Lazarenko V. Re-construction of spatial identity of internally displaced people using mental mapping approach

Українська версія

Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

State registration number


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  • 053 - Соціальні та поведінкові науки. Психологія


Specialized Academic Board

ДФ 26.457.001

Institute for Social and Political Psychology NABS of Ukraine


The thesis presents the results of a research on transformation of spatial identity of internally displaced people, obtained by the usage of mental mapping, a research method that is novel for social psychology in Ukraine. The need to explore the self-determining of Ukrainians in the times of an armed conflict contributed to the relevance of the topic, as well as the need to consider the main strategies the person uses to inscribe themselves to the new living conditions. The research issue was chosen considering the social pertinence of the academic field alongside the research gap in sphere of construction and re-construction of social identities of displaced people. The research object is spatial identity of internally displaced people, while the research subject is the specifics of re-construction of the spatial identitiy using mental mapping. Identity was defined as a multi-levelled systematic construct formed as a result of thinking on person’s belonging to a certain community. Spatial identity is defined as person’s feeling of own belonging to a certain space, which is formed as a result of the identification process with a certain place and with those practices, rituals and elements of experience that occur in this particular place. The research design implied mixed method approach that included both qualitative and quantitative methods, featuring mental mapping and narrative interview. Standardized research tools allowed to divide the research informants into four clusters basing on their coping strategies, identity statuses and time perspectives. The clusters were: ‘Resilient – Rational’, ‘Resilient – Social’, ‘Placeless’ and ‘Experiencing social trauma’ informants. The research procedure implied the suggestion for the informants to map their hometowns followed by a task to map Kyiv. The instruction to the mapping exercise was supposed to be a narrative impulse for an interview and contribute to the creation of a holistic story of displacement. Reflecting on the maps and the stories they tell, the respondents were able to rethink their identities and their attitudes to the represented spaces. The following detailed analysis of the elements of the maps contributed to showing off the specifics of mental mapping as a generic research tool in social psychology and a particular tool for exploring identities. The elements of the maps appear to be crucial for interpreting the psychological meaning of experiencing the trauma of relocation among the internally displaced people in Ukraine. As the analysis of the life stories shows, the switch of the mapping object itself facilitates the informants to add a reflective component to those stories. The plot of coming through a certain bifurcation point seemed to be a cornerstone of the life story of displaced people. Spatial identity of internally displaced people is shown as a specter of multiplicities: local identity – Ukrainian identity – resettlement identity. Herein, local identity appeared to be a feeling of belonging to a hometown that in some cases expanded to a wider identification with vernacular Donbas. Such identity may be expressed either as person feeling themselves ‘more a person from a certain place than before’, or have symbolic manifestations. Ukrainian identity of the displaced people was interpreted in a spatial rather than national context. In terms of agency, Ukrainian identity tended to manifest as a product of the choice the informants made while considering a place to relocate, and be a predictor for the choice to remain on Ukrainian-controlled territories. Such identity is visible on the maps in the forms of placing Ukrainian flag in the occupied cities, as well as using Ukrainian language for labelling their maps. The resettlement identity expressed by the informants may be defined as identification with a community of people deprived of home, and located between the past and the present. Summarizing the thoughts of the informants, ‘being a resettler’ implied for them three key points: the lived experience of displacement, identification with a specific community of people that shared such experiences, and a complex sense of ‘homelessness’. Considering the research, the combination of mental mapping approach with a narrative interview can contribute to overcoming of the ontological disparity in the self-narration. However, the re-constructive potential of mental mapping exercise may have different forms among different clusters of research participants. Thus, for the resilient participants, mapping appears to be a way to structure the traumatic experience and realize the multiplicity of owns spatial identity (namely local identity, Ukrainian and the resettlement identity). For those participants who experience social trauma, mapping may have a screening potential, as it helps to localize the traumascape and articulate the core problems of spatial identity.


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