October 17: Critical Cartography + Counter-Mapping

Cover, The Chronic, March 2015, via Africa Is a Country

Guest: 4-5pm: Kasey Klimes, Google Maps

Map Critiques: Laura, Manon, Alyssa

  • Do a quick search to learn a bit about critical cartography – especially its core tenets and the context for its emergence in late 1980s. If you’d like more technological, cultural, and disciplinary history, see Jeremy W. Crampton and John Krygier, “An Introduction to Critical Cartography,” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 4:1 (2006): 11-33.
  • The coining of “counter-mapping”: Nancy Lee Peluso, “Whose Woods Are These? Counter-Mapping Forest Territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia,” Antipode 27:4 (1995): 383-406 [you’ll hear some echoes from last week’s discussion].
  • Yet counter-mapping was taking place before the term existed: Dee Morris & Stephen Voyce, “William Bunge, the DGEI, & Radical Cartography,” Jacket 2 (March 20, 2015).
  • And it’s useful for understanding diverse urban contexts: Annette Kim, “Mapping the Unmapped” in Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): 84-149 [lots of pictures!].

Maybe check out some of these other examples?:

William Bunge, Nuclear War Atlas, 1982


Counter Map Collection; Kate Crawford & Megan Finn, “The Limits of Crisis Data: Analytical and Ethical Challenges of Using Social and Mobile Data to Understand Disasters,” GeoJournal (November 2014); Lindsay Palmer, “Ushahidi at the Google Interface: Critiquing the ‘Geospatial Visualization of Testimony,’” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 28:3 (2014): 342-56; Sera Tolgay, Critical Cartography; Denis Wood, Excerpts from “Counter-Mapping and the Death of Cartography” In Rethinking the Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 2010): 120-129.

MORE ON WM BUNGE + DGEI: William Bunge, Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011[1971]); Kate Hartman, “The New Geographers: How Detroiters are Mapping a Better Future for the City,” Model D (March 10,2015); MIT Center for Civic Media on The Detroit Geographic Expedition and Institutea collection of Bunge maps on Detroitography; the DGEI Field Notes @ Antipode, as well as papers from a symposium reflecting on those notes; Andy Merrifield, “Situated Knowledge Through Exploration: Reflections on Bunge’s ‘Geographical Expeditions,” Antipode 27:1 (January 1995); and Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman & Sara Safransky’s “Uniting Detroiters” project, inspired by Bunge.

4 Replies

  • While primarily about data visualization (based on a deep reading of the title), Catherine D’Ignazio’s https://medium.com/@kanarinka/what-would-feminist-data-visualization-look-like-aa3f8fc7f96c makes it clear that critical cartography influences how she’s thinking about these problems and is grappling with the same questions as our readings this week. As we’ve discussed, who gets to do the mapping, how do we represent a lack of information, and the possibility for adding narrative to broaden what is communicated by a map are all parts of making sure that we aren’t reinforcing the current power structures.

    D’Ignazio references a “chart-scared general public”. I may well live in a map-filled bubble, but I see a different problem. Because maps seem accessible, I think it is easy to take in what we come across and think we’ve understood it without being skeptical. It is increasingly easy to produce a well-designed map on your website or in your paper of record (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/12/us/map-of-every-building-in-the-united-states.html), and not necessarily interrogate the source of data you’re using or if the resulting map tells the story you want it to tell. (Note: I don’t think this Times interactive is an egregious use of making a map because you can.)

    I initially thought of this article because it uses the Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute as an example. Is this the example that is oft-cited because it was the first and an interesting version of this type of work, or are there not so many projects like it in the last half century? Jer Thorp’s Map Room projects (https://medium.com/@blprnt/in-the-map-room-cd6b06bf2139, https://www.jerthorp.com/stlmaproom) are perhaps another approach. I would like to find examples of thoughtful mapping becoming everyday and utilitarian, not reserved for art projects and experiments.

    • Thanks, Alice! Yes, Lauren Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio’s work is highly relevant here. Their book on Feminist Data Viz will be out soon (by academic press standards 🙂 ! https://twitter.com/laurenfklein/status/1028663244385398785

      Also, thanks for bringing us back to the Map Room, too. You might remember that we read about this project in Week 2 — so it’s nice to see that it’s resonating here, in relation to critical cartography.

  • I was intrigued by the debate on forest mapping in Indonesia. Is there a conflict between the idea of counter mapping as a way to increase “the power of people living in the area to control representation of themselves and their claim to resources” and the fact that the communities had to shift their traditional ways of relating to land and resources in order to do so?
    Isn’t the practice of counter-mapping in these terms making indigenous people subscribe to mainstream concepts and mapping strategies, and therefore becoming an extremely controversial practice? It is like playing the state’s game in an attempt to subvert it. But does is succeed, and more importantly, does it bring major implications, especially given the interests of international agencies and other actors in which communities rely on for expertise, financial and technical support? How encompassing can those counter maps be, especially when there is a great diversity of communities, traditions and beliefs in a given area? If critical cartography is a praxis that involves both theoretical and practical reflections on the politics of mapping, then what is the appropriate politics of counter-mapping in cases like the one of Indonesian forests?

  • Thank you, Monise, for highlighting the political contradictions inherent in some counter-mapping enterprises. As you suggest, we certainly should consider whether particular compromises are necessary for the sake of securing larger gains. Is there a way to “adopt the master’s tools” without compromising one’s fundamental values? What a timeless question — but one that’s worth addressing in today’s discussion 🙂

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