to one of equal (or higher or lower) locationality. Directionality is of key importance in this approach.

Relevance Walking
Directionality is also at the heart of relevance walking. This theory is based on the work of Sperber and Wilson in the related field of cognitive projectile avionics. Sperber and Wilson posited that objects moving in an elliptical path take the same time to complete the second half of their arc as the first half if and only if a relevant point of contact can be found with the minimum of cognitive effort. Ernest Goodman transferred this insight to the field of Walking Studies in his thought-provoking Relevance Walking. The walker will always choose the path of least resistance as long as the context (by which is understood the immediate pedal environment) is of equal relevance to the walker in both his starting point and destination. The “relevance equation” envisages a zero-sum of context-relevant pedal environmental factors pre- and post- walk. Relevance Walker scholars are currently engaged in researching ways to quantify the pedal environmental factors which would enable the equation to be solved. A breakthrough is expected in Brazil soon.

Multisystems Theory – the Budapest School
Traditionally, walking has been seen as a self-contained system. How we walk now is determined by how we used to walk, how other cultures walk and by technological developments in the area of walking. Multisystems seeks to place walking in the context of other series of systems. Walking is seen as only one modality in a multitude of competing systems. To change the status of one modality means changing the status of all the others. Tourier has demonstrated how the invention of the internal combustion engine radically altered the nature of walking, even though petrol seemingly has nothing to do with feet.

Postwa(l)king and Deconstruct-ion
Multisystems has been criticised by de-construction(i)sts for being in thrall to structuralism. Postwa(l)kers seek to deconstruct the very nature of walking. Finding great impetus from Walker Benjamin’s “The Task of the Walker,” they question the binomial distinction between walking and not-walking. One is in fact a continuation (or “afterlife”) of the other and without being nowhere it would be impossible to go some(w)here. For this reason some scholars prefer the label “Somehere Studies.” Attention is drawn to marginal instances of wa(l)(k)ing: scholars are particularly fascinated by somnambulism and tight rope walking. The motto of this school of thought might be: “you have to learn to walk before you can crawl.”

Feminist Walqueen, Walkhers and Postcolonists
An important contribution to Walking Studies has been made by feminist theorists, basing their work on the writings of Alain Sokal and Jean Bricmont, phersicists who shifted the paradigm of enquirative studies in the 1980s. Far from remaining faithful to the goal (destination) of the walk, feminists reserve the right (or duty) to deviate from the path set out by the per-normative modes of patriarchal imperialism. It is not surprising, then, that they find common cause with Postcolonists, who struggle to reassert the identity of the starting point of the walk contra the hitherto privileged destination.

Quo Vadis?
The common threads that link the many diverse ways in which walking has been studied over the past two decades are an emphasis on diversity; a rejection of the old terminology of walking as movement and leaving an original point of departure; the foregrounding of the pedipulative powers of the walker; and a view of walking as bridge building across the place between source and target. This celebration of in-betweenness, which scholars from outside the field of walking have also stressed, reflects the changing nature of the world we live in. Once upon a time, it was deemed to be unsafe and undesirable to occupy a space that was neither here nor there, a no-person’s land with no precise identity. Today, in the twenty first century, boundaries are perceived as more fluid and more easily walked over than ever before. In such a world the role of the walker takes on a greater significance. This is why walking is so avidly discussed and in such demand. We have barely begun to imagine the potential for walking with the expansion of the World Wide Web. As electronic walking becomes more sophisticated, so Walking Studies will need to develop. It seems set to do so for the forseeable future.

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