Ethnography on the run / 9: backpain and lockdown updates

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

Two weeks have passed since the last post, as I’ve struggled with backpain, for some 10 days now. I did a run on March 5 (map below), just after the last post, mostly through central, historic areas where I had not been (Campo Martires da Pátria, Príncipe Real, Estrela, Rato). Then, I had to stop. I’ve almost fully recovered, and yesterday (March 18), I made a short run (~5 kms), but without recorder.

This made me think of yet another specificity of using sport as a method, in the sense that among the “risks” for the project I had not considered the possibility I could had stopped because of a minor “injury” like this. Actually, I should had planned for this, since during the first lockdown I had suffered of some days of backpains. In both cases, it’s probably due to a mix of the bad ergonomic conditions in my home office, of lockdown stress and maybe of some overwork mistake (in both lockdowns I have exercised more to compensate for the reduction of other outdoor activities).

At any rate, this will inevitably impact the project, esp

 

ecially in consideration of some news. So, infection rates have dramatically dropped in Portugal and we finally have a plan (presented on March 11) for getting out of the lockdown and emergency state. The latest emergency state (March 15 to March 30) has renovated the lockdown, but easing some of the measures: more shops are allowed to sell at the door, and bars can sell drinks (the café ao postigo is now allowed again!), people can now again sit and rest in public spaces (they cannot, say, do a picnic, but are allowed to stay sometime during their walk or sport activity), kindergartens and elementary schools are open again. It is expected that there will be another short emergency state and lockdown during Easter, but after April 5, it is expected that Portugal will move to calamity or contingency state, that is, lockdown (with the obligation to stay home) should be over. At any rate, it’s evident that people are using the outdoors, and particularly squares, parks and gardens, much more.

Now, I plan to do some final runs for the project next week and the following one, going over routes I did in the past to see the differences of these “end of the lockdown weeks”.

 

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Ethnography on the run / 8: running urbanography, from comparison to continuum

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

One more week and two more runs – they are now 15, including the pilot run of January 15. I’ve been focusing on “covering” parts of the city that I had not yet gone through. Last Thursday, I drove to the western end of the municipality and made a loop in Belém, Restelo, Ajuda, Calvário and Alcântara. Today (Tuesday), I took the tube to Moscavide and then went through Olivais before getting to Chelas, in an area I’ve been running quite a lot. All in all, I’ve covered basically the entire municipal territory – the main holes are the airport and the park of Monsanto at this point.

I’ve been thinking a bit more on the specific gaze allowed by a running urbanography, and have some different (or, better, complementary) reflections than previous ones. On post 5 of the series, I had used the case of a single street (Estrada de Benfica) to discuss the way a running ethnography allows to capture the “assemblage of […] practices with their context as they can be grasped as being part of a space” – that is, I was focusing on how a mobile field of vision allows to expand in scale the unitary perception of one space (in this case, a couple kilometres of a street).

What I’ve been thinking on lately is yet another dimension where the running methodology is particularly useful, that is, the description of the way the city changes in space. Indeed I started this project with the intention of using the data to “compare” spaces (in particular, how different neighbourhoods reacted to the lockdown): this would amount to building descriptions of discrete urban entities (neighbourhoods, districts, squares…) and then putting them in relations (of analogy, similitude, differentiation…) with others. I am still interested in doing this, through this project.

And yet, I think running also provides another way to analyse and make sense of difference, by providing sensorial and experiential material on how differences play out in the continuum of the urban space – that is, focusing less on comparing discreet units and more on the points of discontinuity and change.

Let me make two examples. First, Praça Figueira is a square on the northern edge of Baixa (downtown Lisbon), a mostly touristic and shopping district at the very “centre” of the city. Praça Figueira has always been a place of transition between the Baixa and Martim Moniz, that is, between one of the spaces of the bourgeoisie centre and an extremely diverse, historically marginalised area of the city. Now, in most of my runs, I’ve gone through Praça Figueira in-between the Baixa and Avenida Almirante Reis (large avenue that connects with the north-east of the city). Praça Figueira also marks the transition between an area of the city that has remained more or less alive during the lockdown, and one of the neighbourhoods that have been basically inactivated by the disappearance of tourism and suspension of shopping. While the “comparison” between Almirante Reis and the Baixa goes somehow without saying, what interests me here is how Praça Figueira – with its bars and a market, the spaces where kids skate and homeless people spend part of the day – works as a space of tension and resolution of this difference, being neither as alive as Almirante Reis nor as frozen as Baixa. And this is particularly evident in the dozens of seconds that take running through it, feeling a sudden, yet progressive, change of urban context.

