Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Understanding Place: This project considers the value of social media data for the enrichment of geographic information systems

  Iona Fitzpatrick (2014 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxitf

My PhD at Horizon is co-sponsored by Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national mapping agency. Ordnance Survey is interested in understanding how people engage with space. They have expressed an interest in enriched descriptions of place and has sponsored research projects in the past with this aim. This project aims not only to investigate the subjective experience of location in digital contexts, but also to explore the necessarily challenging task of mapping and visualising these experiences in a “useful” way. Considering the risks of using aggregated personal data in order to model/visualise places, I hope to use this research to tackle issues of sufficiency (in data analysis), data privacy, boundedness and authenticity.

I have drawn extensively on the insights of previous ethnographic research into intersubjectivity [1] and reflexivity, to investigate they ways in which selfhood and identity (digital or otherwise) is performed and negotiated in relationship to location.

My research so far into various creative and collaborative approaches to the representation of place has made clear the limitations of contemporary mapping practices that have been heavily influenced by the increasing availability of sophisticated measurement and visualisation technologies (the ‘quantitative revolution’). While these quantitative methods offer increased accuracy of measurement, in many ways the maps they produce are are information poor. They do not reflect or question the myriad ways in which people experience, engage with or attach meaning to locations. My aim has been to understand the scope of the personal, experiential data that social media and similar online information sharing projects have made available and to consider how this data does or does not fit into traditional, point-based, topographic representations of place.

Much of the literature about digital communication technologies is concerned with the impact of these social media and ubiquitous personal technologies on processes of socialisation and identity formation. Nafus and Tracey discuss the “perpetual reinvention of the individual” [2] triggered by the mobile phone, while others argue that these technologies transform personhood by “decentering the authority of embodied perception” [3]. The shift in "embodied perception" is particularly interesting because it raises questions about representation, not only of the individual, but also of groups, communities and places.Digital technologies, particularly those that offer the opportunity for individuals or groups of people to collate and curate images and artifacts as part of a larger profile, project multiple versions of an experience or location by separating a physical self from representations of it, which may exist in a multitude of contexts online.

Projects of particular interest to me at this stage include the work of Sheffield-based artist Peter Griffiths [4], which overlays publicly contributed images of a particular area; the textile work of Hannah Waldron [5], who uses grid structures and the geometry of woven materials to interrogate our relationships with place and explore how they can be reduced to minimalist forms.


  1. Jackson, M., 1998. Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Nafus, D. & Tracey, K., 2002. Mobile Phone Consumption and Concepts of Personhood. In: J. Katz & M. Aakhus, eds. Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk and Public Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 206 - 221.
  3. McQuire, S., 1998. Visions of Modernity: Representation, Memory, Time and Space in the Age of the Camera. London: Sage Publications.
  4. Griffiths, P. 2015. http://www.peter-griffiths.com/artworks/drawings/.
  5. Waldron, H. 2016. http://www.hannahwaldron.co.uk/.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Ordnance Survey.