Spatial Perception Mediated By Locative Media
: Walking Through Connections In London

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Contemporary cities are increasingly being mediated by locative media, in other words, the urban daily lives and the intense use of mobile devices that intertwine the embodied practice of ‘virtual’ space in mobile computing with social interaction in the physical sphere. Thus, this research seeks to explore how locative media mediation alters users’ cognitive perceptions in a city environment. As such, the concept of deep mapping and the discipline of the spatial humanities will be vital to outlining and conducting the study. Furthermore, this investigation aims to comprehend the contemporary social, urban, and spatial implications of technological mediation. The research objective is to contribute to the discussion of how phenomenological debates have unfolded in walking practices in contemporary urban surroundings. Thus, the research will present reflections on and the implications of spatial narratives conditioned by locative media (e.g., social media). The main questions explored will be: How locative media impacts spatial narratives that we are constantly consuming? How does this scenario impact social constructions of place/space and phenomenological discussions? Hence, the study is structured and outlined through a deep mapping process applied to five bridges in London.

London is a city that has significant relevance in contemporary international discussions on connectivity, information saturation, and technological ubiquity. For this research, five London bridges were chosen due to their relevance as sources of urban infrastructure and connection with the main protagonist of the city: the River Thames. The bridges selected for this study are London Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Millennium Bridge. Moreover, this thesis investigates and contrasts sensory and digital spatial perception. In doing so, empirical research was designed and conducted using a set of qualitative approaches, including network analysis, data visualisation, systematic observations, and semi-structural interviews, to examine the sensory experience and the digital mediated experience.

The empirical research is structured in three different parts. The first two parts (Macro-scale and Meso-scale) analyse public posts that were collected from social media (Twitter and Instagram), all of which are geotagged on the same five bridges. These two parts provide a reading of the uses of hashtags and their role in communicating about places, thus seeking to understand the geotagging uses and associated images. In addition, these social media data collections gave an insight into how those specific places (i.e., the five bridges) are represented, portrayed, and connected through digital mediation. The third part of the empirical research (Micro-scale) discusses the findings of a self-directed study with research participants walking across the five different bridges in London. The participants provided audio recordings of them describing their walking experience in real-time. The audio files and data from semi-structured interviews provide elements to reflect on and analyse aspects of their sensory experience on the bridges.

The empirical findings suggest that when a physical presence is shared on social media, it seems to follow a pattern through an established and popular viewshed or hashtags. In other words, a standard spatial narrative is constantly propagated. However, there are some significant contrasts and differences when comparing the sensory experience to the virtual experience of a place. The tangible experience, for example, allows one to interact and sense urban elements and invisible characters on online platforms. Hence, the research suggests that digital mediation does regulate and condition a specific spatial narrative. Through the empirical study, it was also possible to observe that once the user is stripped of locative media distraction, the spatial narrative gains another dimension of sense of place. Thus, the study concluded that locative media condition how we read and communicate about a place. Social media culture has become a powerful way of promoting and experiencing cities. In essence, more than just geolocating information, it builds on and shifts how urban surroundings are perceived. Especially in the visual sense, social media regulate relevance, perspectives, and a navigation script. The active use of social and locative media creates an urban identity for the individual. However, it is also directly embedded in this new, non-neutral data dynamic that is centralised in big corporations that typically goes unnoticed. Ultimately, this study shows how a walking practice, stripped of digital mediation, can be a much more efficient and precise practice of making sense of locating ourselves.

Date of Award1 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorStuart Dunn (Supervisor) & Graeme Earl (Supervisor)

Cite this