Walking maps

by Abigail Hackett 

In another blog post, Lucy Caton and I have discussed the challenge of dealing with large sets of video data produced with small, portable and wearable video cameras in research with young children (see Rethinking visual ontologies when dealing with large video data sets). In this post, I will describe an approach ‘waking maps’ I have experimented with in response to this challenge.

Doing my doctoral research back in 2011, I employed multimodal transcription (Flewitt et al, 2009) in order to explore the multiple modes through which young children made meaning during museum visits. The video was recorded on a handheld video camera (i.e. a FLIP video camera), which was passed around between myself and other parents participating in the research. The video was frequently collected whilst moving through the museum, children and parents moving in and out of focus and shot, as the shaky video camera and the human participants both move through place. Frustrated with the way in which table based multimodal transcription seemed to foreground time in a specific way (through second by second transcription) but left little possibility for describing movement – that is, the interaction between children and museum space, I transcribed some of the video as walking maps (see image).


An example of a walking map (Hackett and Yamada-Rice, 2015)

These walking maps consisted of a pencil line, drawn onto a blank piece of paper in such a way as to represent the shapes and paths the children took as they moved around the museum. The process of making the walking maps involved watching back the FLIP video footage and drawing my interpretation of this movement. Drawing the walking maps therefore involved transferring lines that the children had made with their walking feet into a different medium; a line made by me using a pencil. The walking maps approach to transcription was inspired particularly by my reading of ‘Lines. A brief history’ (Ingold, 2007) in which Ingold argues for a focus on lines as a field of inquiry which can serve to illuminate human experience.

“As walking, talking and gesticulating creatures, human beings generate lines wherever we go. It is not just that line-making is ubiquitous as the use of the voice, hands and feet – respectively in speaking, gesturing and moving around – but rather that it subsumes all these aspects of everyday human activity and, in doing so, brings them together into a single field of inquiry.” (Ingold, 2007, p.1)

The walking maps really were intended to be a heuristic for the dissatisfaction I felt with the impossibility of describing the many dimensions of bodies moving in places in my research.  In their simplicity and singular focus on the line and its blank background, they offered a deliberately recalcitrant response to the need to think about the complexity of human and non-human world’s entanglement through lines of movement, which have both spatial and temporal dimensions (Massey, 2005). In this sense, rather than asking how the walking maps can act as a kind of transcription to make processes of movement in place clearer or more understandable (the example above doesn’t do this!), we could wonder how the walking maps open up new ways for understanding bodies, place and movement.

Others have experimented with mapping / transcription in ways that seek to ask new questions rather than make movement easier to ‘read’. For example, Dylan Yamada-Rice’s (2018) line drawings of a child’s whole body movement in VR offers insights into how the confines of a physical or digital space shape lines of movement and exploration. Linda Knight (2018) has developed an approach to inefficient mapping in, for example, playground spaces, that attends to more-than-human elements such as flickering light, air currents, the playfulness of matter itself, as “a way to enter into the milieu, to notice some of what goes on without claiming to represent some kind of truthful or whole account of the time-place.”

A key insight in the years that have passed since I drew my first walking map is a critique that the walking map foregrounds the movement of only the human body, when in actual fact, everything, human and non human is in constant movement, albeit at different scales (Hackett and Somerville, 2017). As a new way of understanding bodies, place and movement, the walking maps thus offer this insight through their simplicity, a productive constraint that forced me to foreground only human movement, thus exposing the anthropocentricity of my thinking at the time.


Flewitt, R., Hampel, R., Hauck, M. & Lancaster, L. (2009) What are multimodal data and transcription? In C. Jewitt, (ed). The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis. pp. 40-53.https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Handbook-of-Multimodal-Analysis-2nd-Edition/Jewitt/p/book/9780415519748

Hackett, A. and Somerville, M. (2017) Posthuman literacies: young children moving in time, place and more-than-human worlds. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 17 (3): 374-391.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1468798417704031

Ingold, T. (2007) Lines. A Brief History. Routledge: London.

Knight, L. (2018) Playing: mapping movements in urban commonplaces. In D. Hodgins (Ed.) Feminist Postqualitative Research for 21st-Century Childhoods. London: Bloomsbury.

Massey, D. (2005). For Space. London: Sage.

Yamada-Rice D. (2018) Licking Planets and Stomping on Buildings: children’s interactions with curated spaces in virtual reality, Children’s Geographies 16 (5): 529-538.


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