On the use of Circle Maps as a method of inquiry among children

One important aspect in the MobileKids research project lies in understanding how children construct, maintain, or reinforce social relations and networks after the separation of their parents and while living in physical shared custody; that is to say, moving from one place of residence to the other.

In order to map these networks, the level of proximity and intimacy that various group of people hold in a child’s life and the means that are used to nurture these networks, we intend to mobilize the use of circle maps with the children we meet.

Circle maps – also named network maps, hierarchical maps, or ego-centered maps – are a helpful method to unveil the different networks that are at play in a person’s daily life and the type of people present in those networks, but also to explore the levels of emotional or physical proximity (and the overlay of these two), the connections between relationships and the change and continuity over time.

Usually constructed in concentric circles, with “ego” placed at the center, the interviewee is asked to place people from his/her network following a “trigger question”. For instance, “place the people who are important to you”, or “place the people you spend time with”. The interviewee then places people in a hierarchical matter: “the most important” people in the first circle, closest to him/her, and so on.

The circle map technique has already been used in several studies involving children (see for instance Weller, 2012). Other than helping to highlight social networks, it has also proven to be a great ice-breaker. Trying to grasp children’s point of view can sometimes be a complicated task and surely requires creativity. Having them actively participate in the process and having a visual that brings them back mentally to the setting in relation to the questions that are asked helps them to give a concrete answer.

Circle maps will be used in several of MobileKids’ research projects in order to grasp, among others, levels of closeness and importance, distances and tensions between the child and various people from his/her network, and also to understand a sense of belonging in the case of children from ethnical mixed families.

References :

Barglowski, K, Bilecen, B, Amelina, A, (2014), « Approaching Transnational Social Protection : Methodological Challenges and Empirical Applications », Population, Space, and Place, 21, 215-226

Bilecen, B, (2016), « A Personal Network Approach in Mixed-Methods Design to Investigate Transnational Social Protection », International Review of Social Research, 6 :4, 233-244

Weller, S, (2012), « Evolving creativity in qualitative longitudinal research with children and teenagers », International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 15 :2, 119-133

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