SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

Occupation, Nomadism, and the Landscape of Desire: Collaborating and Travelogueing with Youth on the Move

Youth Trek Green
Dr Amy Donovan Blondell (University of Oxford)

Date: 3 February 2016Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 3 February 2016Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G52

Type of Event: Seminar

What constitutes a landscape of opportunity? What characterizes a wasteland? This presentation grapples with sedentarism as a feature of nomadism. The motivations that drive movement are explored through the Youth Trek project, a study of homeless young people moving through the U.S. Using mobile phones and mobile technologies, the Youth Trek study developed a method called “travelogueing” to collaborate with homeless young people in documenting their lives and travel for up to two years. The Youth Trek accounts address the challenges of daily life: generating income, locating needed resources, accessing healthcare, and forging new alliances. Their documentary photographs, photo essays, and geo-narratives were combined with personalized cartography to offer a first person perspective on the character of and impetus for travel.

Riding Old Hobo Style

Using internet-based geospatial tools, the participants were able to represent the transcontinental scope of their travel, co-creating maps showing their geo-tracked travel routes. Where the travel routes of the Youth Trek participants came together, sites of convergence were identified. The meanings of these locations were explored in the context of biweekly telephone interviews carried out with the young people as they travelled. Through photographs with names like “lost bridge”, “EBD to Sparks” [Eastbound to Sparks, Nevada], “Buddha in Wyoming”, “Abandoned”, and “window”, young people described how they saw the world and embraced the process of discovery.

The travelogues of Youth Trek participants offer insight into some of the ways that homeless youth circumnavigate authorities, witness natural beauty, and learn how things work in different areas of the country. They documented the challenges of transportation—walking, hitchhiking, and hopping freight trains, and they described the impact of gender on decision making on the road and on the rails. Their rich travelogues provide a record of their broader projects to “find their family”, pursue home, and explore the built, if often abandoned, world.

Their testimony offers a fresh perspective on nomadism and sedentarism, contributes a critical assessment of the “Occupy Movement”, and adds a new dimension to the growing study of migration in youth studies. From a methodological perspective, the Youth Trek study demonstrated the usefulness of mobile phones in carrying out longitudinal research with a migratory group, considered “under the radar and off the grid”.

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Dr Amy Donovan Blondell (University of Oxford) Occupation, Nomadism, and the Landscape of Desire: Collaborating and Travelogueing with Youth on the Move

About the speaker

Working at the intersection of the social sciences, geography, public health, and the documentary arts, Dr. Donovan Blondell conducts participatory research projects with highly mobile homeless young people in the U.S. context. The methods and findings of the Youth Trek study are elaborated in Geographies of Children and Young People (in Press, Skelton, editor, Springer), in chapters addressing: gender and sexuality, artistic representation and subjectivity, migration and journeying, navigating environmental hazards, border crossing, and work in formal and informal economies. At present, Dr. Donovan Blondell is at the Oxford Department of International Development completing a book on the mobility, healthcare, housing, employment, and income generating activities of homeless young people as they travel across county, state, and sometimes national borders.

  • This is "YouthTrekGreenEBD": Mountain. Photographed by Youth Trek participant called “Zoe”. 2 May 2011. Amy Donovan Blondell © Rights remain with the author (picture at the top).
  • This is for "SB Riding old hobo style July2010": Riding Old Hobo Style. Photographed by Youth Trek participant called “Tara”. July 2010. Amy Donovan Blondell © Rights remain with the author.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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