Week 4 — Notes

One of the ways to analyze the environment is with maps through mapping. This week we focused on mapping, environmental experience, and perception. We also had a riveting guest lecture, “Behind the Map Behind the Mapper” focused on Ottawa from geographer Caroline Ramirez from the University of Ottawa. Her presentation gave us a real-life contemporary example of how those behind maps make decisions for those who are mapped—decisions that are marked by classism and racism—while at the same time present their plans and maps as disembodied and the way things have to be.

We tied in perception and phenomenology to mapping and discussed cognitive mapping. We drew our own cognitive maps of the classroom with hopes of incorporating some of the dominant preferences in the future. We then had a brief history of maps. We discussed how important it is to note spaces as not natural or neutral – the map is one object that has been taken as such. One of the ways to recognize that maps are not natural/neutral is through the idea of ‘silences‘. Maps exert a social influence through their omissions as much as by the features they emphasise. It is the same with images, photos, and any other visual media that is representative. You might have learned that reading Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding. The performance of objectivity is something that a map does quite well, even though maps are constructed simultaneously with our bodies, because where there is space, we make maps to define and navigate it.  We can see this in the ways the first maps of the world were produced —they were produced by European travellers for their imperialist routes. To showcase Western domination they drew their areas in the centre and depicted other areas as smaller. This includes the famous Mercator Projection from the 16th century that still dominates our perception of the world.

We also discussed mapping to give a context to the chapter by Jason Farman. He provides us with an interesting case study in the ways in which technology, our everyday and maps co-exist and structure our lives. In particular it gets us thinking about representations of space.

Jason Farman is hopeful that tech, especially mobile tech, can aid in and represent space in different ways, and change the production of space. He defines space as a lived embodied space because of the interaction between ourselves, our environment and the technology. In other words, drawing from our friend Merleau-Ponty, he proposes that embodiment and space are co-constitutive, which we can even see from the concept of cognitive mapping. Space is always “constructed simultaneously with our bodies” (p. 18). The environment (which includes an interplay between social and physical and virtual) is dynamic and changes over time, across spaces, and with experience. Farman shows us how it is impossible to think of the real and the virtual as separate. (One of the undercurrents for the course is to removal any thinking in binaries!) The ‘virtual’  has real life consequences on our lives, our bodies and how we feel and perceive ourselves and the world around us. And vice versa. His example of getting lost with his phone illustrates this. As an example of his bridging of the virtual and the real (the digital and material), he has the idea of the  “sensory-inscribed body” (p. 19). The removal of the virtual/real split and the sensory-inscribed body is of interest because of the rise of pervasive computing space— that is: the ubiquity of computers in our lives.

slides – coms324-4

Questions to Consider

  • What are some ways cartographers (material/virtual) can unmask the silences in traditional maps and help produce new maps?
  • Is it useful to think about a détournement of the traditional silences of maps and, in turn, silence dominant forms of power? How would that look like?
  • The representation of environment is key for us to make sense of the physical environment. Thinking of the way Farman started his chapter: Why do we feel displaced if Google Maps doesn’t find our exact location and cannot tell us which direction to go in? It is, after all, the Google Maps that is displaced, not us, not our bodies. We are in a space. Yet the ‘virtual’ of the map on our phones assumes a space with our bodies.
  • Farman argues that landscapes have become informational interfaces like the graphical user interface of a screen (p. 43). Can you provide examples?
  • What is an example that demonstrates a sensory-inscribed body? Give a detailed account.
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