Mapping Ideology (Mappings Series)

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Mapping presents itself as a valuable tool or method for everyone from journalists and epidemiologists to police departments and digital marketers. The widespread availability of constantly-updated GIS data, and the prevalence of constantly-refreshing screens, means that more maps are produced, and more of them enter our lives, every day. And those maps-on-small-screens are doubly pervasive: both actively and passively, overtly and covertly present and active.

We actively seek out the map, typically by tapping the Google Maps icon on our phones, to orient ourselves and find our way. Maps always have been, but are now more than ever, media. Globalization in its countless manifestations, post-colonialism, accelerated urbanization and migration, the rise of mass media and particularly networked telecommunications, growing concerns over the environment and an expanding ecological consciousness, as well as myriad other political, economic, technological, and cultural forces, have all been credited with bringing space into relief.

As in earlier ages of exploration, this one was mapped out primarily by men. The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at the moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.

The vector-network, we might say, represents space as topology; the latter three maps, space as topography.

Topology is a branch of mathematics concerned with the spatial properties of an object that hold steady even if that object deforms, or stretches; in other words, topology is interested in abstract surfaces, vectors, trajectories, connections, rather than precise spatial locations. The recent flood of data visualizations is largely topological, too.

Topo graphy , meanwhile, focuses on graphically representing, or describing, the three-dimensional surface of an area, typically highlighting its local features. The topographic map is one form of cartography; the planimetric map, by contrast, relays the horizontal position of features without also showing relief. The topographical has an underlying topology: the structure of the databases underlying our maps — which configures the relationships between plotted points, lines, and areas — profoundly informs the shapes those maps take.

And our representations of geo-locatable data lend themselves to topological network analysis and the modeling of different behaviors and scenarios.

Mappings Series

Through their studies of communication, which involved the creation of new topological diagrams, the cyberneticians were key players in the birth of media studies McLuhan took inspiration from their work. What constitutes a medium has been endlessly and often abstrusely theorized. Yet media and cultural studies have long recognized the limitations of reducing artifacts to codes or semiotic systems, or to tools for propaganda.

Recognizing maps as media potentially opens up a more expansive understanding of how they operate. First, maps-as-media are material artifacts, or interfaces, that adhere to particular protocols of communication. Second, maps-as-media, like all media, are produced by myriad entities — today, by an increasing variety of individuals and industries — for various reasons, under particular conditions, and subject to both cartographic conventions and variable aesthetic or editorial choices.

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Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson, and Martin Dodge propose a variety of methods — genealogy, ethnography, interviews , participant observation, etc. The very existence of mapping as a large-scale media-production industry, and the means by which those maps are produced, raises questions about the values embedded in the system. Who has historically owned the means of describing space, and what have been their interests?

What happens when we hold in our hands manipulable maps that render space as something seamlessly traversable, rational, and exploitable? Rather than use Google Maps or Historypin or one of the myriad existing mapping platforms, though, we worked over the course of several years with programmers and designers in the Parsons School of Design to develop our own map — one based entirely on open-source technologies, including OpenLayers and OpenStreetMap.

Why begin tabula rasa? And, frankly, we preferred not to rely on corporate platforms built on questionable politics, and which had no obligation to preserve our data. The mapping platform we made was more-than-a-little clunky, persistently buggy, not-so-pretty, and often a source of tremendous frustration. They had to do the hard work of building a topological foundation for their topography and their maps were indeed topographic; they aimed to show the three dimensions of infrastructural activity — the aerial, the street-level, the subterranean — in a city distinguished by both its horizontal spread and its verticality.

Yet all that laborious manual control afforded many benefits. Students saw inside the proverbial black box; they watched software get made… and fail, and get partially fixed. Eventually, most students came to appreciate how their overly-ambitious expectations were conditioned by the prevalence of GIS and the equally ubiquitous, and fetishistic, deification and reification of Big Data. Despite the fact that digital mapping platforms seem to call for the exploitation of data sources — the database behind the map seems to demand quantity and precision — cartography is not necessarily all about Big Data.

The personal and the partial, the subjective and the speculative, can also be sketched out on a map — that is, if doing so would be both illuminating to the story or argument one is trying to tell, and ethically sound; making entities visible and locatable can, in some cases, represent a threat or a breach of necessary anonymity.

Denis Wood, Everything Sings: streetlamp footprints. But the challenges go beyond dealing with a lack of spatial precision. Not everything is mappable, and not everything belongs on a map. Framing all research questions, all narratives, all phenomena in terms of space, as the spatial turn inclines us to do, often distorts the content. That translation of physical and human reality into data models and plottable points and lines often results in the loss of something essential and irretrievable.

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Its use had become associated with a claim to know a truth beyond ideology, a radically unfashionable position. Pierre Bourdieu succinctly formulates his departure from this tradition in an interview with Eagleton.

Finally Fredric Jameson supplies an authoritative statement of the nature and position of the ideological in late capitalist society. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published February 17th by Verso first published January More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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March 15 The book consists of a rather obscure introduction by the editor -- who seems to always write obscurely, perhaps by choice -- and fourteen selection March 15 The book consists of a rather obscure introduction by the editor -- who seems to always write obscurely, perhaps by choice -- and fourteen selections by various writers, some of which are classic texts by authors such as Theodor Adorno, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, etc.

This is definitely a book for specialists and not general readers; although I have a degree in Philosophy and a strong interest in Marxist theory, much of this polemic concerned writers I have not read and some I had never heard of.

The introduction alone alluded without explanation to more than twenty authors, of whom I had read five and heard of about half. By the end of the book, and particularly after reading the selection by Eagleton, I had some idea who most of the writers the book was dealing with were, and some of the disputes were interesting, while others were less so.

Mainly what I came away with was a somewhat different priority for my future readings in the subject -- I now have more interest in reading more of Lukacs, Gramsci, and Jameson, and far less in reading more of Adorno and the Frankfurt School; I won't say anything of Lacan, Derrida and the postmodernists because I only read that tradition out of obligation to know something about them and not out of any sympathy for that school of thought. Mis favoritos son los del propio Zizek, Althusser y Eagleton.