Participatory Mapping: An innovative sociological method

This guide, written by Nick Emmel for the National Centre for Research Methods at the University of Manchester, looks at the use of participatory social mapping to gain knowledge, understanding, and interpretation of a place using local knowledge. The paper provides guidance and clear examples to demonstrate its use in a variety of contexts. 


"There is a long history of participatory mapping of places. Most often these methods were used to show researchers specific features of a place using local knowledge, such as which households are affected by disease like malaria or asbestosis, or how environments have changed over time through desertification and deforestation. Other kinds of knowledge have also been mapped using these approaches. Researchers have asked women to map their bodies, for instance. Insights have been gained into the ways in which disease processes are understood and how particular drugs and treatments work. Figure 1 is a participatory mapping of the ways in which women in rural Zimbabwe understand their reproductive tracts and interpret how oral contraception works. These mappings of knowledge, understanding, and interpretation are similar to the way in which participatory social mapping is conceptualised in this methods toolkit."


  • Research questions
  • Adding to the conventional spoken interview
  • Individual and group interviews
  • Recording the mapping
  • Other practical considerations for the interview
  • The interview
  • Pacing the interview
  • Ethical considerations
  • Analysis and reporting findings


Nick Emmel (2008), Participatory Mapping: An innovative  sociological method, National Centre for Research Methods, University of Manchester. Retrieved from: