Engaging emotions through senses

This time, I would like to briefly share our last 2021 experience in “The Culture and community mapping project” where during an intensive period working with community hubs, we merged two participatory methods: photo-elicitation and cultural mapping. Bellow, there is a work in progress map that will be given, in gratitude for the participation, to all the places that hosted our workshops.

We invited participants from Granton:hub, North Edinburgh Arts, The Ripple project, Oxgangs community centre, Goodtrees and WHALE arts centre. Regularly, people attend these hubs for different workshops, some of them related to arts, gardening, or volunteering in food programmes and groceries. During the pandemic, these hubs have had a key role in supporting their neighbours and creating a strong sense of belonging. The contrast between the image of Edinburgh as a touristic city and these areas is considerable and many times their stories are not as seen as voices from other areas in the city. Our goal was to listen to their versions of belonging, place-making and identity.

Due to the pandemic, we were not able to use our traditional map A0 sheets. We had to redefine our approach because people were not supposed to touch the same surfaces. So we prepared individual A3 maps so each participant could interact with them by touching, writing and putting stickers on the places they value or have something to say about it. The innovation to our methodology came with a photo-elicitation task. Ahead of our encounter, we asked participants to take 3 to 5 photos of valuable places, where they feel they belong, or that they normally visit in their neighbourhoods. 

In the beginning, we thought this part of the activity would not merge with the mapping part. However, once we started with workshops we realised that the map surfaces and the photos, either printed or shown on a smartphone screen, both became one incredible moment of fusion. There was no way to divide the mapping part from the photo. From the moment the map touched participants hands, they would start writing, making the maps of their property and coauthorship. There was no way to pause that interaction with questions about the photo without considering the map. 

Then what would happen is that photos were acting as story catalysers, adding a voice to the image and with the eyes never losing sight of the map. Everyone at the table would submerge in the mixture of voice, map and image. Other participants seating in that table and participating in that moment woud recreate the memory told by of who is speaking, the actions taking place, imagining the surrounding spacse, the noise and even how the weather was. 

When a group of people look at a map at the same time, they engage their orientation in that space. Memories about a place and how we structure and understand space in our minds do not have easy access and visibility as an atlas (Rambaldi, 2010) or as easy to read as a map app in our smartphones. Mental maps are blurred pieces of experiences mixed with emotions, movements, memories, different ages, and transformations. A printed map, thoughtfully designed for an easy way to find ourselves on it, facilitates the communication of that mental image, as “it was there where it happened”. The blurred image gets clearer and it is easier to put in words how one memory has occurred in a specific place. After associating our mental images with a map, we can share them with others looking at the same object. The map allows sharing a spatial perception. 

I think the photos alone would not have had the same impact as they did when showing them after sharing a spatial orientation through a map. Now the photo, plus the voice, and the story, triangulate an enhanced sensorial experience, allowing each of us to connect with that private and emotional moment. I won’t share those photos here, since they are not mine to share, but I will quote one story that made me emotionally connect with the woman telling it. 

my first [photo] is actually the botanic garden. And well every one of the pictures is actually got a story behind it because I remember when we were very small or young anyway, it came over the radio that the world was going to end at four o’clock in the afternoon. So mama moist us, dressed us and put us all in the tram and walked up to the Botanic garden so we could die somewhere beautiful. And that memory has never ever, I mean I’m 68 now and that was before 5 to the time and that memory has never left me

Anonymous participant

The most impressive part of this story was that the content of that photo was simply a tree. But that object had the capacity of activating, in all of us, a strong emotion, nostalgia and transported us into the women’s childhood. A great silence came after, we were all touched by the story.

Rambaldi, Giacomo. 2010. Participatory three-dimensional modelling: Guiding Principles and application. ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

Food solidarity mapping process and the risk of map surveillance

Over the last four months, COVID 19 has brought up to the surface many aspects of Latin American fragility and in the case of the Chilean context the curtain of economic development has fallen down even more. The social outbreak in October was already asking for dignity and revealing the lack of access to basic rights such as water, house and education. Now on the pandemic context a socio spatial segregation has revealed the large amount of families who live on daily sales at informal commerce on the street and today are not capable of bringing food to their homes.

As the situation is dramatic many community-based organisations have decided to solve this issue through their own capacities. This means that without state support, neighbours have organised ‘common pots’ to provide good quality food to families in need. Since May these pots began to articulate a solidarity network based on local territories and reaching out families closer to ‘neighbours board’ or ‘territorial assemblies’ formed after the October outbreak. 

Some organisations, based on social networks and websites, are somehow managing and spreading the information about these pots and how to donate money or food to keep running. LaOlladeChile and Nomashambre, are two examples of these initiatives that try to centralise on a virtual space donations and support. Twitter account have also assisted on information dissemination and the account LaOllaComun has been the one I have been involved since the beginning of this bottom-up effort. 

