Sensory Mapping through Smellscapes

The first part of Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe’s presentation was concluded with a group exercise on sensory mapping through smellscapes.


She offered a variety of scents to the participants, from environment to consumption goods (dirt, fresh grass, dust, pipe tobacco, rye bread). The task was not to guess the smell, but to discuss and define with a partner what memories or narratives of space are unleashed, what moments the respective scent took the participants back to.

This experiment showed that olfactory experiences are based on social and cultural experience, and have an underestimated potential to define space and memory as part of mapping. Scents open whole universes of meaning and memory and therefore lend a richness to mapping space – a thickness of description, which visually focused mapping alone does not convey.

From the Imagination to the Materialization of Urban Data


If we walk through the city and try to capture its hidden symbolic logic and cultural codes we are all influenced by our very own attitudes and perceptions, as well as our professional and social education. We might see the same city, but we see it in very different ways, with a different mindset. What could be creative strategies in urban research to capture what you are sensing?

Robert E. Park said that one need to get the hands dirty when doing ethnographic research. In order to feel and literally grab the data in your hands, you have to touch it; it has to have a specific kind of materialization, so the urban data the researcher is collecting becomes tangible. The material becomes tangible, it gives sensing a form. And, thereby, the immaterial imagination of urban settings we all capture inside of us is materialized and becomes visible.

The first day of the Workshop “Ethnography in Urban Settings” was therefore about the materialization of urban ethnographic data, about getting your hands dirty in the urban field. The “Fold-Up Mapping Booklet” was a tool to structure this sensing combined with a “research walk” on Spadina Ave.

See the “Fold-Up Mapping Booklet” for Cognitive Mapping Research on Spadina Ave. by Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint. As the sensing of urban settings is complex, one can get better access the urban ethnographic data by talking about it:


Concept & Video (c) Carolin Genz, 2017
Mapping (c) Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint, 2017

Digital Mapping: Ethnography in Urban Contexts


The Ethnography in Urban Settings workshop included two mapping exercises; one on each day.

On day one the workshop participants went out to sense the city and to try to map what they experienced, what they imagined in urban space, focusing on using their bodies and their own subjectivities and positionality as the main lenses through which they can experience urban space. This involved hand-drawing maps of their brief excursions into the city, especially on Spadina Avenue.

Following up on day one, day two was meant to augment that experience using digital technologies, which are both research tools and sources of data.  Digital technologies are modern, contemporary, in wide circulation, and used by researchers and regular people in the urban spaces where research is conducted. For this exercise, we wanted to take these digital forms seriously as both a part of our daily lives and the daily interactions/experiences of the people we study.  And they are also important and new kinds of tools for doing research and sources of digital data which are increasingly ubiquitous.


Photo (c) Carolin Genz, 2017

The instructions for this walk were to use a smart phone to produce visual and audio digital material to be later attended to an interactive digital map of Spadina Avenue in the center of Toronto.  Participants were to use as many digital forms as desired.  These included checking email, sending text messages, receiving phone calls, accessing maps, apps, websites, cameras, audio recording, etc.  As participants moved through space, they were asked to pay attention to how interactions with these devices/technologies influenced their experience.

The participants were asked to think about the following questions:

  • How do the digital technologies enhance or impede your mapping experience?
  • Are you distracted and how?
  • Are the distractions positive or negative?

The participants were also encouraged to use any other augmented reality applications that might digitally enhance their mapping experience.  Suggested apps included:

  • First Story Toronto
  • Toronto Kensington Market Hidden histories

Discussion questions at the end of the mapping exercise were meant to stimulate a conversation about how digital technology can affect research based mapping in urban ethnography:

  • How do you feel in this app-guided walk as compared to the walk on the
    first day?
  • How does this experience change the ways you can sense the city?
  • How can you imagine incorporating technology into your own research, as a
    research tool, as research data, and as a research communication system?
  • Taking as a starting place the idea that all experiences are already always
    mediated by social life, how does the interfacing with this kind of
    technology contribute to that experience of mediation?
  • What is the potential value of augmented ethnography for urban

The final discussion involved participants going around the table to describe their own experiences with navigating the city while conducting a digital mapping exercise.  Many of the participants noted the challenges of remaining stimulated while manipulating digital applications.  They expressed how the ubiquity of access to digital devices has desensitized them to the importance of their use in research projects.  Some felt much more stimulated by the exercise on the first day which involved using pen and paper to trace their route as they walked along Spadina.  The reason for this is that few participants were accustomed to the use of analog methods like a drawing on paper as opposed to typing in their own projects.

Speaker Insights | Workshop “Ethnography in Urban Settings” Day II

On the second day of the Ethnography in Urban Context workshop, the three speakers each focused on themes relating to their own research.  Tying the talks together was an overarching theme that about how best to connect rigorous ethnographic methods to urban research.

The speakers for the first day were Jessika Tremblay, Emily Hertzman, and Lukas Ley.

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“Everybody is a cognitive mapper”


Cognitive Mapping Exercise | Day 1

Which spaces/places matter for you the most, and how are they spatially connected?

