What's (not) on the map: Landscape features from participatory sketch mapping differ from local categories used in language

Flurina M. Wartmann*, Ross S. Purves

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Participatory mapping of local land use as the basis for planning and decision-making has become widespread around the globe. However, still relatively little is known about the conceptual underpinnings of geographic information produced through participatory mapping in given cultural and linguistic settings. In this paper, we therefore address the seemingly simple question of what is (not) represented on maps through an exploratory case study comparing land use categories participants represented on sketch maps with categories elicited through more language-focused ethnographic fieldwork. To explore landscape categorization, we conducted sketch mapping with 29 participants and in-depth ethnographic fieldwork with 19 participants from the Takana indigenous people in the Bolivian Amazon. Sketch mapping resulted in 74 different feature types, while we elicited 156 landscape categories used in language, of which only 23 overlapped with feature types from the sketch mapping. Vegetation categories were highly diversified in language but seldom represented on maps, while more obviously anthropogenic features were represented on sketch maps. Furthermore, participants seldom drew culturally important landscape categories such as fallow plots or important plant harvesting sites on maps, with important potential consequences for natural resource management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Early online date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: We are indebted to the people who participated in interviews and sketch mapping exercises, and to local guides who showed us their view and language about landscape during fieldwalks. The Consejo Indígena del Pueblo Takana in Tumupasa (CIPTA) and the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas SERNAP in La Paz and San Buenaventura granted research permits. This work was supported from the ‘Forschungskredit’ of the University of Zurich (Grant No. FK-13-104), the Hans Vontobel Foundation, the Maya Behn-Eschenburg Foundation, the Ormella Foundation, and the Parrotia Foundation. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous version of this manuscript


  • Cognitive mapping
  • Community mapping
  • Land use mapping
  • Landscape characterization
  • Landscape ethnoecology
  • Participatory mapping
  • Sketch maps


Dive into the research topics of 'What's (not) on the map: Landscape features from participatory sketch mapping differ from local categories used in language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this