Body and Community Mapping Workshop Held at University of Pittsburgh

October 19, 2016

Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, visiting assistant professor at Temple University, led the Body and Community Mapping Workshop organized by GSPIA’s Dr. Marcela González Rivas on February 28, 2014. About 15 students from the departments of sociology, anthropology, public health, and GSPIA attended the workshop. Dr. Sweet's research has focused on internally displaced women in Colombia, trying to understand the individual and community costs of displacement and identify factors that would help in creating roots in new places or alleviate the need to relocate. In her research, she has used the increasingly common research approaches known as community mapping and body mapping, which seek to identify the places that people value most as well as places that constitute a threat or risks. Her talk and visit was especially helpful for Dr. González Rivas’ capstone class, which traveled to Mexico to assess the costs and benefits of the Trans-Peninsular Train, and to understand the effects of the development project on the indigenous people and the local communities.



Dr. Sweet began the workshop by mentioning her research partner at Temple University, Alison Hayes-Conroy, who works on visceral geography and pays attention to the body as a geographic space of its own, and particularly to how bodies feel internally. For this research, data is co-created by participants and researchers through verbal (conversational interviews, community audits and focus groups) and non-verbal communication (shared, hands-on activities, body expression, body-map storytelling and community audits/ mapping). Her work in Colombia combines visceral geography with food security with a focus on gender.

The first half of the workshop was focused on body mapping, a creative tool that brings together bodily experience and visual artistic expression. In its basic form it involves having one’s body outline drawn onto a large surface using colors, pictures, symbols and words to represent experiences lived through the body. Dr. Sweet guided two workshop participants through the body mapping process by asking the question, “How do you feel walking on campus alone at night?” The participants then identified the emotion or memory and related them to a particular area, feature or part of the body. From her own experiences in Colombia, Dr. Sweet mentioned that body mapping served as a creative therapeutic tool that allowed participants to externalize somatic-emotional experiences, such as abuse.

The second half of the workshop focused on community mapping. Mapping is the visual representation of data by geography or location; it involves looking at how spaces are used, who is using them, and how they could be improved. Community mapping does this in order to support social and economic change on a community level. The central value of a map is that it tells a story about what is happening in a community. This understanding often supports decision-making and consensus building and translates into improved program design and policy development. Dr. Sweet discussed her experience in Colombia from a gender perspective to highlight how women and men use space differently. The mapping process involves walkabouts, taking photographs, assessment of space, and identifying potential problems.  

At the end of the workshop, participants had the chance of walking around Posvar with Dr. Sweet to illustrate how community mapping is done in practice. Dr. Sweet emphasized her strong belief in participatory action research, actually benefiting and leaving a positive impact on the community. She ended by saying that, "we need to think less about being objective observers and more about being a positive force."




Dr. Sweet is engaged in an interdisciplinary stream of scholarship examining the role of planning and policy in the production and reproduction of social, economic, and spatial inequalities. Using primarily qualitative methods, she analyzes community and economic development policy from a diverse economies perspective that recognizes alternative capitalist and non-market activities.


About Author(s)

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M. Soledad Calvino
M. Soledad Calvino is a second year graduate student majoring in International Affairs at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at The University of Pittsburgh. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Central Florida. She is studying international political economy with a focus on human security.