Mapping (Cognitive Mapping) helps to get access to interpretations of symbolic structures of the city (Greverus 1972, 1994). One can understand a map as “legible notes”. Mapping helps to get access to the spatial and social structures of the urban fabric and carve out the meaningful spaces and places of districts and neighborhoods as well as your own blind spots. 

As Prof. Kanishka Goonewardena stated during his talk: “Everybody is a cognitive mapper. We were overcame the boundaries of drawing and did exercises in the workshop on cognitive mapping. The outcome is as varied as the perception of the city. Cognitive mapping, however, gives us a chance to get access to the spatial ideas and connections we might have in mind while thinking about specific meaningful spaces or places and their different layers and intersections.

30 Shades of Spadina | Fold-Up Mapping Booklets for Spadina Ave.

The exercise for the “fieldwork excursion” for day one was folded and conceptualized by Carolin Genz and Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe.

The first part of the walk was an exercise in learning to observe and sense the city. Starting at the corner of College Street and Spadina Avenue, the participants were asked to walk South – without taking notes, pictures or audio recordings. This first walk of sensing had to be drawn on the first layer of the mapping booklet – things the participants found interesting or could remember for various reasons. The second part of the walk served the purpose of learning to focus on one specific topic that could be related to participants’ own research questions or disciplinary field and had to be drawn on the second layer of the “Fold-Up Mapping Booklet.” The participants were allowed to wander right and left into the alleys and streets as long as they did not lose track and found their way back, keeping Spadina Avenue as the route of orientation.


Here are some examples of possible topics:

Social and Cultural Diversity, e.g. Language | 
How many/What languages to you see/hear on Spadina?
Gentrification| Do you observe signs for gentrification, where and how?
Boundaries | Do you capture social, economic, spatial or cultural boundaries?
Structure / Architecture | What kind of houses are visible/invisible on Spadina
Temporality | How does the place change over the time of observation?
Appropriation | What are different modes of – temporarily – of occupying space
Business Structure | What’s the composition of businesses on Spadina?
Heritage | What signs of earlier functions, buildings, economies, residents can you still figure as fragments of the past in today’s urban context?
Sensual Mapping | What smells, what colours, what sounds are you sensing?

The urban ethnographic data of Spadina becomes accessible by folding up the booklet and talking about the experience, like Nour Ghassan, who was one of the participants doing a map on the “language choices of Spadina”:

Map by Nour Ghassan, 2017

Speaker Insights | Workshop “Ethnography in Urban Settings” Day I

For the first day of the Workshop we had three speakers for inspiration, sharing thoughts, discussions, and experience on the urban ethnographic methods in the interdisciplinary intersections of Urban Anthropology, Design and Geography. The three different presentations aimed to generate new ideas and visions to develop our understanding of urban settings and their social, spatial and cultural context.

The speakers for the first day were Carolin Genz, Kanishka Goonewardena and Aylin B. Yildirim Tschoepe.


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Fold-Up Mapping Booklet

We are getting excited during the preparations for the upcoming workshop “Ethnography in Urban Settings”. For our mapping exercise we designed a fold-up mapping booklet with a focus on the question: “How to capture what you are sensing?”

Walking through the city and trying to capture its hidden symbolic logic, cultural, social and spatial codes is strongly influenced by our own attitudes, perceptions and attributions of meaning. The way we are socialized influences how we sense the city.  Finding a tool to structure our own sensing through visualization is one approach to find the blind spots and culturally meaningful spaces and places in urban context. Can you see what you feel? How can you uncover the knowledge you already incorporated?

Urban ethnographic data needs to be materialized to get access to this knowledge. You can write field notes as densely and reflexively as possible, following the influence Geertz’ (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” Another approach would be to map it.

Mapping (Mental Mapping) helps to get access to interpretations of symbolic structures of the city (Greverus 1972, 1994). You can understand a map as “legible notes”. Mapping helps to get access to the spatial and social structures of the urban fabric and figure the meaningful spaces and places of districts and neighborhoods as well as your own blind spots.


We created this booklet for a mapping experience to get access to our sensing of the city and its different layers and perceptions. We are very much looking forward to the mappings of our participants.



Text, Photos and Conception (c) Carolin Genz, 2017

Upcoming Workshop “Ethnography in Urban Settings”

Ethnography in Urban Settings
Intersections. Methods. Visions.
August 29 – 30, 2017 | Toronto

Our first workshop Ethnography in Urban Settings: Intersections. Methods. Visions. will take place on August 29th and August 30th, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. The workshop will straddle the disciplinary boundaries of urban anthropology and human geography, with the intended purpose to promote rigorous experimentation with innovative ethnographic research techniques in urban settings at the intersection of social sciences, art, and design.

Submit the application (including a short letter of motivation of at least 150 words and CV) electronically to:

Applications will be accepted until July 20, 2017.

For more information you can download the program: WORKSHOP_Program_Ethnography_in_Urban_Settings_2017


Welcome to the Methods

The Urban Ethnography Lab aims to experiment with new ethnographic methods for urban settings. We will periodically post about our events and activities related to this.

Ethnography can be seen as a toolbox of various qualitative methods, it is not just one method to follow and answer the questions of your research, it is a mixture of methods which interfere with one another. We want to focus on three main aspects of ethnographical methods in the field of urban anthropology: