Cultural Mapping

Cultural mapping is a method, philosophy, and research process that in fact does not always produce maps. Unlike methods of mapping that use lines and labels to demarcate space, cultural mapping mobilizes local stories, practices, art, relationships, memories, and rituals to show the meanings of place, sometimes in relation to cartesian maps (Duxbury & Redaelli 2020). In this way, cultural mapping methods reveal and reflect understandings of different societies–including Western societies!--in the ways we perceive, organize, and interact with “place.” For Indigenous, fishing and agrarian communities who are most at risk of development-induced displacements and dispossessions, cultural mapping can be a powerful tool for storytelling, organizing politically, and deconstructing modernist approaches to Land, Water, and the non-human world as “natural resources.”

The MCW Cultural Mapping Project was initiated by Drs. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Heather Peters, and David Feingold. The project brings artists, filmmakers, scientists, and social scientists together with communities to tell and visualize multidimensional and multi-perspective stories of transformations in Land & Water and community food systems across the Mekong Region.


In May 2022, a team of MCW undergraduate and graduate students, filmmakers, artists, and scholars conducted a cultural mapping workshop with local elders and youth in Kampong Chhnang. Cambodian artists and curators, Sao Sreymao, Neak Sophal, and Marina Pok, and award-winning filmmaker, Kalayanee Mam shared their skills and creativity as a method for cultural mapping within Kampong Chhnang community. 

Dr. Sopheak Chann and Dr. Wisa Wisesjindawat-Fink lead our participatory mapping projects, which link communities’ spatial knowledges of and experiences with, hydrological, cultural, and livelihoods transformations. Graduate students from MSU, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Chiang Mai University, and Khon Kaen University also learn to facilitate participatory mapping research and learning through the collaborative research process.

In January 2023, our team conducted in-depth participatory mapping with four floating villages across the Tonle Sap Lake, two in the Southern side of Pursat province and two in the Northern side of Kampong Thum province. Our research team was led by Ajarn Wisa, postdoctoral fellow of MCW and Dr. Alice Beban, a senior faculty at Massey University and six researchers from Cambodia.

Community members of a Tonle Sap floating village join a participatory mapping workshop to describe and draw various hydrological and social changes and their impacts in their land and waterscape.


Teams from Mae Fah Luang University and the Regional Center for Sustainable Development (RCSD) at Chiang Mai University extend the cultural mapping project to eight communities in the Northern and Northeastern regions of Thailand, learning about the way livelihoods and culture are inextricably tied with conceptions of place, local geography and self in each community. 

Peerapat Anuyahong and Dr. Wisa Wisesjindawat examine a sketch and watercolor map of Bueng Khong Long with community leaders.

Northeast Region

In April 2023, Drs. Malee Sitthikreangkrai (CMU-RCSD) and Wisa Fink (MSU) along with students from MSU, RCSD, and village research assistants conducted key informant interviews and cultural mapping workshops in Bueng Kan, Sakhon Nakorn, and Nakorn Phannom provinces, and in villages along the Songkhram river, a key Mekong tributary basin. 

For each village in the northeast region, RCSD Master’s student and associate researcher Penpit Changakram, Khon Kaen University graduate student Peerapat Anuyahong, and MSU-MCW PhD student Leo Baldiga produced novel digital and artistic map renderings of each community, each map revealing water, ecologies, land, and livelihoods transformations over the lifetimes of older members of the community. 

Chiang Rai

In June and July 2023, Dr. Apisom Intralawan and Mae Fah Luang University student teams, together with a research team from Chiang Khong Conservation Group and MSU-MCW PhD student Leo Baldiga collaborated to conduct cultural mapping workshops in four villages in Chiang Rai Province. Three of these villages are located in the Kok River Basin and one is in the Ing River Basin. Both rivers are vast and critical tributaries of the Mekong. 

Of the three villages in the Kok River basin, two (Ban Mae Lua and Ban Pa Sak Luang) share access to a unique flood pulse wetlands ecosystem known as Wiang Nong Lom, which has suffered extensive land grabbing, excavation, reservoir construction, and drainage for conversion to industrial agriculture in recent years. The third village, located at the mouth of the Kok River, is the site of a Mekong River commercial port. The last village, Ban Muang Chum, is the site of a unique and sacred flooded forest ecosystem that is managed by the community. 

The action research team from Chiang Khong Conservation Group (Nopparat Lamun and Chak Kineesee) together with community co-researchers from Ban Pa Sak Luang Village mark a GPS coordinate and take an altitude reading for what they remember as the highest extent of the greatest flood in their lives in 1966.