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Dorling, D. (1991) The Visualization of Spatial Structure, PhD Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Newcastle upon Tyne


A great deal of information about the social geography of Britain is contained within databases such as the census. To comprehend this information it needs to be effectively visualized. Conventional maps contain an unwanted distortion however, and have been rejected by many as an unsuitable means of showing spatial social structure. A more human cartography is developed here to show the events of people's lives and the shape of society. This thesis argues that a truer picture is obtained by being able to see the whole, in as much detail as possible, at a glance.

A total of 179 high resolution prints show original techniques to study many aspects of life in Britain today. They include pictures of the distribution of age, sex, birthplace and occupation in 1981, changes in these from 1971, unemployment and house price dynamics throughout the 1980s, general election results from 1955 to 1987 (followed by all local election voting from 1987 to 1990), migration flows from one part of the country to another and daily commuting streams. These are of interest for the various methods of visualization used, their content, and the extremely high levels of detail achieved. Over ten thousand places are shown in most of the images produced.

Much of the work involved the creation of computer generated cartograms where each areal unit (up to one hundred thousand to a page) is drawn in proportion to the number of people who live there. Colour and complex symbols are used to study several factors simultaneously and visually effective means of showing millions of flows and other changes over time are developed. A case study of the distribution of childhood leukaemia in space and time is also undertaken. Tables give the detailed results of the last ten general elections (with a basis for dealing with constituency boundary changes). The algorithm to create a detailed cartogram is presented and an index is included.