Our Kind of Town

Citizen Social Science, Participatory Mapping and the Struggle for a Just City

This is the text of a public lecture I gave to the Institute for Social Research at Birkbeck in October 2014.Thanks very  much  for the many useful comments  made in the discussion following the lecture, some of which have been taken on board in revising this text. I am especially grateful to Anna Davin for drawing my attention to Hugh Brody’s wonderful book about Inuit cartography :Maps and Dreams. Thanks also to Paul Watt for acting as discussant.  The powerpoint which accompanied the lecture and which is indicated by (SLIDE(S) in the text is available to download from the Living Maps Website: www.livingmaps.org.uk. An audio of the lecture, including the powerpoint images is available on the Birkbeck website.

For Ruth Glass ( 1912-1990)

The map maker’s work is to make visible

All them things that shouda never exist

In the first place

Like the conquest of pirates, like borders

Like the viral spread of governments

Kei Miller  The Cartographer tries to map a  way to Zion


Maps are like campfires – everyone gathers around them, because they allow people to understand complex issues at a glance and find agreement – Johnny Warangkula Notes from the Territory



This talk is going to be a bit of a ramble,  it will go around quite a lot of houses and take a line of thought for a walk for a walk’s sake and in what some  may regard as a somewhat eccentric direction. Hopefully  on the way it may make  some interesting and even surprising  connections  between 1)  the status and methodology  of citizen social science as a form of uncommon sense  knowledge  2) the impact of digital technology  and crowd sourcing on the  practice of critical cartography  and 3)  the struggle to build a just city around a conception of democratic politics centred on the    defence  and extension of the commons.

I make no apology for bringing  these three topics into such a loose conversation, letting them bounce off each other rather than  trying to join them up in a single straight line  because   I want to argue that rambling is an extremely useful  activity,  which may involve trespassing on various academic preserves, but is integral  to  sustaining  the right to roam which is  such an important part of the intellectual commons. So if what follows does not conform to the conventional model  of the  essay plan which neatly pigeon holes ideas as it moves the argument smartly along from point  A to point B to point C, in a logical progression,  if it tries to return the essay to its original exploratory form against the planified discourse  of  systemic  thought, it is because I also want to make a case for shifting the way we think about cities, and their governance in the same direction. I hope you will be able to see the method – or anti-method- in the madness.

Personal and Political geographies

Our kind of town, tends to be that part of  town where we imagine our kind of people to live.  That sense of symbolic ownership, of feeling at home,  and the locally situated knowledge and sentiment   it entails  all too often  support what Hannah Arendt  called a nationalism of the neighbourhood ; it is redolent of  NIMBYism and most recently a  disenchantment  and withdrawal from any wider civic engagement, especially from participation in organized politics.  At the same time it may create a platform for mobilizing resistance against  the impact of market forces and state  intervention, for example  in relation to processes of gentrification. So perhaps  we immediately need  to distinguish between ethnic and civic   nationalisms of the neighbourhood: the first  stakes  claims to local amenity and resource on the ground of long established indigeneity, and/or becomes racialised while the second bases  those claims on  an assertion of  municipal pride and belonging  or legal rights. And, of course, they have very different political implications.
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Frank Sinatra’s Chicago is a town  where everyone does it their way and lives the American dream,  where  the Irish and Italian mafia   presided over  by Mayor Daley rule OK  and where the city’s geography became highly racialised. It is also of course the birthplace of monetarism  and neoclassical economics which have been exported around the world and   today constitute   the  common sense of  neoliberalism. Boris Johnson may be no Mayor Daley  but Sinatra’s  Chicago clearly has a lot to answer for.

