Performative mapping as approach to explore the diverse meaning of and feelings that are related to 'public space’.

Who & Where?

The mapping application was first tested during a workshop in December 2014. The aim of the workshop was to disclose undocumented (some say illegal immigrants) hiding strategies in the public spaces of Amsterdam. Undocumented citizens (experts in living invisibly in the city) guided participants to places in the city with an emotion in mind. Traces of their physical movements and time spent on a certain location (the more time spent on a spot the thicker a dot on the map) made up a collective map. While mapping, the participants - who were guided by the undocumented - were able to explore the diverse meaning and associations of public spaces in their city. The element of TIME – taking time and synchronising (either face to face or by retracing someone’s steps) – was the prerequisite to create a space of engagement.


Prior to the fieldwork a legend was generated by the participants, consisting of emotions that they thought undocumented citizens experience while walking in the city. While mapping the participant could evaluate preconceived ideas (to what extent the chosen words matched reality or not) in the dialogue with the undocumented. Changing from one emotion to another happened at a fixed time and for all cartographers simultaneously, until all the words of the legend were mapped. A web applications traced the cartographers footsteps while recording the dialogue. The longer the cartographers stayed on a certain location the thicker the line on the digital map would become, this way communicating the importance of a place in relation to an emotion and visualising the diverse way of responding to a similar emotion (one might prefer to be stationed somewhere when it comes to a certain emotion, while another might prefer to keep walking).


This mapping set in motion an understanding of the variety of emotions that can be felt in public places in the city and how public exposure is experienced differently. The application served as interface to different ways of knowing; a theoretical/ distant way (the predefined legend that was made by the participants) followed by a more embodied/ tacit way of knowing (being guided by the undocumented and following his/her footsteps).

Through the use of mobile devices, mapping can be performed collectively. This points to the participatory quality of cartography, emphasising how in particular digital mapping in realtime can be used as a tool that allows for collective co-authorship on spaces, agency and appropriation. A method therefore that brings people together and that can contribute to new forms of civic engagement.