Summer Research Reports: Alexis Wood on Digital Landscapes in Northern California

30 Oct, 2023

Summer Research Reports: Alexis Wood on Digital Landscapes in Northern California

We're thrilled to support our students in their summer research. Read about Alexis Wood on Digital Landscapes in Northern California!

My dissertation seeks to understand how rural residents in Northern California incorporate heightening economic, political, and environmental anxiety with pre-existing feelings of marginalization in digital landscapes, and relatedly, how these deeply emotional digital spaces manifest in the physical landscape. To engage this question, I will be using a mixed-method approach using a combination of ethnographic, archival, cartographic, and computational methods.

With the support of the Berkeley Center for New Media Summer grant, I spent a few weeks in June and July conducting preliminary fieldwork in preparation for my dissertation project. In the planning stages of this trip, I decided that I would look for processes of erosion – physical, political, emotional – based on the idea that this is a process that transcends discipline, scale, and material, but I was unsure what I would find, as these things necessitate reflexivity. I spent periods of 3-4 days in a few of my field sites in Northern California – Shasta Lake, Redding, Chico, Yreka, Weed – documenting instances of erosion, or processes one might consider within erosion. During this summer project, I had time to look at the materiality of this process, attuned specifically to the context of erosion as it is situated in structures of power. After this work, I’m more confident in the direction of my methodologies and their ability to orient materials across spatiotemporal scales.

What this summer research revealed to me – through conversation, transect walks, and other observational practices – is that my chosen methods require situatedness and orientation within this process of erosion to actually push interdisciplinary boundaries and limits of geographic research. These pieces of data I’ve collected – from word vector analysis to a senator’s diary – are stories situated in particular assumptions. As a geographer, I always return to space, particularly, space as process. When I’m in the field, I see my project entangled and defined by Doreen Massey’s concepts of space:

‌“Space is a configuration (a ‘simultaneity’ but I’ll come back to that) of a multiplicity of trajectories. The coexisting multiplicities and the necessary but incomplete (potential) interrelatedness which that entails give rise to time and space together.” (Traveling Thoughts)

When I speak of erosion in the field, I speak of the intricacies of democratic erosion, entangled with the erosion after wildfire, the transfigurations between and in-between spatial forms (physical to digital to emotional), digital erosion in lost links, dysfunctioning government resources online, and affective closeness between people in Facebook groups. These erosions, the processes of erosions are processes of displacement, reclamation, and uneven collections, which can be understood in the spatial exercises of territorialization. As Geography grapples with the dynamism and instantaneousness of digital space and its physical manifestations, we find the right words and frameworks do not exist – this story of erosion is this framework. Thank you, BCNM!