My Chicago is a rather  different kind of place. It is where seven German  working class immigrants who were also anarchists were put on trial and hanged for  a crime they almost certainly did not commit in a wave of popular  anti- immigrant  feeling,  sparking   protests by workers organizations   around the world. It is where Jane Adams established  the Hull House  community settlement  and pioneered  a new form of  grass roots politics based on notions of  collective self organization and social justice in the city. It is  the birth place of a school of urban ethnography  whose social ecology theory  put the street cultures and everyday lives of the inner city  poor and ethnic minorities  on the intellectual map and  where many years  later,   David Graeber, now one of the leading theorists of the anti globalisation  movement came to study  and began to make some interesting links between  the Marce Mauss’s anthropology of gift exchange  and ideas of the commons or what he rather mischieviously calls actually existing communism.  It is also  where  in 1968  hippiedom  went political and created a new style of protest as street theatre in its days of rage  against the Vietnam War.   This Chicago with its libertarian socialist  traditions, its radical communitarianism, its  locally grounded  sense of public sociology  and its politicized counter culture   is one I guess some of us here could feel at home in and which I think  still has quite a few lessons to teach us.

And  what of London?  What kind of town is it for us today. What would it take to make it our kind of town?   How has it changed over our  life time and how has this affected what it means to be a Londoner.   I grew up  just round the corner from  here (Gordon Square WC1)  during and after the second world. My introduction to the close connection between  personal and political geography  came when  I was five  and  was sent across town   to a prep school in Sloane Square. The private block of flats where I lived was  surrounded by hotels  catering to  passing trade from the  three  nearby  mainline stations.  Despite this, my parents fiercely insisted we lived in Bloomsbury. ‘ Say you come from Bloomsbury, not Euston, if they ask you’, my mother urged  as I got on the bus  for my first day at school. Yes in those days even  five year olds got to travel across town in a bus on their own.  Clearly   ‘Bloomsbury’ was where people like us lived, whereas   the areas around the stations, especially Somers Town, were reportedly full of dangerous and  disreputable characters  and definitely out of bounds. It was also  where the children whom I saw playing so animatedly  in the council flats  at the back of ours, were rumoured to go to school.  As a result  these  places took on a special allure for me.  They were where I staged  my wildest  imaginary adventures. So if any of my school mates, who all lived in and around Sloane square,  asked me where I came I was determined to say Euston.  In retrospect choosing Euston over Bloomsbury as my native heath was a smart move. It became a way  to distance  myself from what I came to see as my parent’s social pretentions. Still, there was a practical problem about telling school friends that  I came from Euston: no-one believed me. Euston, in so  far as they had ever  heard of the place,  was a railway station, and no-one lived in  railway stations  except tramps.  Much later  as an adolescent I   learnt about the Bloomsbury Group, and was as put off by their oh –so- very English cultural snobbery as I was entranced by their bohemian  life style. I simply could not see myself as a Bloomsberry Boy, even  if  that particular intellectual  gang   continued to rule OK over much of English cultural life. No, it was the Euston Road School with their dour realist portraits of street life  that   defined for me  what the area meant, its genius loci.,

Elisee Reclus, the great  anarchist thinker and pioneer of political ecology    reminds us that geography is not an immutable thing: ‘it is made and remade everyday, at every instant, it is modified by the action of man’. This is especially true of children’s geographies as Kevin Lynch first  showed us in’ Image of the City’ and  the anarchist town planner  Colin Ward also demonstrated in his wonderful book ‘The Child in the City’. One of my favourite   maps which illustrates this thesis traces the shrinkage of the exploratory space of childhood over three generations  and in passing  shows just how effective maps can be in making an  argument by showing rather than telling.  (SLIDE).

