Tag Archives: maps

Minding the Gap in Cartography: from maps to mapping practices

by Fiona Ferbrache

World Map from 1664

World Map from 1664

If the biologist’s iconic tool of the trade is a microscope, then the geographer’s might well be a map.  Both tools offer an alternative perspective of the world, but unlike the microscope, which enlarges for the biologist, the map serves the geographer through reduction.  Maps and processes of mapping are the topics of enquiry in a TIBG paper by Kitchin, Gleeson and Dodge (2012) – one of the latest pieces of work on cartography by these authors.

For those unfamiliar with the scholarly literature, it is perhaps assumed that “a map is unquestionably a map” (Kitchin et al. 2012:2) – something that exists to measure and represent the world, even through its different forms.  For example, the London Tube map, celebrated this year as part of the 150-year anniversary of London Underground, is a topographical map showing connections between stations, rail lines and fare zones.  This is different to geographically scaled maps such as the Michelin Road Atlas or Ordnance Survey maps.

Different again is the set of maps (cartograms) comprising the Worldmapper collection, available online (see below).  These are based on a flat map of the world and territories are re-sized according to particular variables e.g. total population, fruit exports, disease, internet uses and migration.

Kitchin et al. challenge the idea of a map as something complete, fixed and stable – that which they refer to as being “ontologically secure”.  Instead, they rethink mappings as processual (thus the importance of using the verb ‘mapping’ rather than the noun ‘map’): practices that are never complete but unfold out of and into specific relational contexts.  Their paper is written from a more-than-representational standpoint to challenge the assumed ontology of maps and then consider what this means epistemologically for cartography.

The theory behind this article can be applied to other visual materials – photography, for example.  However, Kitchin et al. will hopefully inspire you to look again and rethink how you understand those maps blue-tacked to the wall in your teacher’s room.

60-world2  Mind the map: London Underground turns 150. BBC News

books_icon Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J. and Dodge, M. 2012. Unfolding mapping practices: a new epistemology for cartography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00540

60-world2 Worldmapper collection

The Map Precedes the Territory

Martin Mahony

The new map at the centre of a geopolitical dispute

Geographers and critical cartographers have long acknowledged that maps do not simply and unproblematically represent the territory depicted by their lines, symbols and shading. Rather, maps participate in the very construction of such territories in the first place. Historical studies have shown the production of maps to be central to the space-claiming activities of European colonial powers, and have highlighted how maps function as tools of political power and even oppression. The representational and world-constructing power of maps does not originate in their accuracy or precision, but in their positioning within webs of practices which at once reflect and produce  the cultures and societies in which maps are situated.

Some of these dynamics were powerfully illustrated by a recent diplomatic controversy around new Chinese passports. The documents feature a map of Chinese territory which included Taiwan and the entire South China Sea – large swathes of which are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. The map also included the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region of Kashmir. This straightforward act of representation was at once an act of geopolitical brinkmanship – the drawing of a line is inseparable from the politics of such lines ‘on the ground’, in the form of border posts, militarized zones, contested resources and cultural identities.

The always-already political nature of this cartography was highlighted by the response of the countries who had lost territory to the Chinese map. Complaints were lodged at Chinese embassies, Vietnam refused to stamp the new passports and, most notably, the Indian embassy in Beijing began stamping the passports with their own map which made a counter-claim to the countries’ disputed lands. India and China went to war over their border in 1962, and recent naval movements by the Chinese military have prompted some observers to speculate about the potential for future territorial skirmishes in the region.

Incidents such as these point to the centrality of cartography to modern statehood. Maps are key to the nation-state’s image of itself, in terms of its territorial extent, its geopolitical relationships, and its political character and identity. Sarah Radcliffe makes just such an argument in her 2009 paper in Transactions, in which she explores the relationship between cartography and the state in Ecuador. She argues that spatial information compiled in the form of new digital cartographies has helped produce a neoliberal property system which is central to the ongoing transformation of the postcolonial state. In the Chinese and Ecuadorian cases maps are being used in very different ways, but in both cases with the aim of transforming the relationship between geographical space and political power.


Sarah A. Radcliffe, 2009, National maps, digitalisation and neoliberal cartographies: transforming nation-state practices and symbols in postcolonial EcuadorTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 426-444

Chinese passport map causes diplomatic disputeThe Guardian, 27 November 2012globe42

Who’s Behind our Maps?

Jen Dickie

Map of the world, prepared by Vasily Kipriyanov From http://libraries.theeuropeanlibrary.org/RussiaStpetersburg/treasures_en.xml Begining of the 18th century Category:Old maps of the worldThe headlines this week demonstrate how ubiquitous maps have become; yesterday alone there were at least 5 maps being used by The Guardian and the BBC to illustrate information to their audience.  It is clear that both the type of information and the way it is being visualised are evolving but also that map makers and map users are diversifying.

