Five years ago, the LX.lab had just launched in our physical space and we were getting to know the learning and teaching community. With the generous support of many staff at UTS, we’ve only grown and flourished since that time.

We were excited to launch the Academic in Residence program with our first collaborator, Associate Professor Ilaria Vanni Accarigi. It was an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about creating useful tools for learning and teaching, and resulted in learning and teaching resources focused on Ilaria’s area of interest, place-based methodologies.

Last month, we hit the 5-year anniversary since our collaboration. To celebrate, we had a chat with Ilaria and looked back on the project, and also discussed how Ilaria’s work has developed in the years since.

The LX.lab was thrilled to have you as our first Academic in Residence (AiR) five years ago this month. Tell us a little about the project you worked on during your residency.

Thank you LX.lab for the opportunity to track and reflect on this program after five years! In 2018 I was on an education-focused PEP to develop learning resources for students whose work requires an engagement with place. This PEP project responded to the need to redesign some of the methodologies for the Bachelor of Arts in International Studies year abroad. In the study abroad year, students from all UTS faculties doing the combined degree in International Studies work on a research project supervised by me and my colleagues in the degree. For a few years before 2018, I noticed a trend among my students to choose topics that analysed specific places in a variety of social, cultural and environmental aspects. This is not a surprise, as students forged their belonging and attachments to their new cities.

But these projects diverged from the more ‘traditional’ research based largely on textual analysis, interviews and surveys that I had seen in the first 10 years of my career. They required authentic and sustained engagement with place, considered how global issues played out at a local level, and often resulted in multimodal works that deployed a range of digital skills. So, I set out to design, research, and develop a set of resources to support these processes of creative and critical inquiry. I asked LX.lab for help to build and host a website so that the whole of UTS could access these resources. Lucy Arthur, who at the time was LX.lab manager, came up with the idea of having me in residence for 6 months, and that is how the ‘Academic in Residence’ (AiR) program started. I am particularly proud of this legacy, because LX.lab sustained support is transformational, and hopefully other academics will benefit from it. The program gave me the opportunity to catch up with a large body of literature in several disciplines, to write it up as a learning resource in a beautifully designed website, and to record 16 podcasts in which I interviewed academics from different disciplines researching many aspects of place.

The concept of place-based methodologies has been central to your research and teaching. What attracted you to this approach?

Several things, some personal like being a migrant on Country and trying to understand how to be, know and act respectfully and carefully in this place. Some are part of my disciplinary trajectory: as an undergraduate I studied art history, and places and their histories are an integral part of it (I also studied geography as elective subjects, and they were my favourite). Some are intellectual, as a place-based approach allows fine-tuned research that nevertheless tackles big, and often global, questions and problems: a zooming-in on the local and zooming-out on the global. Finally, I love geographer Doreen Massey’s work on space (for an introduction to her work I suggest the Spatial Delight podcast).

What are some of the ways this work has continued and expanded over the past 5 years?

Place-based Methodologies has now migrated to Canvas sites of International Studies subjects, and to Mapping Edges, the website of the transdisciplinary research studio I co-funded with Alexandra Crosby in 2016. This migration of course has also meant some transformations and updates. It is a joy to watch how students, teachers and other researchers are inspired and use these resources. Before the pandemic, students in Italy used the resources to produce highly creative projects on disparate topics like neighbourhoods, mobility, urban parks, guided tours, an underground river, everyday life in a university town, museums, LGBTQ+ spatial politics, fashion geographies, and activism.

Place-based methodologies are now a central component of a new core subject on international research methodologies in the Bachelor of International Studies, and as case studies in three other subjects (that I know of). One of my HDR graduates, Leyla Stevens, won a prestigious art award for a video connected to her PhD and based on place-based archival and ethnographic methods. Other HDR students have used place-based methodologies to research art making, a social centre in Rome, Aboriginal urban agriculture, archives. Alexandra and I wrote modules based on Mapping Edges place-based research for Res-Hub on qualitative and creative methods.

Place-based methodologies are at the core of my research: in 2020 I wrote a book about counter-precarity activism in Milan that is very much about activist geographies in the city. Place-based methodologies also shape and are shaped by Mapping Edges, and we define our transdisciplinary field as place-based design research. Our recent projects funded by the City of Sydney and in partnership with 107 Projects Green Square, include critical maps, an atlas of civic ecologies, and a second atlas is in production. Through a UTS collaborative grant (with Elise van den Hoven and James Goodman) we made a storymap on Water Stories in Green Square. There is also a UTS precinct planty map, done as part of the UTS Library Creative in Residence program. These projects generated also a number of publications on place-based methodologies, for instance:

How have students interacted and engaged with place-based methodologies?

The general informal feedback I receive is that place-based methodologies empower students to see and analyse cities (mainly they research urban areas) critically, and change the way they look at their everyday environments. In their works I see more freedom, and with it more creative and critical thinking, and much more fun for all involved. On another level, for students going overseas place-based methodologies offer a technique to know and understand new cities better and to generate an active sense of belonging because students become expert on their place.

How has your perspective on place-based methodologies evolved, especially in light of the impact of the pandemic on research, learning and teaching?

I understand place as relational, rather than physical, and in the place-based methodologies resources, I included historical, ethnographic and visual methods. This meant that students during the pandemic could rethink their methods and pivot to digital ethnographies, archival research and oral histories. In research I refocused and went hyperlocal, literally doing fieldwork in and on my 5kms radius! This opened up the wonderful collaboration between Mapping Edges and Bangawarra (D’harawal Eora Knowledge Keeper and Traditional Owner of the Sydney basin Shannon Foster, and Jo Kinniburgh) and the opportunity to understand Country ‘under the concrete’ in the urban renewal project of Green Square. The pandemic also led to new ways of engaging with the community, and made me alive to the joy of reading old maps against the grain to reveal what kind of environmental practices sustained colonialism and capitalist development in my own precinct.

Going forward, what are your plans for further explorations in place-based methodologies?

The continuation of collaborative research, a lot of writing, and hopefully new PhD students!

2023 AiR Samuel Yu

This year we had the opportunity to work with Samuel Yu. The resources below were created in collaboration during Sam’s residency at the LX.lab.

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