The method I have been using to update the map “Food solidarity initiatives” is based on a regular check on the accounts mentioned. La Olla de Chile for instance, updates the last new common pots on their website and provide the necessary information to complete fields of location, name, contacts and bank account information for donations. On this website people complete a form to include their common pots on the register, then the organisers check the information and request that all donations are cc to their email so they can identify pots with no donations for instance. Then I also check twitter accounts who might be sharing information of people with low access to internet and design tools to create the panflet. That way I have been trying to include as much varied amount of initiatives as possible and from other regions rather than only the capital, which normally concentrates more retweets and information sharing. Each time I update the map I inform all accounts from which I have based my scraping data process and they share it with their followers. This way the map reached in June 24th 8.000 views, revealing the high impact of the map and this large number of visits might be explained on the fact that it is permanently placed on the Nomashambre website and constantly shared by LaOllaCommun account and LaOlladeChile is mentioned on each update.

Last revision on the Food solidarity initiatives before restricting public access

Paloma Haumada, a sociologist who has been my mentor on this process of documentation and information sharing support, told me that the map was key for people to find their own territories and to donate locally. The map creates empathy for neighbours in nedd and brings closer that reality for people who is not suffering from hunger at the moment and are in the capacity to help. Another key aspect mentioned by Paloma has been the diversity of formant that this information had to be shared, asking me to take print screens of the data on a sheet format for people to look at it as a .jpg on their mobiles. Another impact that the map and the data collected has had was the data provision for the app “Parar la olla” which uses the information and complement it with other sources. On definitely, it is a chain of information sharing, mostly used by common pots organisers who are looking for sharing their bank account and mobile contact in order to receive donations. Locally they reach out families in need. This map is not reaching out people in hunger situation, they are reached in person and based on a neighbouring activity. People know each other.

On June 24th the map had to be put down because of a police surveillance suspicion. A twitter account informed be that on of the oldest common pot have had a car police outside their headquarters and they did not provide information regarding the reason why they were there, neither their names. Because of the risk that this action implies to the rest of the common pots I decided to transform the way that the information was graphically displayed on the map. I applied a Voronoi analysis and now each point was transformed to a polygon describing the spatial reach of a common pot and hiding their localisation. Even though twitter accounts and the websites mentioned were sharing the locations of the common pots, the way that their information is shared is completely different than the map. The ‘subject’s location is meaningless without the framework of a map, mental or otherwise, surveillance of a spatially flexible subject is inherently cartographic’ (Monmonier, 2003). Common pots are placed simultaneously on a map, which might be facilitating finding them for other reasons than for support. People meeting, as occurs in common pots, in the context of lock down, with a politically questioned government, decision making questioned by scientific community, does not provide community trust towards the police way of acting and their decision making. Common pots might be shut down since next Monday, as it was informed to one in the area of San Bernardo in Santiago, if not counts with the permission and a food delivery format. Common pots have emerged to sort out a basic issue cause by the pandemic and that the government has not had the territorial knowledge to understand the necessities of people suffering hunger. How are you going to be able to compel a curfew if you don’t have food for your kids?

New version of the map on Google my maps. Now all points are displayed as areas nearby.

This problematic regarding common pots legal permissions to occur reflects a critical social emergency situation and a whole analysis regarding the state decision making during the COVID crisis could be made, but that is another topic. Returning to the mapping action I can say that critical cartography and the idea of deconstructing the map posited by Harvey has never left us. A community map is a deconstructed map, and provide powerful data and democratic principles, plus a deep solidarity sense that can be evidenced in all the views that the map has had. However, a map also deals with deeply contested issues, such as surveillance and data privacy setting that cannot be ignored. For now, the solution has been to transform accurate locations to blurred areas, however with the constant increase of pots, those areas will continue decreasing, revealing a certain location or a reduced search area.

This and other topics regarding online communities’ issues will be posted on this blog. I have come to understand on the last week that I have started a process of online ethnography by participating on this accounts and mapping process of common pots in connection to all the mentioned twitter accounts and websites on a collaborative way. I will continue documenting and informing by this mean the trajectories of this social solidarity movement and milestones such as the current transformation of the map from a point-based visualisation towards areas covering the exact location.

Monmonier, M. (2003). The internet, cartographic surveillance, and location privacy’. In M. P. Peterson & A. International Cartographic (Eds.), Maps and the internet (First edition.. ed.). Amsterdam ; London: Amsterdam ; London : Elsevier.

4 years in understanding key aspects on cultural mapping

by Melisa Miranda Correa, May 2020

This post explains how a cultural mapping is more about collective feelings and memories rather than the creation of pretty maps.

