Photo by Svenja Timmins
Take a walk. One rule: have no practical purpose but to explore. When was the last time you wandered around, nose up in the air? Thanks to the School of Social and Political Sciences, I got that chance today.We tend to walk to places, in order to do things. Purposeful motion, aimed like an arrow at a target. The action of walking becomes instrumental, a mere practicality to get from A to B.
Walk to class, to the shops, to the pub, to training… going for a walk for the sake of it sounds somewhat old fashioned, the prerogative of dog owners, families and seniors. But if you raise your eyes from the pavement, turn your neck around and start looking at details in the surroundings, you will transform your journey from A to B into a meaningful experience in itself.
This is what Professor Lynn Jamieson taught me and my fellow wanderers while briskly trotting around Edinburgh at today’s “Sociology and the City” event. Sociology changes through time, in weird and inventive ways, and the city is full of signs of these transformations for those who care to decrypt them. As the walk and the talk proceeded alternately, stopping in little knots in the much-cherished sunshine, we created in our minds a 3D, cross-temporal map of how Edinburgh might have looked in past centuries. We fed information into this map, bits and pieces from the 17th century to the Thatcher years. What people lived in which houses, at what social and architectural levels. How New Town might have looked before wealthy classes, sick of the crowded, smelly and dodgy Old Town colonised it with Georgian grandeur. What it might have meant, some fifty years ago, to live in council housing compared to what it means now.
Society changes, and the city records this in its own visual language. It is not a history for rushed city dwellers. It requires you to go out and about, in a crisp February morning, and risk taking ‘aimless’ steps.