The second example concerns a tract of 6/7 kilometres of last Thursday’s run. After a couple kilometres on the waterfront, I’ve started to climb the hill of Restelo (from A to B in the map below), one of the wealthiest areas of the city, basically a sequence of parks, large mansions and embassies – one of those urban areas that have always been characterised by scarce, if any, use of the public space. From B to C, then, it’s a progressive descent through a number of neighbourhoods (Alto da Ajuda, Ajuda, Calvário, Alcântara) that are quite different among themselves but are characterised by a certain density and relation between residential and public spaces. The differences among these two “pieces” of the city have indeed been deepened by the lockdown, and in fact it is exactly at the top of the hill, when approaching Alto de Ajuda that I started perceiving the existence of “urban life” – made up of people strolling by, two elderly ladies chatting at a distance – right before immersing myself in narrow streets with small shops, bars, people doing errands and so forth. Quite interestingly, this is not just a matter of “class”: the fact that Restelo is a wealthy neighbourhood explains only part of the difference, as some areas of Calvário and Alcântara are pretty wealthy too. In Alcântara I entered inside a gated condominium that has privatised a few public streets (see the little hook close to “Lx Factory” in the map). You enter in the condominium from a very dense street (rua Luís de Camões) and, in a certain sense, though with the explicit intention of secluding themselves, people that live in this community live in a relation of tension and negotiation with a bustling urban area. In Restelo, most mansions have direct access from the street; but it is the entire neighbourhood that, for its design, is basically secluded from other urban spaces. There would be much to discuss here – there is a lots of discussions available – on how formally planned neighbourhoods may be much more exclusionary than illegal gated communities, in certain contexts.

The point I want to make is that the entire A-B-C tract lasted some 40 minutes, duration that was perfect to feel how different can be urban areas so close in space. Compare this with the type of perception allowed by walking (it would take one our and a half) or driving (it would take some 10/15 minutes). I should consider some of this may be partially influenced by the different physical sensation of going uphill and downhill; still, I believe this does not change the overall picture.

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Ethnography on the run / 7: updates from the project

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

The last week has been very busy among deadlines and events, and I’m losing pace with the blog (it’s now 11 days after the last post). I have made three runs to in the meanwhile, the past Monday and Wednesday, plus today (Monday). Since I’ve covered almost all the municipal territory, I’m taking advantage to do minor changes in routes I’ve already done. In fact, I still have to take some time to go to the southern-western part of the city (Belém, Ajuda), which is both far and badly served by transport, so I need to plan a bit in advance (probably going to dedicate one or two weeks to that part of the city soon). I am also feeling some “theoretical saturation”, so to speak, so I have to decide whether to insist on the same routes to focus on changes during the lockdown or to change something in my strategy (going to municipalities in the first suburban ring?). Finally, I’ve also had more issues with the GPS, which prompted me to start drawing the routes on Google Maps (which will also be useful afterward to visualize the project). Below, today’s map is both from the GPS app (the one completely crazy) and on Google Maps.

Since I’m somehow in a moment of reflection on what to do and how to proceed, I have not much to share regarding my reflections – in fact, during the last runs I’ve mostly been thinking of dimensions that are not really linked to the running ethnography.

The good news is that the first output of the project is out as an intervention on Antipode: “The ‘Outdoor’ Paradox: Public Policies and Scientific Evidence during the Covid-19 Pandemic in Portugal”. It’s a sort of “side” output, a visual essay made up of photos I’ve collected during these weeks, mostly when I was running for the project.

