As part of this year’s annual American Association of Geographers’ (AAG) convening, UPD Research Student Yimin Zhao won third place (tie) in the China Geography Specialty Group’s student paper competition and received a travel stipend from the group. Yimin’s winning paper is entitled ‘Space as Method: Field Sites and Encounters in Beijing’s Green Belts’.
Great urban transformations are diffusing in the Global South, where urban processes have removed the original landscape of urban margins and turned them into a new urban frontier. These processes impose serious challenges for ethnographic practices – questioning not only validities but also legitimacies of the disciplinary tradition – and hence require further critical reflections on both the spatiality of field sites and the fieldwork methods at the urban margin. In this article, I draw on my fieldwork experiences in Beijing’s green belts, the other label of that city’s urban margin (or frontier), to reflect on the space-time of the encounter in the field. What I aim to demonstrate is that space now foregrounds not only our bodily experiences but also ethnographic investigations of the real world, and hence becomes a method. Specifically, Beijing’s green belts symbolise a historical-geographical conjuncture (a moment) emerging in its urban metamorphosis. The traditional endeavours (immanent in various spatial metaphors) to identify field sites as reified entities are hence invalidated, and a relational spatial ontology should be erected as an alternative to register such dynamics. In addition, the use in fieldwork of DiDi Hitch, a mobile app for taxi-hailing and hitchhiking, is illustrated here to reveal that the self-other relations are also spatiotemporal constructions and should be recognised via the dialectics of the encounter. In this relational framework, an encounter is never a priori – it is better seen as a negotiation of a here-and-now between different trajectories and stories when individuals are thrown together in socially constructed space and time.