Latour on digital cartographies: some comments

Bruno Latour will give a talk to the Architecture Association that will pick up some of the recent work in mapping and digital cartographies he and his co-workers have been doing.

Bruno Latour
Do objects reside in res extensa and if not where are they located?

Date: 22.02.2011
Time: 18:00:00
Experience of space is supposed to be divided into an objective reality that is not “really lived” and a “lived” reality which, on the other hand, is not objectively real… The lecture will explore this apparently philosophical question by surveying several topics which have been deeply renewed by the digital techniques: the experience of using digital cartographies; the mapping of scientific controversies and the reinvention of originals through fac similes by the British artist Adam Lowe and his Madrid studio Factum Arte.

A link to a paper by November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour from Env. & Planning D (2010) is provided. This paper springs from some sessions at the 2009 IBG/RGS conference in Manchester that I attended. The paper argues against a supposed cartographic obsession with the “base map” to point to how maps frame a calculative, if not risk-based assessment. They argue that we’ve become “fascinated” by the base map (which they don’t explain or define but could be a small-scale topographic or locational map understood as actual physical reality) and thematic content (understood as socially constructed) and that this leads to an unfortunate reality/lived experience dichotomy.

I am obviously sensitive to parts of this argument, especially having written on the calculative work of thematic maps myself (they do cite a couple of pieces of my work–nice!). My latest piece on maps and the calculative has just been officially published in PiHG (see previous post).

If their comments on the “fascination” with base maps are a little overdrawn for expository purposes or just a lack of familiarity with the field, I think that they will bring some needed attention to these issues. What would be good going forward would be an actual case study. One that comes to mind is the impact of the geoweb/volunteered geographic information (VGI). Do the exciting possibilities of citizen cartography necessarily collapse back to the calculative?

I’m exploring some of this in the context of citizen redistricting possibilities in the US context. This year most states will redraw their Congressional Districts based on the Census data that will be released next month. Tools now available that marry GIS and VGI (or whatever you want to call it, I realise there’s territory in the name choices here) allow citizens to be part of this process, making it more transparent. I hope to talk about this at a VGI preconference at the AAGs (if my abstract is accepted) and in a commentary piece for a VGI section of Env. & Planning A organised by Matt Wilson and Mark Graham.

(Via Stuart Elden)

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One response to “Latour on digital cartographies: some comments

  1. Pingback: Crampton, Cartography, Calculation, Territory | Progressive Geographies

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