The idea was visualizing the policies that have limited the use of public spaces, and put them in contrast with scientific evidence on the importance of the outdoors during the pandemic. And use this contrast to reflect on the contradictory governmentalities at stake. From the introductory text:

In this visual essay, I intend to provide a somewhat minor contribution to these explorations, by giving visibility to the apparently contradictory nature of one such policies: the disciplination of public spaces in a time that would call for more use of public spaces. By doing so, I hope to contribute to problematise those measures, but without being yet able to conclude on the specific constellation of governmentalities at play – we know that something is deeply wrong here, but we still need to make complete sense of it.

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Ethnography on the run / 6: rage (and running) as pandemic stress management

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

Two more runs during the last week, Monday and earlier today (Thursday). Both times, I have taken the underground to stations toward the borders of the city (Teilheiras and Pontinha), and then came back running. This allows to take impressions of longitudinal sections of the city through very different areas. Today I had again some GPS issues, which makes me wonder whether having changed app for this project was so good an idea.

Let me start from the moment I snapped, today. I was running through Monsanto park, and passed by a quite remote children playground. Also here, in the middle of nature, in an area where crowds have never existed, children are not allowed to play. I took the nth picture of a closed playground (I’m collecting them for a mini-essay that should be out soon); and then I snapped.

I started yelling against the “damned gerontocracy, which is terrorised from the idea of dying, and, after having closed the schools, won’t even let children play in total safety!” (more or less what I’ve recorded a few seconds after taking this photo).

Now, I could enter into the specifics of the “critique” here (more on this below): the irrationality of closing up outdoor spaces, while it’s safer being outside than inside; the fact that police officers, rather than going around giving fines to people wandering around, could be allocated to monitor that children play in safety and keeping distance; the fact the a scared gerontocracy may well be one of the reasons of the spectacular failure of European governments in managing the pandemic. But this is not exactly what I wanted to write about.

I wanted to write about my own rage: I’m angry, as I’ve been aware during the last few days, and even talked with someone about it.

And, the point is, it may be a good thing. Everybody in this planet, everybody around me is suffering, physically and mentally; most people are being anxious, paranoid, depressed, or a mix thereof. I am obviously not immune: I have had some skin issues, which may had been triggered by washing hands too much, but are obviously psychosomatic; I have suffered some backpain from staying too much at home.

And have become furious. Which is a good thing because I prefer being furious than anxious. I am an anxious person, in fact, as it became very clear after my father passed away in 2012. During the following years, I’ve had insomnia, chest pain, high blood pressure: anxiety, coming and going in waves.

Things have gone much better during the last few years, and last year I was rather concerned the mix of doomscrolling and lockdowns may had brought anxiety back in force – also because I’m more and more tired of my precarity. But I’m noticing I’m rather staying on the anger side of it.

And this is where this project has a role to play. Since the start, I have tried to be attentive to the risk that making my training routine part of my work could be detrimental to my mental health: I was thinking in terms of anxiety, and of the possible implications of reducing spaces for “switching off”. But now I see that my “issue” is rage, and I start to see that this project is helping me deal with it.

My rage starts from my critique: I am above all furious because of my judgement of the political management of the pandemic – the systemacit promotion of moral panics and citizen surveillance in Italy last year, the mix of incompetence and arrogance that has brought Portugal to be the most hit country one year after. And then the rage builds up, overcoming its “critical” dimension: it becomes an emotion, an affect that bounds my being in the space – some people close to me have noticed, indeed.

While running is, per se, an excellent way to discharge some of the emotional rage; running while taking notes and reflecting on this pandemic is a good way to rationalise the “critical” rage, so to speak – who would hear my rants about the damned gerontocracy if not my recorder, after all?

I can deal with both “sides”, the critical and the emotional (which are obviously just two faces of the same coin), of the rage, in the process being able to make sense of my being angry. Ethnography on the run may have become a crucial piece in the puzzle of my personal stress management during this pandemic. And I can also write posts about it 😊

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Ethnography on the run / 5: running as urbanography?

