Geography Community Mapping
Christopher Perkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0184


Community mapping is best characterized as a collaborative mapping exercise, in which local voices are articulated, as against standardized modes of mapping, which have historically frequently reflected more top-down or expert forms of knowledge. As such it is in theory participatory, inclusive, and appropriate to local needs, interests, and goals. In theory as well it should be accountable and transparent, ethical, and sensitive to sociocultural, political, and economic contexts. Frequently, of course, these laudable principles are not always realized. This bibliography excludes metaphorical use of the term, which has frequently been used to describe a technique in the social sciences relating to aspects of a place, but without direct spatial mapping. So community mapping documented here represents a series of mapping practices, frequently deployed as maps of stakeholder views, which chart local concerns, but with a clear geographic and spatial relationship to the place being mapped. This kind of community enterprise has been a fertile ground for researchers at the interface between mapping technologies and social and cultural studies of communities. The emphasis of this work is frequently less instrumental and technological than the often-normative directions implied in many studies of Public Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS). As such, community mapping frequently sits at the interface between artistic or creative endeavor and more political aspirations. The powerful potential of mapping is central in these analyses. This bibliography starts by introducing standard sources, including historical studies, together with descriptions of best practices published in handbooks. As a diverse and multidisciplinary process, research is reported in journals from many different fields. The bibliography then moves on to chart studies of methods and technologies deployed in different contexts. A very diverse variety of interests have become involved with these kinds of community initiatives, and the core of this bibliography charts many of the different directions and emphases taken in these studies, contrasting indigenous mapping practices with participatory encounters in planning systems in Western and developed contexts, and more explicitly protest-oriented mapping, mapping out resistance instead of participation. Overlap clearly exists between these categories: many indigenous projects also embody protest, while research may also be about practice, and sometimes also considers methods and reflects different modes of participation with an output that sits across genres. References relating to artistic interventions are introduced, and more technological and data-driven initiatives using open and crowdsourced virtual collaboration are explored. References to leisure-based community mapping are introduced and exemplified with an overview of reading relating to mapping made by the cycling community. The bibliography concludes with a consideration of critical studies of the practice and research directions involved in the praxis of community mapping.

General Overviews and Histories

Community mapping has a long trajectory, but this history has never been systematically explored in a single authoritative source. The practice grew in popularity toward the end of the 20th century, reflecting a shift away from monopolistic and frequently state-based mapping hegemony. Wood 2010 offers perhaps the most useful and widely available overview of the practice and its genesis in artistic, political, environmental, and research endeavors from the mid-20th century, in Europe and North America. He also charts the emergence of indigenous cartographies, artistic mapping, and Public Participatory GIS. For the United Kingdom, practical approaches to local activism taken by the arts and environmental charity Common Ground are documented in King and Clifford 1985. One of the earliest systematic considerations of community mapping is Abberley 1993, an overview of West Coast North American bioregional mapping; out of this strand emerged various Green Mapping practices explored by Parker 2006. More oppositional forms of what came to be called counter-mapping, including indigenous mapping activities, are charted in a theme issue of the journal Antipode which focuses on critical cartography (Harris and Harrower 2005). With the development of geographical information systems and the widespread use of web-based and socially networked technologies has come a profusion of digital mapping solutions, frequently associated with the term Public Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS), and increasingly deploying open data and a crowdsourcing of community information (see McCall, et al. 2015).The social interface of these technologies is explored by Shkabatur 2014, but the most useful general introductions to the genre of community mapping are Lydon 2003, focusing on Canadian initiatives, Perkins 2007, with a focus on mapping by local people across different cases in the United Kingdom, and Chambers 2006, in the context of participatory mapping for development.

  • Abberley, Douglas, ed. Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 1993.

    Introductions to different aspects of bioregional mapping of the Pacific Northwest, in the era before digital technology.

  • Chambers, Robert. “Participatory Mapping and Geographic Information Systems: Whose Map? Who Is Empowered and Who Disempowered? Who Gains and Who Loses?” Electronic Journal of Information Systems 25 (2006): 1–11.

    One of the most frequently read introductions to participatory mapping focusing on its history and the costs and social benefits of using the mapping in participatory community development contexts.

  • Harris, L., and Mark Harrower, eds. Special Issue: Critical Cartographies. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 4.1 (2005).

    A collection of articles reflecting on the links between critical social science and changing technological ways in which communities might map the world.

  • King, Angela, and Susan Clifford. Holding Your Ground: An Action Guide to Local Conservation. London: Penguin, 1985.

    An early guide for local political action including useful advice about practical mapping activities and their role in campaigns.

  • Lydon, Maeve. “Community Mapping: The Recovery (and Discovery) of Our Common Ground.” Geomatica 57.2 (2003): 131–144.

    An overview of the potential of community mapping including what might be learned from indigenous mapping practice in a discussion of initiatives on the Canadian west coast.

  • McCall, Michael K., Javier Martinez, and Jeroen Verplanke. “Shifting Boundaries of Volunteered Geographic Information Systems and Modalities: Learning from PGIS.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14.3 (2015): 791–826.

    Evaluates how Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) systems and practices perform in terms of governance and participation and argues that newer crowdsourcing might usefully learn from lessons of participatory GIS.

  • Parker, Brenda. “Constructing Community through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping.” The Professional Geographer 58.4 (2006): 470–484.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9272.2006.00583.x

    This empirical evaluation of the potential of green mapping as a series of practices focuses on inclusion, transparency, and empowerment and the ways in which community mapping socially constructs local contexts.

  • Perkins, Chris. “Community Mapping.” The Cartographic Journal 44.2 (2007): 127–137.

    DOI: 10.1179/000870407X213440

    A concise introduction to British applications of community mapping with case evidence from Parish mapping, green maps, artistic maps, open source mapping, and cycle mapping, this paper highlights the institutional framings for political, social, aesthetic, and technological practices.

  • Shkabatur, Jennifer. “Interactive Community Mapping: Between Empowerment and Effectiveness.” In Closing the Feedback Loop: Can Technology Bridge the Accountability Gap? Edited by Björn-Sören Gigler and Savita Bailur, 71–106. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0191-4_ch4

    Drawing on evidence from the Map Kibera project, this chapter explores how different stakeholders might relate to interactive technological possibilities of a current and ongoing community mapping project.

  • Wood, Denis. Rethinking the Power of Maps. New York: Guilford, 2010.

    In this comprehensive introduction to community mapping, Wood explores a diversity of mapping practices, providing genealogies and contextual framings to help situate and contrast bottom-up and community mappings and set these against the claims of more conventional top-down cartographic practice.

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