Addressing (un)familiarity through walking tours

many empty lace-up shoes shoes seen from above on a paved background

Project Team: Mariana Pinto Leitão Pereira

Project Support and Funding: The Leverhulme Trust

This project employs qualitative data collection and analysis to explore what constitutes urban ‘familiarity’ across the University Campus and neighbourhoods in the boundaries of York’s city centre. Familiarity, the state of knowing someone or someplace (Felder 2021), may be sustained by personal emotions and knowledge of local customs, spaces, or history, but also by the collective bodies of people who routinely encounter, acknowledge and engage each other. Unclear, however, is the role of heritage in constructing familiarity, how familiarity can be shared or may kindle feelings of belonging and attachment, particularly in contexts of migration and transience, and how experiences of disruption or alienation shape (un)familiarity. The research data will be used to collaboratively create walking tours on ‘stories of migration’ in York as embodied experiences bringing residents of migrant backgrounds into conversation with the student population to discuss and exchange ideas about (re/un)building familiarity.

More specifically, the project will unfold in two stages: the research stage, comprising semi-structured interviews and counter-mapping methodologies to make visible how participants understand cultural and geographical familiarity, and navigate York. And the dissemination stage, in which the research data will give shape to walking tours, co-designed alongside the partner organisation Uncomfortable York, with the aim of prompting participants to think differently about their relation to York and its people.

Ultimately, the project seeks to mainstream diversity and encourage the exchange of experiences on the ways people adapt after migration to York and how they construct familiarity, navigate changes, and contribute to their urban spaces. By creating avenues to address belonging and place-making, the project aims to valorise the diverse ways people use heritage to shape and sustain relations within the University Campus and neighbourhoods outside York’s city centre. In this sense, the research relates to SDG 10 in terms of harnessing heritage to foster inclusiveness and cultural diversity, to SDG 11 in understanding migration patterns, and SDG 16 in bringing visibility to migrant experiences and encouraging mutual understanding and inter-cultural encounters.

The partner organisation, Uncomfortable York, is an academic-led organisation and social enterprise that researches and runs historical tours of the ancient city York, highlighting underrepresented narratives, telling stories of race, gender, and class and local connections to empire.


Felder, M. (2021) ‘Familiarity as a Practical Sense of Place’, Sociological Theory, 39(3), pp. 180–199. Available at:

Sustainable Development Goal/s: