Mapping Urban Social Divisions


  • Susan Ball Université Paris 8
  • Petros Petsimeris Université Paris 1



census data, Chicago School, ethnic group, maps, semiotics, social class, urban social divisions


Against the background of increased levels of interest in space and images beyond the field of geography, this article (re-) introduces earlier work on the semiotics of maps undertaken by geographers in the 1960s. The data limitations, purpose and cultural context in which a user interprets a map's codes and conventions are highlighted in this work, which remains relevant to the interpretation of maps—new and old—forty years later. By means of drawing on geography's contribution to the semiotics of maps, the article goes on to examine the concept of urban social divisions as represented in map images. Using a small number of map images, including two of the most widely known maps of urban social division in Europe and North America, the roles of context, data and purpose in the production and interpretation of maps are discussed. By presenting the examples chronologically the article shows that although advances in data collection and manipulation have allowed researchers to combine different social variables in maps of social division, and to interact with map images, work by geographers on the semiotics of maps is no less relevant today than when it was first proposed forty years ago. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1002372


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Author Biographies

Susan Ball, Université Paris 8

Susan BALL is senior lecturer in contemporary British civilization, Department of English, University of Paris 8, and researcher in the group EA1569 "Transferts critiques et dynamiques des saviors" (domaine Anglophone). Her areas of research include urban policy, policy for the built heritage, and urban segregation.

Petros Petsimeris, Université Paris 1

Petros PETSIMERIS is professor of human geography, Institute of Geography, University Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne, and a researcher in the group UMR8504 CNRS "Géographie-cités." His areas of research are processes of urbanization, social division of space and gentrification in Europe.




How to Cite

Ball, S., & Petsimeris, P. (2010). Mapping Urban Social Divisions. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(2).