Using Sensory Ethnography to Understand Visitor Experiences

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The use of sensory ethnography to gain new understandings of visitor emotional experiences and practices at National Trust sites and their implications for future research & management.

Aims:
investigate the meaning places have for people and how people engage with places

open up new approaches to examining peoples’ engagement with landscapes and places through sensory ethnography

communicate the above in a meaningful way that enables the NT to evaluate the possibility of implementing the findings and the methods.

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  • My PhD looks at new understandings of visitor experiences and practices at National Trust sites and their implications for future NT research and management.
    Today I will be talking about the use of sensory ethnography to gain these new insights into visitor experiences and practices.
  • I want to start by briefly outlining the aims of my project.
    So the first one is the over arching aim and it’s about investigating the meaning places have for people by examining how they engage with places.
    And I will achieve this by CLICK looking at new ways of examining people’s engagement with sites by looking at peoples practice in these places, through their sensory engagement, as well as their emotional engagement. I will use a suite of research methods to achieve this which I will expand on later.
    My final aim CLICK is to then communicate these new methods and findings to the Trust which involves and on going engagement and dialogue.
  • Hidcote - an Arts and Crafts garden in the north Cotswolds, designed in the 1920s by American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston and features outdoor ‘rooms’
    Dyrham - 17th century mansion, deer park and garden near Bath
    Woodchester park - wooded valley contains a 'lost landscape' with remains of an 18th- and 19th-century landscape park with a chain of five lakes in Gloucestershire.
    Lacock - Abbey, photography museum and village also near Bath
    Chosen in conjunction with the Trust because they were different from one another in terms of types of sites and visitor numbers. They were within about a 60 mile radius of where I live.
    I made multiple visits to each of the four sites; in the beginning to familiarise myself with the site - their physical layout, how people were using them, and to establish a relationship with the staff and volunteers at the sites before actually carrying more detailed research.
  • I also piloted my methods at different sites.
    The use of video was particularly effective - I used it both as ‘walking with video’ style where I shadowed and recorded the site visit of an elderly participant.
    and also the video diary method where I simply gave the camera to a participant and they went off by themselves around the site. I was able to validate this second method with a follow up interview that I did immediately after the participant’s video diary at the site.
    These methods were about taking a collaborative, reflexive approach to gain an empathetic understanding of participants and at the same time to represent the embodied nature of people’s experiences and practices of, place. These methods were intended to identify and understand how people engage with place - what they did, what they felt, what they were thinking - when they are at the site.
    Real world messiness -
    BENEFITS:
  • By jointly going through the video, and by walking with the participant filming, I was able to ask questions around why they recorded what they did – in this way get some self reflexiveness but also the diary becomes a kind of performance and the interview a reperformance. It’s another layer of place making.
    Temporality
    “There is a significant distinction to be made here between the video facilitating the reflection on and examination of these contingent affective relations as a further form of documentation, but not as necessarily constituting the actual presentation of these.”
    Simpson (2011)
  • Analysis was not a discrete process - iterative process where ongoing analysis informed interview questions
    identified themes during interviews and during transcription of interviews and watching/editing video
    Mind maps – to see connection between themes
  • The narrative that participants impart during the research process is, therefore, not simply a way of mirroring what goes on in the world – walking with video reflects this
    People experience the world at multiple points, times and places – as researchers we have to understand this
    Ambivalence and inconsistency – subjective as with even objective findings
  • While ethnographic research methods give access to the rich, on-going creation of place through practice but it should be acknowleged that by observing people’s behaviour we derive hypothesis from our own cultural knowledge to describe and explain their actions.
    Context – investigate the context in which actions occur, possible meanings from the culture for surrounding or other apparently relevant actions.
    Sample size - I didn’t want to gain access to selective groups or a sheer number of participants but rather I was interested in the quality and positionality of the information that was offered.
    Bendix (Pink) “the most profound type of knowledge which is not spoken at all and thus inaccessible to ethnographic observation or interview”
    It’s about creating and representing knowledge based on ethnographers own experiences
  • Using Sensory Ethnography to Understand Visitor Experiences

    1. 1. Gillian Cope – The University of the West of England The use of sensory ethnography to gain new understandings of visitor emotional experiences and practices at National Trust sites and their implications for future research & management
    2. 2. Overview • Aims • Sites • Methods • What methods enabled? • Analysis • Findings
    3. 3. Aims • investigate the meaning places have for people and how people engage with places • open up new approaches to examining peoples’ engagement with landscapes and places through sensory ethnography • communicate the above in a meaningful way that enables the NT to evaluate the possibility of implementing the findings and the methods.
    4. 4. Sites  Hidcote  Dyrham  Woodchester  Lacock
    5. 5. Methods - Audience: - - Visitors, staff and volunteers (34 in depth interviews) Methods: - - - Participant observation, semi-structured interviews (recorded and transcribed), fieldnotes, photography Video used for PO, ‘walking with video’ (Pink, 2007), video diary (Simpson,2010) The real world messiness reflects the intersubjective truth (Cook and Crang, 2007)
    6. 6. What did these methods enable me to capture?  a rich, detailed record of encounter capturing nuanced interactions, rather than a remembered experience  Walking with video - enabled a more involved approach to the how place and identities are constituted, enables participants to define and represent their own embodied experiences.  place-making process, after Casey (1996) used by Pink, where your body moves through time and space, encounters things and people and by doing so experiences and senses these things.  Video diary interview - gives the opportunity to allow a participant to express themselves without you, the interviewer, being an influencing force but still enables you to hear and see everything they did.
    7. 7. Video diary
    8. 8. Walking with video
    9. 9. How did I analyse?  Manual review of transcripts, video, photography  Identified themes  Mind maps to identify relationships within themes  Further Nvivo analysis
    10. 10. Findings - themes        Memory Rhythm Escape Connection and belonging The senses Physicality of place/objects Relationships
    11. 11. Advantages       this is collaborative and observational - multi methodological approach. enables the ‘voice’ of the research subjects to be heard articulates hard to capture affects, beyond the voice not simply mirroring but the means through which it is constructed, understood and acted out. intimate context in which to produce knowledge recognises ambivalence and inconsistency as real
    12. 12. Caveats  Self reflexivity and interpretation  We, as researchers, affect the social world we study (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983)  Investigate context  Sample size
    13. 13. Thank you gcope@glos.ac.uk

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