Because of their traditional application in the environmental and geological sciences, geographic information systems are not usually considered to be useful tools for rural community research or analysis. The 1990 census made socio-economic data available at the block-group level, however, and this has facilitated the mapping of socio-economic variables in small areas. Insight, explanation, and understanding can come from seeing data in their spatial context. Citizen researchers in the Jackson County, KY, Empowerment Zone used block-group level data in maps of their county to study socio-economic patterns in their communities. This paper provides an example of a way to use simple mapping techniques to illuminate social and economic patterns in small areas.

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