Emma Arnold is an early-career scholar and human geographer working at the intersection of cultural and urban geography. Her work draws methodologically and theoretically from the subfields of cultural geography, geohumanities, and critical urban geography.
Her research interests include urban aesthetic politics, connections between art and environmental issues, geographies of graffiti and street art, artistic dimensions of political protest, and the use of creative and artistic methodologies. Broadly, her work explores:
- how artists use, disrupt, and re-imagine space, acting as agents of social change
- how artists, activists, and artivists claim and enact their rights to the city through their works and actions in urban space
- how urban policy manifests in the built environment, with a view to understanding how aesthetically motivated policies impact the city
- how aesthetic/artistic methods may be used to develop and advance critical urban theory, with a particular focus on artistic photography
She has explored these questions through various topics, from graffiti to climate change, and has experience designing creative and innovative research projects, which have allowed her to secure full funding for doctoral and postdoctoral research at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo.
Her postdoctoral project takes the form of a creative laboratory called LAX LAB, which is concerned with how art contributes to understandings of the climate crisis. She is presently undertaking a visual urban ethnography of (artistic) climate activism in Oslo as part of this project and has recently completed over ten months of fieldwork exploring two threads of the climate activist movement in Oslo: the youth movement and the work of Extinction Rebellion.
She has been involved with Extinction Rebellion in various capacities but has primarily worked as a photographer for the local group in Oslo. She has additionally attended meetings, trainings, climate camps, and many different actions and manifestations in Oslo and beyond. This research has included a one-month academic, artistic, and activist performance travelling from Oslo to London (and back) by train in September/October 2019 following the activism of Extinction Rebellion during the International Rebellion. This embodied methodology that involves methods of creating and doing has allowed her to gain insight into the movement and its significance.
Her doctoral research used psychogeographic walking — getting lost in the city — and photography to study the aesthetic implications of zero tolerance policy against graffiti. Combining sensory and artistic methods of psychogeographic walking and photography and taking Oslo as its main case, this study examined how policy affects the visual urban landscape. Through walking over 300 km and taking more than 25 000 photographs, this work discovered that zero tolerance affects the city in diverse ways. This research challenges the reader to think about the aesthetics of the city in new ways, suggesting that illegal interventions like tagging can be seen as meaningful and important expressions of democracy while legal advertising may have a number of negative and troubling effects. In 1 essay, 3 journal articles, and an original book of photographs, this study contributes to research on zero tolerance and the policing of graffiti. This study is unique in its aesthetic approach as well as its innovative use of methodology and demonstrates new and exciting ways of doing and presenting urban research.