November 27, 2006

Ground truth (transferred from old blog)

Filed under: critical cartography — ubikcan @ 11:32 am

As a kind of update to the post below I found this overview commentary by John Pickles of UNC Chapel Hill (home of the 3Cs). Pickles is one of the figures behind the counter-cartographies collective and the editor of the original Ground Truth book in 1995:

Ground Truth was conceived during a conversation with Brian Harley at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Miami in 1991. It had its roots in our respective earlier work on deconstructive and genealogical readings of what Brian saw as the hidden and embedded assumptions of maps and what I saw as the discursive and disciplinary dispotifs of GIS.

One of the outcomes of those “readings” was a meeting at the Friday Harbor research center in Washington, right near the border with Canada. The Friday Harbor meetings in November 1993 brought together two groups or people (or perhaps better a range of people along the theoretical-applied continuum) interested in mapping and especially GIS.

Pickles remarks that it was at these meetings that Stan Openshaw was supposed to have said that what was needed was a kind of “GIS-2”:

“If what we have now is GIS1 – a binary logic Turing machine, produced with specific kinds of ontologies and uses in mind, what you want is GIS2, a different geographical information system, with different logical operators, different ontologies, and for different uses. Now that is an interesting proposition.”

In practice GIS-2 has not materialized. For most people now its only residue is public participation GIS (PPGIS).

While PPGIS is fine, it doesn’t fulfill the promise of Ground Truth or Friday Harbor. I think the main reason for this is that critical GIS/critical cartography has failed to make the necessary impression on the larger disciplines of geography, geology, history, anthropology, journalism, computer science etc., essentially those disciplines (and beyond outside the academy) that depend on maps.

What is needed then is not GIS-2 but crit-2; a second wave or infiltration of mapping beyond Pickles and PPGIS. Or better yet a GIS-Crit-2 hybrid or however you would style it. The point is that critical cartography has often been actively resisted or ignored by the larger disciplines, especially critical geography itself!

There are odd smatterings of recognizing this from time to time. The September 2006 issue of Area, a UK geography journal, has a round-table discussion of Pickles’ 2004 book, A History of Spaces) in which Professor Joe Painter points out the geographer’s fear–neurosis he calls it–of maps as naff and distinctly inferior to all that cool social theoretic stuff. Other geographers (such as David Harvey in an essay called “cartographic identities” in his Spaces of Capital, and Derek Gregory in his book Geographical Imaginations) have also alluded to the qualities of maps as productive (not just repressive) everyday/quotidian, and agents of knowledge creation.

I don’t know exactly what to say about preventing mapping from disappearing down the memory hole each time it raises itself up a bit, but a place to start would be to stop calling for GIS-2 and work on the crit-geog-2 part.


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