Mapping is an ethnographic method whereby the respondent is asked to illustrate a geographic area or a certain social relationship.
The method can be used during face-to-face, in-depth interviews and in focus groups. A mental map of a person’s school, workplace or local area will naturally differ somewhat from reality. Respondents who never use a certain area will have a tendency to tone it down in their mental map and draw it further away and with less detail.
Conversely, areas that are deemed important will take up more space and be more detailed. In addition to mapping the mental relationships with a physical area, this type of study enables interviewers to ask respondents about their underlying reasoning.
A mental map is, like a walk-along, a method for making an otherwise abstract topic more tangible. Being able to ‘show and tell’ gives the respondent a better opportunity to create images and remember feelings and episodes associated with the physical object.
Mapping can, for example, be used to assess the benefits of a certain treatment model for young addicts. By mapping the young people’s social relationships at the start and end of the treatment process, it is possible to show how those relationships have changed.
Mapping is especially useful in connection with urban and local planning, workplace surveys, image surveys and product consumption. The method is also used to map social relationships by having the respondent illustrate their relationship and thus give them the opportunity to reflect on their connection to their social network. This can be particularly informative when the question relates to social relationships in the workplace or family context.
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