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Harvard GSD: Critical and Social Cartography

Ptolemy Windheads, ca.1490,
Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
This spring I'm excited to be offering Critical & Social Cartography, a seminar in the Graduate School of Design (SES-5345). I've copied the course problematic and the weekly discussion topics below.

Critical & Social Cartography
Wednesdays, 10am-1pm
Gund Hall: Gropius Room

How might we identify the practices of responsive/responsible social and critical cartography, amid the proliferation of digital spatial media? To address this question, this seminar begins with the premise that cartography is not ‘dead’, although certainly challenged by the advancement of GIScience. Rather, the renewal of geographic representation can be charted as paralleling the advancement of neogeography, the saturation of location-based services, the marketization of geodesign, the reconfiguration of the humanities toward the spatial and the digital, and the drumbeats of ‘big data’, ‘the death of theory’, ‘quantified self’, ‘smart cities’, and ‘cyberinfrastructure’. In addition to these various stratifications, the contemporary resuscitation of mapmaking also opens a space for new discursive-material investigations and destratifying practices for (more-than-)representational geographies. However, where and when are the moments of fracture, of potential deterritorialization? How might we examine the histories of these reterritorializations in mapmaking, to inform our social and critical cartographies?

In this seminar, we will emphasize digital spatial technologies and practices, such as GIS, the geoweb, neogeography, location-based services, mobile spatial technologies, and their implications for politics and subjects, new forms of social control and exclusion, as well as debates about representation, epistemology, and method. We will read work from some of the well-established historical materialist, political economic, and feminist theorizations of geographic representation, as well as work by poststructuralist scholars that interrogates the subjectivities, embodiments, and more-than-human relations that emerge from and with geographic technologies. The course energies will cluster around three investments:
  1. Engagement and Representation. We will examine the historical precedents for the emergence of digital mapping, with particular attention to the ways in which maps engage. We begin with the presupposition that engaging representations are a fashioning of attention. Topics of discussion may include: attention work and the attention economy; maps that move; animated cartographies; cognitive capitalism; geodesign, urban design and geographic representation; university-community partnerships with mapping; geodemographics and ‘volunteered’ geographic information.

  2. Digital Mapping Histories. We will take up the emergence of digital mapping at Harvard and will explore the holdings within the university archives (as well as materials in Loeb) to situate our current preoccupation with digital spatial representation and mapping practices more generally. Topics of discussion may include: studies of geospatial technology development and use; inclusion of unconventional data in mapping; geographies of user-generated content and the geoweb; ethics, privacy, surveillance.

  3. Critical Mapping Rhizomologies. We will discuss the ‘classic’ scholarship that interrupt cartography and GIScience to better understand the timing of critical GIS as well as other variants of the GIS & Society tradition. Topics of discussion may include: critical geographic inquiry with mapmaking; histories of mapping technologies, histories of cartography; GIScience, the academic-industrial complex, and mapping industries; landscape/urban planning and participatory GIS; war-making, geospatial intelligence, and human terrain systems; historical and qualitative GIS; affective GIS, GIS as art.

Weekly Discussion Topics:
  1. Engagement, histories, criticality
  2. Cartographic thought, theories, concepts
  3. Digital spaces, code, memories
  4. Archives, attention, atmospheres
  5. Automation, computer mapping, GIS
  6. Quantitative and theoretical cartography
  7. Spatial practice, humor, affect
  8. [spring recess]
  9. Diagram, trace, rhizome
  10. GIS wars, GIS & Society, critical GIS
  11. Pretty maps, cartophilia, infographics
  12. New spatial media, crises and activism, big data
  13. Futures, technoscientific knowledges, digital subjects
  14. Map studies, manifestos, (post)critique


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