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

I’m once again reporting from two runs, made Monday and earlier today (Wednesday). While so far I had mostly done “loop” routes, these times I have cut through the city: Monday, toward North-West, to Benfica and Telheiras; and today, to North-West, to Olivais and Parque das Nações. I have used Lisbon’s bike-sharing system to come back home, which partially determined my final destination: and it may be interesting to note that the farthermost bike sharing locations from the centre are in higher-middle class neighbourhoods (Telheiras and Parque das Nações) – here’s the map, in case you were wondering. Monday. I’ve had some GPS issues, and had to reconstruct the route afterward. Yesterday, I’ve also received the ethical approval form my institute (it’s not mandatory, which is why I had already started), which raised no issues.


In line with the last post’s epistemological/methodological reflection, I’ve been thinking more on what is ethnography in a running ethnography. I was especially stimulated by one particular street, which is actually a road: Estrada de Benfica. Now fully integrated within the urban fabric, it originally linked the urban centre to the former village of Benfica (which also gives the name to the most famous Portuguese football team). I’ve run the first half of the road, from Jardim Zoologico to the 2ª Circular (roughly 2kms, the part in between the two red circles in the map below).

Estrada de Benfica is quite a strange street. It goes through an urban area squeezed between large road infrastructures (2ª Circular, Avenida Lusiada, Avenida Correia Barreto, Eixo Norte-Sul) and enclosed areas (Jardim Zoologico, two hospitals). In the section I’ve run, it’s however a quite “urban” street: two car lanes, sidewalks and 3/5 storey buildings, with a mix of residential and commercial, with direct access from the sidewalks. Also, its small, neighbourhood, commercial activities serve the clusters of residential areas that are attached to the street. As such, because of the enclosure toward the outside due to the infrastructures and enclosed areas, Estrada de Benfica functions as the main commercial and public axis of this piece of city.

As the lockdown has been reducing activity in the public space to the “essential”, the main differences I’m noticing among neighbourhoods concern above all what the “essential” is: getting food and other basic stuff, of course (if you don’t do it online), but also having some short moments of socialisation, while picking up your stuff (since having a coffee is now banned).

Now, a street like Estrada de Benfica is, amid the lockdown, not so different from what it was, since it serves essential (material and social) needs, more or less as it always did – very differently from the desert in touristic areas, or the long lines in the few open shops in high-end residential areas like Telheiras.

What matters the most for my discussion on running ethnography is that “seeing” the entire extension of the street in a dozen minutes seems to be a very adequate field of vision for noticing these issues. Granted, a traditional ethnography would had allowed to explore the micro-practices at the various shops; but going through the street at ~10km/h really impressed me with this sensation of the regular sequence of small shops that, together, make the street.

This is where we can find a specific meaning to a running ethnography, or, an “urbanography” (a term already used, but in different senses). The difference with ethnography in the traditional sense is not so much the “method”, at least as long as we understand the method as a way to collect qualitative data through interaction: this applies to a running ethnography in the same way it applies to a ethnography proper. The difference is the scale, in the sense that the interactions are less with individuals (humans, as in “ethno” – with all the caveats that apply) and their practices; and more with the assemblage of these practices with their context as they can be grasped as being part of a space – which may be a definition of “urban”, or at least of a street like Estrada de Benfica.

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Ethnography on the run / 4: running as ethnography?

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

Reporting from two runs, made Monday and Wednesday (yesterday) – keeping pace with writing a post after every run has shown not so easy in a full week like this. Two quite different runs, this time. Monday, I have decided to focus less on “collecting data” and more on thinking on running as ethnography and its implications (more below), and therefore decided to make my usual running route, which is partly urban (especially inside Chelas), partly in parks. Wednesday, I have re-run more or less the route of the pilot run, at a different time (starting at 1:30PM).

I’ve decided to focus a bit more on method than on “collecting data” inspired by the  constructive critiques Andrea Pavoni made over a Manhattan – see an article he has published with Andrea Mubi Brighenti on climbing for some of his insights; and Joana Catela’s guest post, and particularly her question: “how can I argue that my runs are ethnographic?”

Indeed, the first posts I’ve published so far may or may not have been written through a running ethnography. They report from observing the city, that’s all, which is one – but not the only – goal I have. So I decided I could focus a bit on myself and on the way my run make me experience space, by running in my “usual” route. This was useful for two reasons: first, going through places I know pretty much “running-wise” helped me focus on my relation with the space; second, good part of this route goes through Chelas, a district made above all of council housing, where I’ve made fieldwork for my PhD in 2011.