What is interesting about cultural mapping is that consists on a constant learning practise, where the process requires as much attention as the final product. It is on that process where you, the researcher, allow people participating to transform their realities by imaging a different state of their surroundings, or by accepting problems on a collective way. When you map culture, you are not drawing pretty maps, it is more like taking notes, but instead of using a notepad, you are taking notes over a map, which is representing a meaningful space for people. It is like listening by mapping ideas and memories of others. Plus, the most intriguing part and the moment you feel you succeed on the task of listening is when you become invisible for neighbours who are now sharing a collective mental idea of the space, by sharing feeling and emotions, which are activated by the map that stands in front of them and that they interact with.

Cultural map can be defined as a methodological tool who puts together local stories, memories and rituals (Duxbury, Garret-Petts, and MacLennan 2015) revealing traces of placemaking as in meaningful places for people. It is rooted on the counter-mapping traditions, where maps are presented as alternative to the formal maps (Puleng, Einat, and Michelle 2015), In revealing those minority voices these maps can be used as bridges between common people and authorities, and eventually might have an effect on policy making (Crawhall 2010). This is the starting point of a cultural mapping process, or maybe what researchers have found in terms of impact and who gets represented by mapping culture and communities. 

What is relevant in the process itself, what are the steps and what actually happens when you interact with neighbours is what this post is about. The starting point is a key aspect, because every context and social situation are different, and the first community approach with a printed map requires a prior reflection and an adaptation of the methods based on the local context. The base map is your tool for engagement with people. Hopefully it is the result of a prior conversation and definition of the scale and the map extent. In my experience, the understanding of maps can be affected by the atmosphere of environments in terms of colours, materials, density and landmarks. For example, a rural area with a few roads but a clear distinction between green areas and desertic owns it needs a satellite image as a base map for people to locate themselves on the map. On an urban area with a ‘damero’ structure, meaning square blocks, a traditional map with names of the streets and a clear road hierarchy might be enough. A satellite image here might be confusing, because the look on the roofs it might not be familiar for anyone. This is related with map literacy, and despite preparing ourselves for the best reception of the base map, it depends on everyone’s own capacity of understanding maps (Liben, 2009).

My first experience of a cultural map was in Iquique, Chile 2016 where on a consultancy job our team was required to propose an urban renovation project. The scale was of a neighbourhood and a commercial area and a food market. We approach the managers of the biggest buildings to facilitate a meeting area and we hired a person with contacts on a local women’s network. She facilitated the communication with women living in two housing projects struggling with local violence, drug dealers and informal commerce on the streets. It was not the best place for families and a structural change was required. We also contacted the local GP and their inputs were worrying, migrant families living in small spaces and kids with no health register or attending school. The social situation was urgent. Then, as the budget allowed it, before starting the mapping process we had the opportunity of conducting focus groups with families living in this neighbourhood and some people working on the commercial area. These interactions allowed our team to locate the central problematics to guide the conversations joining the map afterwards. In sum, it is important to understand the context and conduct fieldwork prior starting the cultural mapping process.

Mapping activity at workshop on Iquique, 2016.

Over 30 people participated on the mapping process. They were motivated by the idea or fantasy of changing their urban situation by drawing problems and opportunities on a map. But in fact, here is the first thing you realise when mapping social spaces, that there is a subconscious process and a sort of positive reaction in being recognised by others. Every participant was aware that by drawing the current reality and a new one it did not mean that the situation was to change in the future, but it is a fact that people was leaving the room happier, as with new eyes to look around. There is an act of appropriation when looking at a map and interacting with it by placing stickers and writing on them. On this interaction people is revealing the interior of their everyday space, meaningful locations and addressing their own stories (Duxbury, Garret-Petts, and MacLennan 2015).  People by talking about the problems were transforming the feeling of a problematic urban environment towards specific issues that now they were able to name and share with other people who agree on their ideas. Some issues they identified were garbage on the street, malfunctioning lighting, drug abuse, traffic issues and accidents among other topics. After identifying problems, we asked participants to find opportunities and positive aspects. They mentioned the health centre and the commercial areas as positive elements in their urban space. They even remembered a bench that gathered elderly people every afternoon, but it has been removed. Then the owner of that bench explained that it was refurbished because they were aware of the value for elderly people, as a gathering space but also to rest between their walks.

To conclude, there are some key aspects in the process of cultural mapping process that are not obvious, and it is important to look at them with attention. The first one is to prepare a base map that is meaningful for the people you are trying to engage with. Then, it is important to submerge in the local context, to understand a little about the social situation in order to focus on the neighbour’s interaction, and not you as a researcher and people having to explain everything from scratch. When interacting with the map it is important to listen to the stories people is mentioning and try to locate them on the map. This is a step that would require an entire new post because is not easy to make people to locate issues, such as social conflicts, situations of poverty, however it is important to engage everyone in the conversation and allow the map to activate a collective memory of that space. On this example this happened by organising the problems first, and then identifying the positive aspects of that place. That gave participants the chance of looking at that space with new eyes, by agreeing with each other on the topics that are relevant for that community. In short, the act of mapping people’s memories and meaningful places is a key aspect of mapping, because it generates an unexpected output which is the activation of a sense of community and social networking that was not there before this process. In my opinion this is the most relevant aspect of cultural mapping, which is the act of having a conversation over a map and allow participants to interact with it, activating a collective memory of space, their space. The map as a result is less important than the process itself.

