I’m a Running Researcher: Simone Tulumello

This post is part of the I’m a Running Researcher series. See all profiles in this series here.

Who are you?

Hi! I am Simone Tulumello, and I am assistant research professor (on a fixed-term contract) in geography at the University of Lisbon, Institute of Social Sciences. I am interested in urbanisation in the broadest sense, as a global process of socio-spatial change – and have focused on topics such as security/violence, urban and housing policy, urban change, urban imaginaries.

What is your background?

I have quite a mongrel background. I did an integrated master’s (5 years) in Architecture and Civil Engineering, because when I was 18 I kinda thought I was to be an engineer but then I became fascinated by urbanism and urban things in general, so I picked a course that could go either way. After graduating in 2007, I worked as freelance architect for a couple years and then enrolled in the PhD in Urban and Regional Planning, during which I shifted, once again, toward the social sciences. Since my first post-doc in geography (started in 2013), I have been merging geography, critical urban studies, planning and political economy.

How long have you been researching running?

Do you mean knowingly or not? 🙂 Let’s say I started running with regularity in 2013, and in 2018 I realised I could use some of the knowledge I had acquired running in Chelas, a public housing district in Lisbon, to integrate a chapter I had to write – which has never been published, by the way, the whole book has never been published, in fact. In 2021 I used running as method for a project during the second pandemic lockdown in Portugal.

How did you get into researching running?

It was quite instrumental at first. They had asked me to write a chapter on Chelas, where I had done fieldwork for my PhD several years before. I had no time to update my fieldwork, and was aware that so much had changed in those few years – Lisbon has been changing dramatically during the last few years, indeed. So I thought I could use the “observations” I had been doing in Chelas during my runs, in an unsystematic way. At the same time, I started to look around for literature – thanks Crit-Geog-Forum, also for letting me meet Simon! – and found out that, though there is a growing field of geographies of running, running had not really been used as research method. Thence the drive to use it in a more formalised way.

What running research have you done?

“Ethnography on the run: jogging through Portugal’s second lockdown”, an individual project during Portugal’s second lockdown (January-March 2021). During the first lockdown, in 2020, since physical activities were among the few things allowed outside, I had been running around the town, and started to reflect on the differential impacts of stay-at-home orders in different areas of the city, but never came to systematise those ideas. I came to the decision that, if a second lockdown was to happen, I would have mapped the impacts using running as method. Thus I did the following year and, during the process, I realised that running as method was about much more than observing neighbourhoods.

How do you research running?

For “Ethnography on the run”, I developed a quasi-systematic methodological approach, trying to build up a running ethnography. I planned the runs, 3 to 4 per week, to cover up as much surface of Lisbon as possible. I would bring a recorder with me, to collect audio notes literally on the run. Additionally, I had planned to write a blog post for every run to put down impressions and ideas – but ended up writing one every 2/3 runs (I wrote 10 in total).

Map of Simone’s running ethnography routes around Lisbon

What is the most significant, important, surprising, interesting, unusual, or favourite finding emerging from your research?

My main surprise was realising that a running ethnography was more than I was expecting. To be sure, the project worked as planned, as the “data” I collected were more than effective in answering my questions on how the lockdown would impact unevenly various parts of the city (I am finally almost ready to submit the paper…). But then I realised that, while comparing places could be done with a number of methods (including traditional ethnography), a running ethnography was particularly powerful to understand the urban continuum in its slight, progressive changes in space – I particularly appreciated it to grasp the characters of long roads and of spaces of transition among different neighbourhoods or districts. I am tempted to call it urbanography, but still have to think about it.

Do you run?

Yes I do! I started to run with regularity the day after the party for my 30th anniversary – after having practiced sports agonistically from 12 to 22, I reduced and almost stopped, and then decided it was time to take care of my body again. I soon became “addicted” to running, then had some injuries that stopped me, once for almost a year – which forced me to mix runs and other activities. Now I tend to alternate between relatively intense periods, where I run 30-40 kms per week, to periods in which I focus on other forms of training and run less (10-20 kms per week). During the pandemic I’ve also started to run-commute to work two/three times a week. More recently, I’ve been blocked again by the return of a knee issue I had when I was 12, but I’m confident I will be back on track soon.

Where can I find out more?

On my blog: https://simonetulumello.wordpress.com/ethnography-on-the-run/.

If you understand Portuguese, you can listen to a lecture I gave at the closing session of the First Luso-Brazilian Meeting of Emotional Geographies (ELGE): https://youtu.be/rhO9iht50i4?t=3204.

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