Actually, I started to think about running ethnography when I was asked to write a chapter – which has never been published – on Chelas in 2018. I had no time to do new fieldwork and didn’t want to write only on what I knew from 2011, also in consideration of the momentous changes that Lisbon has gone through in the last few years. So I thought: I’ve seen Chelas on a weekly basis (in fact, more than once a week) during the last few years; I have experienced its changes, literally, in my feet – for instance, the new paths in parks newly opened; and decided I could use that as a “method” to write – at that time I also started collecting some published material on running.

So let me start from a relatively simple issue, a set of quite banal things that, still, have impact on how a runner perceives urban space:

  • First, running in urban spaces makes the relation with cars especially intense, both in terms of safety (crossing streets, jumping up and down from sidewalks) and of awareness of their presence (their noise is maybe the single thing I like the least when running in the city).
  • Second, a runner is also extremely aware of the types of ground and materials used – the omnipresence of stone pavements (worst material for running) in Lisbon basically forces runners to use the carriageway (with safety issues, see above). The quality and typology of pavements is, I believe, a quite important component of public space – something that is “seen” by urban studies almost only when focusing on persons with mobility difficulties.
  • Third the role of fatigue on perception and cognitive states. On the one hand, intense fatigue is detrimental to lucidity, as every sports player knows, but long rungs are rather different, insofar as one tends to keep a relatively moderate, rather constant level of fatigue – going uphill and downhill is a good way to create variety, of course. In some sense, my perception is that moderate fatigue enhances some senses; but should probably check out some physiology research on this. On the other hand, physical activity in general, and running in particular, produce serotonin and endorphins, but I don’t know whether they are produced during or after the effort. In between these two dimensions, I’ve noticed, for instance, that the sense of physical relief when concluding an ascent and starting to go downhill influences my perception of space. I can perfectly think of how much I like two long curves close to the RTP (national television) headquarter, that start a long, soft descent in my usual route (see above) – a quite ugly urban area made up of large roads, close to this pointlessly fortified television headquarter.

All along these three dimensions I am aware that my understanding of Chelas has changed quite a lot since when I experience it as a runner compared when I made fieldwork there. For instance, the same modernist urbanism I have criticised for its implications in terms of perceptions of safety makes running in Chelas pretty amazing – of course this doesn’t mean I can forget the impacts it has over social life, but that there is a counterpoint to be made in terms of other forms of experiencing the city.

This is just a start; but will be useful to reflect further (probably on the next post) on the implications for the type of observation that running is.

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Ethnography on the run / guest post / Joana Catela

This is a guest post, part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

Author: Joana Catela – Dinâmia’CET-IUL

When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I am not a fast runner. I never was and I will never be. I like to take my time, to enjoy the view and my playlist. I like the silence, the void I enter when I run. I run for hours, I repeat the same path over and over again, but the nature and the results I get from each run are always different.

Despite my need to run in order to escape the chaos surrounding me (and the one inside my head), I cannot argue that I do it in an actual void. I do not enter a black hole where time and space are suspended. I need to be aware of the road, the people and the weather conditions. I need proper gear, and I even document every single run using a GPS device. Even if I try to escape reality when I run, my escapism is being mapped. I am also aware of any impending danger that could complicate my run – a car, a foe, a virus – and I am also mindful of my breath, my rhythm and how tired my legs feel.

So how do I engage with the world enveloping me, even if I am trying to escape it? How do I create and produce some kind of knowledge with the city and the people who share it with me when I encounter them during my weekly runs? And in this sense, are my runs ethnographic or where do I draw the line between method and life? In the same way, where do I draw the line between my body when it runs and everything that exists outside it, but at the same time is asking me to engage with it, despite all my resistance? What meanings are being co-produced between myself – a stranger running by the river, usually in the dark – and all the strangers that I will probably never see again, but who are nevertheless there?