Crawhall, Nigel. 2010. The Role of participatory cultural mapping in promoting intercultural dialogue: We are not hyenas; a reflection paper. Web

Duxbury, Nancy, W.F. Garret-Petts, and David MacLennan. 2015. Cultural Mapping as Cultural InquiryRoutledge Advances in Research Methods: Routledge 

Puleng, Segalo, Manoff Einat, and Fine Michelle. 2015. “Working With Embroideries and Counter-Maps: Engaging Memory and Imagination Within Decolonizing Frameworks.”  Journal of Social and Political Psychology 3 (1):342-364. doi: 10.5964/jspp.v3i1.145. Web

The Ancestral and the Ritual territory in Caspana’s Landscape of Movement”

by Melisa Miranda Correa, 2018

Here I want to share the abstract of my MPhil research conducted between January 2017 and September 2018. Six members of Caspana shared with me their spatial and territorial knowledge on order to create a tenure map. This map is increasing their legal argument to claim for their ancestral land, today owned by the Chilean state in a considerable percentage. Indigenous communities are forced to conduct a complex legal and administrative process to legally own their lands. Today Caspana owns by a 30% of the land which they try to protect from different hazards. The 169 ILO agreement has been a powerful tool to legal protection against mining companies exploring their lands with the state authorisation, however it is not enough. This thesis aims to reflect on this issue and reveal how mapping becomes a useful tool to reflect on this tenency process. It also reveals a the self-representation of indigenous peoples by registering their tales and valuable spaces in their own setting rules. My role is to provide the materials, the base map and the pins, but they are who decide the scale, the extend and what lo locate on the map and why. At the end, this map is used by the community to teach others about the value of their territory, whaat and how to protect.


There is an increasing discussion in the north of Chile and the Andean region in Latin America associated with indigenous conflicts related to mining companies and resources extraction, which threaten historical cultures such as the ones surrounding the Inca roads by exhausting essential resources such as water for agriculture and grazing. The conflicts are rooted in the epistemological difference between the Indigenous land values and the priorities of the state, allowing industrial activities in indigenous territories through land management and conservation policies, which affect the self-determination of the communities. Although there is a recognition of the indigenous land ownership for some groups in Chile, the understanding of the indigenous landscape is not entirely evident within government organisations, which creates cultural distance and distrust. This research is rooted on understanding the indigenous perspective through landscape theory as a palimpsest between sacred places, resources and rituals, recreating the process of space signification in a ‘landscape of movement’. 

The primary aim of this investigation is to explore indigenous perceptions and representations of territory and how they could be integrated into the development of territorial strategies and policies regarding indigenous land management. In order to achieve this aim, it is required to articulate an indigenous spatial organisation, in addition to explore the territorial strategies and land management concerning indigenous lands.

To achieve the articulation between indigenous perception and policies, this research explores a case study in the Atacama region, the Caspana community. Two key research pathways articulate knowledge around the landscape of movement in this area. First, the understanding of indigenous perception of the landscape from academics to institutional representatives, including international perspectives as well as the local and national contexts. In addition to semi-structure interviews, the research reviewed conservation and management policies for indigenous lands, landscape of movement theory and the archaeological and historical research in the area, towards decolonised cartographies and tenure maps as a methodological approach for researching with Indigenous communities. A second research pathway focused on exploring the Indigenous narratives and epistemological distances through fieldwork. The narratives gathered from indigenous people through surveys and interviews allowed to articulate the first stage of a Tenure map arranging the space in two parts: an ‘ancient territory’, which is vast and legally assigned and a ‘ritual territory’ which is the space where the community today performs rituals and practices in memory of ancestors. The data analysis of the interviews with institutional actors permitted the identification of opportunities for intercultural practices in land management, such as the concept of ‘shared lands’, which are explored through this research. The articulation of the Caspana landscape of movement in a tenure map represents elements such as ritual spaces, geoglyphs, toponymy in the native language, memories of the past, ‘shared lands’, resources and roads. The process of making visible those threatened places could allow their inclusion in land management policies and raise awareness among politicians, mining companies and community members of their location. The research comprises an initial stage of engaging with communities in the co-creation of knowledge. The continuation of this research could contribute to a regional atlas of landscapes of movements, with the specific knowledge of the movement performed by Atacama communities in the Antofagasta region.