Searching Through Silos: Assessing the Landscape of Participatory Mapping Research Using Google Scholar and Web of Science

Searching Through Silos: Assessing the Landscape of Participatory Mapping Research Using Google Scholar and Web of Science

Shelley Barbara Cook (University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Canada), Logan Cochrane (Carleton University, Canada), and Jon Corbett (University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Canada)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.2020100102
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As participatory mapping evolves encompassing new technologies and incorporating new terminology to describe varying approaches, it is important to examine whether all practitioners of participatory mapping belong to the same community of practice guided by shared principles. The researchers explore the narrative of participatory mapping as a coherent, unified discipline. They do this by assessing the landscape of the literature on participatory mapping practices across two scholarly search platforms – Google Scholar and Web of Science. In each platform, they searched the same terms that are commonly associated with participatory mapping. The researchers' findings suggest participatory mapping lacks coherence as a unified method. They note a lack of overlap in top cited publications, indicating that what counts as legitimate knowledge regarding participatory mapping and its practice differs depending on the platform. Implications for participatory mapping theory and practice are discussed.
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As Short (2003, p.1) observes, “Maps are central to the human experience… In many ways, the history of maps is the history of human society.” He goes on to note that a broad diversity of people have made, and continue to make, maps and that we all hold the potential to be mapmakers. In other words, there are often opportunities and the need for non-experts, including citizens, communities and community organizations, to engage in the creation of maps. This is the essence of participatory mapping practice. Participatory mapping is, from this perspective, not new. What is new is the emergence of mapping as a process and tool in recent decades by members of the public to understand and communicate their own place-based relationships (Aberley, 1999) and in doing so, to challenge power and reconfigure who determines what is important (Ghose, 2001; Harley, 1989; Harris & Weiner, 1998). These initiatives seek to make visible physical and socio-cultural phenomena and relationships that would otherwise not be represented on most readily available maps (Bird, 1995; Tobias, 2000). Mapping practices have spread around the world, taken diverse forms, and have had a myriad of applications (Chambers, 2006; Cochrane et al, 2014). Mapmaking by individuals and communities - as opposed to technical experts - attempts to offer an inclusive process whereby a multitude of actors can be involved and their voices heard (Rambaldi et al., 2006).

Participatory mapping initiatives have been used to address a broad range of issues. These include advocating for Indigenous land rights (Peluso, 1995), tracking pollution (Cinderby et al, 2008), in humanitarian contexts (Cadag & Gaillard, 2012), control of resources (Parker, 2006) as well as sharing kayaking routes (Corbett & Cochrane, 2017), and promoting local community issues in undergraduate teaching (Corbett & Lydon, 2014).

Consistent with its many and varied applications, different terminology is used to describe participatory practices that incorporate a spatial dimension under the umbrella of ‘participatory mapping.’ These differences are not merely semantic. Some forms of participatory mapping have developed unique theoretical and methodological foundations upon which they draw. ‘Participatory mapping’ has the broadest meaning in these contexts, and hence is the term used throughout this article to encompass the literature that we assessed. While divisions are not this neat, one could contrast the community of practitioners and researchers engaging in ‘counter mapping’ with that of ‘public participation GIS’ (PPGIS). The former seeks to remake the map in a way that is sensitive to new worldviews and values and is counter positional to the toponyms and political sentiments represented in more readily available maps. Essentially, counter mappers are engaged in questioning normative acceptance of representation, power, and control. The community affiliated with PPGIS, on the other hand, has often utilized maps as a mechanism to facilitate community consultation and support land use planning.

As an outcome of participatory mapping being taken up in new ways, each with its own conceptual and methodological underpinnings, its scope and influence is broadening both as a distinctive research methodology and as a form of development practice. In this paper we do not seek to evaluate the application of participatory mapping across disciplines, but we do feel it is important to problematize the narrative of participatory mapping as a coherent, unified discipline defined by a consistent set of practices or methodological structure. In our assessment, what is needed is greater reflexivity regarding the supposition that as both researchers and practitioners of participatory mapping, we are members of the same community of practice with access to the same circles of knowledge; and that in calling our practice something different from that of another person or group, we are still fundamentally talking about and doing the same work, and importantly, guided by the same set of principles.

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