If anthropological inquiry is a way to connect with the world and to engage with it “with generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to context” and ethnography is a way of co-producing meaning, since “knowledge is not built from facts that are simply there waiting to be discovered and organized” (in the words of Tim Ingold) – how can I argue that my runs are ethnographic?

catela map

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Ethnography on the run / 3: urban necropolitics amid a pandemic?

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

I should admit I didn’t like this third run, which I did yesterday (Thursday), much. In among the rain, darkness and the decision to go for a very central route (narrow sidewalk, lots of hard pavements) meant I came home wet and had to be more attentive to not being run over than on looking around. Thanks to one day of light training (Wednesday), the legs were much better and, despite having to jump continuously from the sidewalk to the lane, I kept below 6:00. I’ve mostly run in touristic, shopping and business areas (Alfama, Baixa, Avenida da Liberdade, Marquês de Pombal, Saldanha), noticing the contrast between empty sidewalks and lanes full of cars.

Some very preliminary reflections linked to, and beyond, the café ao postigo moral panic and the politics of urban space more generally. Many have written on the implications of the politics of urban regeneration and “renaissance” for public space, be it through the lenses of control and militarisation, or those of gentrification and revanchism. In a certain sense, one could say that the neoliberal (with all the caveats in the use of this term) utopia of regenerated urban space in fact discloses a dystopia of dead space. For all the fancy renderings of vibrant public space, the harsh reality of flagship urban projects throughout the world is one where urban “life” is marginalized and banned: spontaneous urban social forms, in “regenerated” areas, are replaced by organised “flows” – of consumers, tourists, cars…

One could talk of an “urban necropolitics”; and question whether this is a useful lens for thinking the pandemic politics of public space.

Through these lenses, the pandemic could be said to be, at the same time, making more visible, and furthering, urban necropolitics. Making it visible because regenerated areas are now stripped of those flows that made them seem alive. And deepening it because the remnants of urban life, which tend to be denser in marginal or soon-to-be regenerated areas, are then pointed as the “places of contagion” – see again the affaire café ao postigo – and policed.

At the same time, then, one may try to think daily activities like having a coffee as forms of minor politics – in resonance with discussions on forms of unorganised resistance, for instance in migration detention facilities.

But maybe I’m just a bit sick and tired of the way the politics of moral panic are used time and again to cover up for the spectacular failure of virtually all European governments – this time, the Portuguese one – in this pandemic time.

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Ethnography on the run / 2: running privileges?

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

Second run of the series, as I was expecting, the legs were still a bit stiff; I managed to keep a decent pace (6:01 minutes/km) but will need to rest or decompress tomorrow. First time I’ve run in the afternoon (circa 5:30-6:30 PM). I’ve run through quite residential areas (Roma, Alvalade, Rego, Avenidas Novas), and maintain the general impressions on the amount of car traffic vs significant reduction of presence of people in the streets. I’ve also noticed that it’s hard to separate “data collection” from thinking about the project – something that will be quite evident from the recording of this session – and today I’ve probably not collected much new information.

Today, going mostly through empty residential neighbourhoods, I had the time to think through a couple topics: more on dimensions of socio-spatial differences vis-à-vis the governmental perception of the city; and on the “privileges” of a runner in a locked-down city. Let me elaborate a bit on the latter.

I started thinking about this thanks to Jeff Rose (University of Utah), who wrote me on the Critical Geographers Forum: he’s doing a similar project in relation to homelessness in the USA; and shared with me some comments of a (female) colleague of his, who challenged him to think about “male privilege” in doing a project of this sort. Indeed, male researchers have easier times in doing ethnographies in some contexts considered “dangerous”. Indeed, gendered dimensions also shape running geographies – think of the literary topos of the lone female jogger in the park, and how many crime fictions start with it.

In a city like Lisbon, I’ve almost never refrained to run in any place and at any hour (literally, any hour, “thanks” to some sleepless nights…). Lisbon is a very safe city – not going to delve into the problematic dimensions of such a concept, let’s just notice that street crime is really not a concern here, at least for health white males like me. And yet, I’m quite aware that not everybody would run at night, for instance, in Chelas, a (mostly) council housing district where I’ve done fieldwork for my PhD research on urban fear and where I often run.

