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Member Research and Reports

UMass Amherst Research Uses “Body Mapping” Technique to Better Understand Young Motherhood and Wellbeing

Dr. Aline Gubrium, associate professor of community health education in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is lead author on a new article titled “Bodies as evidence: Mapping new terrain for teen pregnancy and parenting” appearing in the February issue of Global Public Health. The result of Dr. Gubrium’s Ford Foundation-funded “Hear Our Stories” research project, the paper examines the outcomes of using body mapping with several “Hear Our Stories” participants to explore their lives as young Latina mothers in a Western Massachusetts town.

Aline Gubrium2014
[Photo: Dr. Aline Gubrium]

Body mapping is defined as a research technique that involves asking participants to artistically respond to prompts corresponding to different parts of the body. Over the course of three sessions the researchers asked participants to respond to prompts ranging from their perception of societal and personal views of teen parenting, life goals and their views of their homes, to messages about teen parenting that they wanted to send to the world. The result of this activity was a life-size body map and a body-map key.

Dr. Gubrium and her co-authors highlight the technique as a tool to understand previously unexamined aspects of youth sexuality, motherhood, and wellbeing.

The researchers write in the paper, “The stories and discussions in and around the body maps illuminated linkages between social memories, structural violence, lived experience, and sexual practices, especially the ways participants negotiate dominating discourses about ‘fit’ parenting and describe instances of dehumanization in the system and a felt sense of isolation and insecurity.”

According to the paper, body mapping has been previously used to explore topics such as “HIV and AIDS, undocumented migrant worker health, occupational health, and sexual health education.”

The co-authors on the article include Dr. Elizabeth Krause, professor of anthropology at UMass Amherst, and UMass Amherst doctoral students Ms. Alice Fiddian-Green, community health education, and Ms. Kasey Jernigan, anthropology.