Emotional mapping
: exploring how mapping of emotion can add value to knowledge on decision making in contested spaces

  • Jennifer O'Neill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Literary and methodological review on the topics of contested space, emotion, decision making and mapping revealed a gap where these key concepts could come together and form a new interdisciplinary opening for emotional mapping. This thesis presents SpatialGT, a new methodology, as a means to enact research in this opening. Straddling planning, geography, social policy and psychology the work takes an interdisciplinary position in relation to how knowledge is constructed, communicated, verified and valued. Emotion and mapping “do work”, shaping the world and inscribing meaning on place and as such are valuable “forms of intelligence” when looking at the conflicts and multiple meanings that define contested spaces. SpatialGT is a tailored approach to researching emotion, space, engagement and policy simultaneously. Qualitative research procedures of Grounded Theory (GT) converge with mapping, creating a combined visual and discursive process of analysis and interpretation. The intention of this work is to extend the opportunities for the emotions and perceptions of residents and other users of contested spaces to inform decisions made about their environment. The emotional context in these spaces - memory, attachment, tradition, fear - play a significant role in how contested spaces are used by different groups. This research process seeks to give voice and shape to those different, often conflicting narratives. SpatialGT was tested in several locations across Belfast, each defined in different ways as a contested space. The first type is sovereign, where ethno-national contest defines two interface communities in North Belfast, The second - pluralist contest - is observed and explored in the Holyland in South Belfast where conflict arises between a transient student population, growing migrant communities and longer term local residents. A third reflective study seeks to assert the value of emotional mapping in decision making by presenting the outputs of previous studies to senior policy makers. The development, testing and evaluation of SpatialGT across these studies led to the construction of new understandings of the relationship between emotion and space in sites of contest as well as a methodological proposition that provides innovative ways of gathering, analysing and interpreting qualitative and spatial knowledge.
Date of AwardOct 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNeale Blair (Supervisor) & Gavan Rafferty (Supervisor)


  • Planning
  • Emotion
  • Mapping
  • Grounded Theory
  • Methodological Innovation
  • Interdisciplinary

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