Session 1: Development and Displacement, Short Papers , , , ,

Mapping stories: Using GPS as an ethnographic approach to socio-spatial research with families displaced by war

Bree Akesson
Wilfrid Laurier University

There is an unprecedented number of displaced persons in the world today. This number is still rising as solutions to stem armed conflict and its subsequent displacement continue to fail. With the sudden arrival of large numbers of refugees in resource poor settings, sites for refugees have developed rapidly without attention to the social and spatial implications. Research methods with populations affected by war do not always include sensitive methods by which to better learn about their everyday mobilities. Furthermore, there is scarce research that uses geographic positioning systems (GPS) as an ethnographic approach with families displaced by war. Using a variety of data gathering methods including collaborative family interviews, drawing/mapmaking, GPS-tracked neighborhood walks, daily diaries, and GPS-tracking of everyday mobility, this presentation reports on a mixed methods research study exploring the everyday lives of Syrian families living in Lebanon. The presentation will describe how this particular combination of methods with GPS encourages individual and family voices and results in rich data on families’ socio-spatial experiences. Strengths of GPS as an ethnographic approach includes the ability to triangulate different forms of data from a variety of sources and avoiding preconceived questions in favor of learning about local categories and understandings of experience. However like other ethnographic methods, GPS also poses ethical challenges related to access, confidentiality, surveillance, and dissemination of research findings. In addition to exploring the strengths and challenges, this presentation will underscore the value of GPS as an ethnographic approach that has the capacity to shed light on the everyday realities of war-affected families and therefore contribute to solutions to ameliorate the negative consequences of war.