The writer walking the dog

The writer walking the dog is an AHRC funded fellowship (nearly £45K, nice work…), which I came across serendipitously while exploring research data management as part of the day job. Up to now I’ve not been able to find a lot about dog walking outside of cute corner so this is interesting, if proving the maxim that there is nothing new under the sun.

The subtitle (academic projects always have subtitles) is creative writing practice and everyday life, tuning in to dog walking as a chore or routine which “contributes to writerly and social identity; shapes what is written – and…impedes, supports and shapes the techniques and rhythms of the working day”. The study explores a number of literary traditions and tropes, as well as considering the various techniques used to record walking and looking at the following questions:

  • How does this daily chore impact on the daily business of writing?
  • Is it simply an interruption or break in which work ceases entirely?
  • Does it provide space for meditation or thinking things through?
  • Can writing happen during the walk itself?
  • How does the nature of the activity – walking through a familiar landscape along established routes at particular times throughout the year – feed into the way the writer thinks and works?

The section on impact highlights how the study will “provide evidence of the value of (dog-)walking in radically different terms from those of public health…[bringing] cultural and social benefits to a large number of people who are already dog-walkers, by helping them to understand and think about this everyday activity and how it already contributes, and can contribute further, to their work, cultural and imaginative life.” So, walking not as a subject but as a “tool and shaping condition of life”.

Our fellow is Tony Williams (Northumbria; @TonyWilliams9) – Derby, Northumbria/Lipman Building, Sheffield…FHEA. Lives in Alnwick.


Update: The writer walking the dog: creative writing practice and everyday life appeared in American, British and Canadian Studies 20(1) August 2013 (full text). Here are some snippets:

  • during the walk I continually switch my attention between: the environment around me; the dogs and their behaviour; other humans and animals we encounter; thoughts about my creative work; and thoughts about other areas of my life
  • my interactions with my dogs prevents the kind of sustained attention necessary to compose and remember large amounts of text
  • I also don’t walk with the express, or even a secondary, purpose of seeking ‘inspiration’…the trope of the Romantic writer–walker moving through landscape in order to clear the mind and induce inspiration reproduces the Cartesian separation of individual and world, culture and nature
  • guard against the idolisation of their own individual bodily experience as a specially privileged mode of enquiry…the everydayness of dog walking prevents it being or providing a special experience…characterised by absent or fluctuating attention

See also Iterations: Days, walks, episodes, chapters, scenes, which appeared in Text 17(2) October 2013.

Lots of nice pieces on the blog, including Who I am when I walk the dogs on the dog walker identity and social and political concerns, urban vs rural, rights of way, lone vs group walking, interactions with others and other dogwalkers etc:

  • a tradition which valorises urban walking at the expense of rural, and which treats the city as chaotic, modern, radical and rich, in opposition to a countryside which is traditional, orderly, conservative and empty
  • the socio-political context and meaning of rural leisure walking – for example the middle-class connotations of lone walking and the working-class connotations of group walking

The dogs, a discussion of his dogs’ personalities and how they affect the walk.

Also the comment on The walking writer at Grasmere on the dog as path finder (and path loser):

although it seems as if the human is in control, in fact walks are more or a partnership, or a dance, or maybe a car chase.

Finally, his post on unconscious thinking and the role dog walking plays in many people’s lives.


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