With the Gaza conflict dominating the news, The Guardian is using data provided by reporters, officials and the general public alike to create a current, interactive Google Map of airstrikes and explosions in the war zone, which is constantly being updated as information unfolds.  This emerging method of data collection, known as ‘crowdsourcing’, is largely facilitated by social media and is, notwithstanding accuracy and reliability issues, concurrently increasing in popularity and accessibility.

However, it is not only quantitative data that can be mapped effectively; an interactive Google Map published by The Guardian yesterday depicts their news coverage of the ‘Sahel food crises’ over the past year.  Whilst this form of representation and design may give professional cartographers nightmares, this method of visualisation opens up new ways of identifying spatial and temporal connections and relationships from qualitative data sources.

In an article for Transactions, Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge argue that cartographic theory has seen a shift from a “representational to a processual understanding of mapping” and discuss what this means for cartographic epistemology.  Using their experience of mapping ‘ghost estates’ in Ireland, a public geography project, Kitchin et al. demonstrate how maps “unfold through a plethora of contingent, relational and contextual practices” and show how maps are being made (and re-made) in diverse ways as solutions to everyday problems and tasks.

Cartographic theory is evolving and maps are becoming fashionable again.  To me, one in particular highlights the exciting developments and opportunities maps can provide – Paul Butler’s map of Facebook connections.  This does not map Facebook membership or borders and boundaries, yet the world, albeit a slightly distorted one, is clearly visible – a map of human relationships.  As the journalist, Simon Garfield, states in his book ‘On the Map’  – “It was a map of the world made by 500 million cartographers all at once”.

 Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge, 2012, Unfolding mapping practices: a new epistemology for cartography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00540.x

 Sahel food crisis – how the Guardian is covering the story, The Guardian, 19th November 2012

 Gaza-Israel crisis 2012: every verified incident mapped, The Guardian, 19th November 2012

 Simon Garfield, 2012, On the Map: Why the world looks the way it does, Profile Books Ltd, London

When is a ‘map’ not a map? When it’s a Sat Nav!

By Stephen Axon, Janet Speake and Kevin Crawford

Dangerous, fun or pretty sweet? Attitudes towards Sat Nav use
(Artist: George Sneyd)

The rapid popularisation and extensive distribution of Sat Nav technologies represents the first widespread adoption of location-aware systems for journey planning and navigation. Sat Nav technologies illustrate the advancement and accessibility of technology used for journey planning and navigation. Despite the advantages, the media tend to focus on the negativities of over-dependence on the technology, reduced spatial awareness as well as the potential hazards of Sat Nav use.

The first Sat Nav summit in London convened by the Department of Transport in March 2012 started to address the blunders associated with Sat Nav use. The key issues discussed at the summit were to identify solutions to problems of out-of-date Sat Nav technologies. The Sat Nav summit sought to address concerns that old information on Sat Nav systems is leading inappropriate vehicles down inappropriate roads.

In our paper, ‘At the next junction, turn left’, we explore geography undergraduates’ attitudes towards, and experiences of, Sat Nav use as well as its impacts on spatial awareness and cartographic literacy. In doing so, we have started to address a major gap in the geographical literature.

The navigational capacities and technological aspects of Sat Nav are regarded positively whereas its technological, safety and financial attributes are considered negatively. Distinctions are made between traditional navigational technologies such as paper-based maps and Sat Nav. Crucially, the digital spatial representations of Sat Nav are not perceived as maps but as a distinctive navigational tool. Concerns are also expressed that Sat Nav could reduce the ability to read paper-based maps and interpret spatial data.

Sat Nav use is intrinsically changing people’s wayfinding behaviour, processes and practices of navigation, and understandings of what ‘maps’ are and do. Fundamentally, Sat Nav is not viewed, or used, in the same way as more traditional technologies of navigation. We argue that geographers should engage more actively with interdisciplinary dialogues on people’s changing perspectives on wayfinding, navigation and map design.

The authors: Stephen Axon is a doctoral candidate in Geography, Dr Janet Speake is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Dr Kevin Crawford is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at the Department of Geography, Liverpool Hope University.

Axon S, Speake J and Crawford K 2012 ‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use Area DOI: 10.1111/j.1475.4762.2012.01086.x

BBC News 2012 Sat-nav summit to tackle blunders 6 March (Accessed 8 March 2012)

Department for Transport 2012 Government’s first Sat Nav summit 6 March (Accessed 8 March 2012)

Area Content Alert: Volume 43, Issue 4 (December 2011)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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