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Multisensory Ethnography as a Tool for Reconstructing the Subjective Experience of a City

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What would Warsaw be like if we perceived it not only visually? What is the multi-sensory experience of Warsaw, the experience of its scents and stenches, its silence and noise, its smoothness and roughness, its beauty and ugliness? In this chapter, the author examines the role of the five basic senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) in how Warsaw residents perceive (and then describe) their city, thereby creating a multi-sensory description of the Warsaw area. In addition, the relationship between sensory experiences and spatial memories, as something that underlies the construction of the urban landscape, is discussed. As the research is exploratory, the author decides to use—and modify, to fit the purpose—a triangulation of research methods, employing a whole range of widely known and applied methods (such as mental maps, expert interviews, ethnographic walks, and research diaries). The researcher's perspective is additionally broadened in an interdisciplinary way through the cooperation with cartographer Piotr Obłudka. Together they create prototypes of sensory maps of Warsaw.


  • Multisensory ethnography
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Mental maps
  • Expert interviews
  • Ethnographic walks
  • Research diaries

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-93535-1_9
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  1. 1.

    Synesthesia—“co-feeling, mixing and transformation of various sensory impressions. In psychology it is when a specific sensory stimulus (e.g., auditory) is accompanied by sensory experiences of a different kind (e.g., visual or tactile)” (Głowiński et al., 2008, p. 551).

  2. 2.

    It is important to remember that such imageries will be the result of the negotiations conducted between respondents in the rather artificial conditions of map drawing, which can increase the risk of error in reaching for the “communal obvious.” The dynamics of a group process need to be taken into account in such a situation.

  3. 3.

    Parkour expert—a practitioner of parkour, the art of rapid and direct movement through spatial obstacles (e.g., walls, hurdles, stairs, etc.). It is a physical and sport activity originating in France.

  4. 4.

    According to Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1983), this linguistic economy is emblematic of daily life.

  5. 5.

    Translator’s note: A Polish language wordplay, combining the Polish word for a journal (dziennik) with the word for the senses (zmysły).

  6. 6.

    In my research, I utilized the concept of semantic fields, as created by Regine Robin and her team at the Center for Political Lexicology in Saint-Cloud, a suburb of Paris (Robin, 1980). Robin suggested finding, in the analyzed text (or a body of texts), individual words and phrases serving particular functions with regard to the field’s subject (in my case it was the word “Warsaw”) and using them to establish sets: of descriptors, associations, oppositions, equivalencies, the subject’s actions, and actions towards the subject.

  7. 7.

    I started my analytic work with ordering the received representation on the basis of the imagining method chosen by the respondent. I focused on the visual way the representation was ordered: for the purpose of my work, I termed this “composition.” For further analysis of the mental maps, I used QDA Miner 4 and coded all visible elements (visual and textual) present on those maps. At the start of the in vivo coding process, I established a list of specific categories that would be gathered into general ones later on.

  8. 8.

    This method, as suggested by Barbara Fatyga (2000), relies on appraising the emotional temperature of expressions or phrases taken from the respondent’s expressions. The context of the expression being coded, which contains the whole sentence, or even a few sentences, is factored into this appraisal. Fatyga distinguished between positive, negative, neutral, ambivalent, and indifferent temperatures. For my analysis, I used four of those temperatures: positive, negative, neutral, and ambivalent.


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Correspondence to Bogna Kietlińska .

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Kietlińska, B. (2022). Multisensory Ethnography as a Tool for Reconstructing the Subjective Experience of a City. In: Watzlawik, M., Salden, S. (eds) Courageous Methods in Cultural Psychology. Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences. Springer, Cham.

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