Geovisualization of Socio-Spatial Data on Outdoor Activities and Values in the Southern Appalachians

Geovisualization of Socio-Spatial Data on Outdoor Activities and Values in the Southern Appalachians

Diane M. Styers (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), G. Rebecca Dobbs (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), Lee K. Cerveny (United States Forest Service, Seattle, USA) and Isaac T. Hayes (Clemson University, Clemson, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJAGR.2018070104
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This article describes how GIS is increasingly being used to explore, analyze, and visualize qualitative social data across space. The authors applied a number of geovisualization and analysis approaches to spaces identified on maps by survey participants, in the context of a Human Ecology Mapping (HEM) project in western North Carolina. HEM is an applied research endeavor that has been used in a number of other locations to tease out relationships between people and landscapes by identifying both the activities people do in certain locations and the values they hold about those locations. The authors' western NC project gathered location information through participant sketch mapping, and activities, values, and social/demographic data in a survey. They combined these in a GIS and present a selection of visualization and analyses that demonstrate the effectiveness of GIS techniques in understanding places, how they are used, and which people use them for what purposes.
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The use of GIS to visualize and analyze qualitative research data represents a growing trend within the broad and expanding range of geospatial technologies applications. Qualitative data take many forms and are collected in a number of different disciplines, with greater or lesser levels of inherent spatiality. While some qualitative projects require that researchers make inferences in order to spatialize their data, or come up with ways to represent humanistic aspects of place within a GIS setting, quite a few qualitative researchers are making use of informants’ own understanding of conditions in space. This may be accomplished by methods such as having informants mark on paper or digital maps as part of a broader data collection process involving surveys or interviews. Researchers can then combine the collected spatial and survey or interview data in a GIS as shapes and attributes respectively, preparing the way for creative employment of GIS techniques to find meaningful patterns in the ways that people perceive or use spaces. In this paper, we report on our use of various GIS approaches to visualize and analyze such patterns in data derived from surveys and sketch maps in a Human Ecology Mapping (HEM) project in mountainous southwestern North Carolina. We argue that applying relatively simple GIS techniques to spatialized qualitative data can result in insights whose value far exceeds the complexity of the GIS methods employed.

Human ecology is the interdisciplinary study of the relationships and patterns of interactions between people and their natural, social, and built environments (Hens et al., 1998; Steiner and Nauser, 1993; Wyrostkiewicz, 2013). Human values, behaviors, resources, life-styles and products have effects on the natural environment. Conversely, the physical and biotic environments affect how people live, where they go, and what they do on the landscape (McDonnell and Pickett, 1990). Human ecology mapping explores the dynamic interaction between people and the natural environment using an array of socio-spatial approaches (McLain et al., 2013b). Natural landscapes can be culturally and socially constructed and appeal to individuals in various meaningful ways (Stedman, 2003). Landscapes embody a variety of symbolic meanings and practical benefits for people (Ardoin et al., 2014; Tuan, 1977). Bound up in place meanings are a mix of commodity and non-commodity values, some tangible, some intangible (Cheng et al., 2003). Meanings are formed both through direct personal or collective experiences of a place or the rendering of stories or histories about a place which may or may not have been actually visited (Zube, 1987). Through direct engagement with the natural environment, humans form relations with ecosystems that take on multiple meanings (Fish et al. 2016). Meanings people attach to places can influence attitudes towards resource management (Eisenhauer et al., 2000; Kil et al., 2014). Resource managers and environmental planners concerned with making decisions about natural places benefit from understanding the complex web of meanings attached to places by myriad social groups and stakeholders and the values that underlie them (Kruger, 2008; Williams et al., 2013; Yung et al., 2003).

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