Of course, the point is not only acknowledging that I may be privileged for being able to do this research with the complete freedom I feel when I run around; but rather reflecting on what methodological implications this may have for the type of “data” I will collect and theories I will develop while running – an issue I will leave open for the time being.

But there’s also another dimension that is more conjunctural to the pandemic and Portuguese lockdown measures. Lone sport activity is one of the few activities that the emergency state regulations allow in the public space: thanks to this, and my decent physical fitness, I can literally wonder throughout the entire territory of Lisbon, at every time of the day. Those who cannot do sport activities can still get out with no specific purpose, but only to “enjoy outdoor moments”, for “short periods of time” and “in the proximity of their residency” (Decree 3-a/2021, art. 4, letter l): limitations that do not apply to sport activities (art. 34).

Once again, beyond pointing out the fact of the privilege of being a runner: what methodological and epistemological implications may stem from this very privilege?

Will try and keep this in mind while running around.

 

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Ethnography on the run / 1: the ‘café ao postigo’ moral panic

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

 First run of the project after the ‘pilot’ of last Friday today. Quite slow (6:08 minutes/km), possibly in part because I have run through denser neighbourhoods, having to negotiate my path with cars and traffic lights more often – but I also was quite stiff toward the end of the run. I have confirmed some of the early impressions that this lockdown is much less tight than the first one (but see below), particularly with regard to car presence: one of the things I liked last year was the lack of cars in the streets, and the resulting silence – definitely not the case this time. (I’m also testing a different GPS app, because the one I was using now doesn’t allow to see activities on the browser).

Still early to organise my general thoughts, still, I have some ideas on the moral panic of these days: the café ao postigo, literally the ‘coffee at the hatch’, bought at the door of the bar and then drunk standing by there.

During the first lockdown, café ao postigo was one of the few spaces remaining for sociality. Fast forward to the second lockdown, and here again people are taking those few minutes for themselves, small talking about the lockdown and making time.

And yet, this time seems different. Yesterday, Sunday, President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, after visiting the main hospital of the capital, has shared his concern with the epidemiologic situation and ‘scuffled’ (puxado as orelhas) the Portuguese people, arguing that they seem to not being very rigorous in respecting the lockdown. Among the ‘culprits’ the café ao postigo, which the government is considering to ban. The government is also planning to increase police presence to enforce the respect of the lockdown.

If truth be said, Portugal is going through its worst days since the beginning of the pandemic, counting some 10 thousand new cases and more than 150 deaths a day – making it one of the worst hit countries in the world. Also, early tracking data confirms that mobility has reduced much less than in the early days of the first lockdown in 2020.

And yet, it would be quite early to attribute current epidemic trends to the behaviours during the first three days of the lockdown – which, experiences in 2020 have shown, is expected to start having measurable effects after a couple of weeks. Also, while in 2020, when the patterns of spread of contagion were unknown, ‘barring’ all types of social contacts may have been, if not fully rational, at least understandable; we know pretty well by know that outdoor gatherings are only dangerous when big masses of people gather together for long time: the café ao postigo – much like walking or strolling outdoor – hardly meets those risk patterns. And yet, beyond the President and the government, I am already witnessing moral panics emerging in social media – for instance, in my bubble, a good number of liberal-ish, progressive-ish, ‘influencers’ are expressing their concern because ‘people are in the street!’ This is not the place to go deep into the formation of moral panics; suffice to say that, whatever their origin, they work pretty well to cover up for governmental responsibilities – above all, the fact that basically nothing has been done during this year to deal with the main places of contagion (homes, transports, workplaces, hospitals), but also the decision to let people ‘off the hook’ during winter holidays.

My early running ethnographic impressions add another layer. Though it’s a bit early to call this a systematic conclusion, so far I can quite easily associate the presence of small groups of persons outside bars with working class and popular neighbourhoods: for those who know Lisbon, so far I’ve seen them in Arroios, Anjos, Campolide, Casal Ventoso, Penha de França, Alcântara, but not in upper-class neighbourhoods like Campo d’Orique or Avenidas Novas.

Will the moral panic about the café ao postigo be yet another socio-economic divide boosted by this pandemic?

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