Body-Map Storytelling as a Health Research Methodology: Blurred Lines Creating Clear Pictures




body map, qualitative methodology, qualitative health research, arts-based research, visual methods, transformative methods, postcolonial, marginalized, stigmatized participants


In this article we review the literature on body-mapping (BM) as an approach to health research in order to systematize recent advancements and to contribute to its development. We conducted a critical narrative synthesis of the literature published until September 2016 guided by two questions: 1. How has BM been utilized in health research? 2. How does BM advance a decolonization agenda? Twenty-seven studies in English, Spanish, and Portuguese were analyzed. Most of them were published between 2011 and 2016 and were conducted in South Africa, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Chile, and USA. They narrate stories of marginalized groups and commonly focus on the social determinants of health. Data generation, analysis, and knowledge mobilization strategies differ considerably. Recent developments show that body-mapping is a visual, narrative, and participatory methodology that has several names and is used unevenly by health researchers. Despite its diversity, core methodological elements reveal that participants are considered knowledgeable, reflexive individuals who can better articulate their complex life journeys when painting and drawing their bodies and social circumstances. The decolonization of health research occurs when these unlikely protagonists tell their stories producing counter-hegemonic discourses to exclusionary capitalist, patriarchal and colonialist rationalities. We call this methodology body-map storytelling.


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Author Biographies

Denise Gastaldo, University of Toronto

Denise GASTALDO is an associate professor, Faculty of Nursing and School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada, and director of the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research at the same institution. Her scholarship focuses on health equity, in particular she studies migration and gender as social determinants of health in Canada and Ibero-America.

Natalia Rivas-Quarneti, University of A Coruna

Natalia RIVAS-QUARNETI is an occupational therapy assistant professor, University of A Coruna, Faculty of Health Sciences, Spain, and honorary lecturer at Brunel University London, United Kingdom. Her work focuses on critical approaches to occupation, health, and well-being, with special attention to people and communities living vulnerable situations and participatory methodologies.

Lilian Magalhaes, Federal University of Sao Carlos

Lilian MAGALHÃES is an adjunct professor, Occupational Therapy Department, Federal at University of Sao Carlos, Brazil and professor emerita, Western University of Ontario, Canada. Her work is geared toward the development of anti-racist and emancipatory research approaches, especially art-based methodologies.




How to Cite

Gastaldo, D., Rivas-Quarneti, N., & Magalhaes, L. (2018). Body-Map Storytelling as a Health Research Methodology: Blurred Lines Creating Clear Pictures. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 19(2).



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