In my case it was through exploring the immediate neighbourhood in walks with my father  that I came to negotiate  and learn the  social ecology of the  city. Many of our early expeditions s  were  to the nearby Bloomsbury squares. Nearest of all was Tavistock Square, a  rather dreary place  for a child with its ‘Keep Off the Grass’ signs but enlivened by the presence of  a pavement   artist who  had set up his pitch just  outside the gates. He was a small, bird like man with  a pinched, weather beaten face and a small moustache. He wore a grimy old overcoat  on  even the warmest of days and  I noticed his hands  were always smudged   with  charcoal and chalk dust. I envied him his grubbiness– clearly no-one  told him off to go and wash his hands or brush his hair! But  to my mother’s eye  he must have  looked the very image of a down and out. She  always tried  to pull me away whenever  I went up close to inspect his work, in case, she explained,  I caught fleas.   I was fascinated by the   vivid, brightly coloured  pictures he drew of horses and jockeys, under which he wrote  their  names  and the  betting odds for the race in which they were  currently featuring. In addition to these tips of the day, he  drew  cartoons  of politicians, often accompanied by  obscure illustrated comments on  topical events.  I used to  ask for sixpence to drop in his hat, in the  belief that I was  saving him from certain starvation.  It came as a shock when, I was subsequently told that  he was a very wealthy man, with a house on millionaire’s row  in Bishop’s Avenue.  Apparently he used to travel  to the square in his chauffeur driven Rolls and   change into his tramp’s outfit in the back of the car before starting  work for the day: as bizarre a version of the rags to riches story as there ever was.  But at least he taught me a number of  lessons which have stayed with me : yes  appearances can be deceptive and what you  see is not necessarily what you get,  but that is not the whole story. This man’s undoubted skill as a pavement artist, his construction of a little creative niche in the urban fabric in which he could reinvent himself and perhaps, who knows free himself from the guilt of his wealth and the social  isolation from the commons which it brings,  introduced me to the idea that  the city, and more especially the street  is where  we encounter our other possibly richer selves.  It was only much  later that I came to recognize in his masquerade of poverty a long established practice of slumming and  the  observational strategy of   Victorian   urban explorers  and civilizing missionaries who  decked  themselves out in rags in order to  insinuate themselves into the  mileux off the urban poor.

This was how the West End travelled East. The history of London  has  been significantly  about this fractured geography, it is a   tale of two cities  East and West, and  the creation of illicit conduits of  drugs and sex linking low life and rough trade  around the Docks  with the drawing rooms of Mayfair.  East End Boys meeting up with  West End girls on ground of neither choosing has been a recurrent motif in the mapping and soundtracking  of  metropolitan life. It is only in the last 25 years and since the closure of the docks  that London’s growth  has turned east, first with the building of Canary Wharf as a new financial centre  and then with the  choice of Stratford  for the 2012 Olympics and the creation of  new international business quarter there. So the West End has gone East – Birkbeck and  now  UCL have moved  East –  but it remains to be seen whether the West  colonises and conquers the East and turns it into a replica of itself  through gentrification, or   whether there is a genuine convergence in  life chances  between children born in East 16 and  those born in WCI. Or perhaps  it will be an old fashioned story  of  an ever  widening gulf between the high fliers plugged into  the global knowledge economy  living in their gated communities, and those who may be running around with their mobile phones constantly on the go but who are socially and geographically immobilised, dependant on highly localized resource networks  for precarious day to day survival.

Here again  it seems as if  personal and political geographies  coincide.  But there needs to be a caveat entered here. The kind of mental mappings we construct  in navigating the city  in everyday life and  the maps  created for the purpose of  theorizing, investigating or administering   it  do not necessarily  correspond. Indeed they  may come to radically diverge.  Frederick  Jamieson  has argued that  whereas in the early period of modernity, forms of spatial inequality were relatively transparent and could be more or less adequately  read and represented  in the maps of the world  that  people carried around in their heads, in the  moment of late modernity  these two levels split apart and  constitute themselves into an  opposition between  the phenomenological truth of lived experience  and the wider but hidden truth of structural causality.  As Jamieson puts it : ‘the truth of  local  experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place. The truth of  limited daily experience of London lies, rather, in India or Jamaica or Hong Kong’. Another way of putting this is to say that  globalisation makes the local excentric to itself, and yet finds its only locus there. The easy- to- read centre/periphery relations of West End and East End   give way  to a  more  complex  system of disseminated  power, projective identifications and trading places, whose forms of spatiality are  much   more difficult to grasp and represent at the level of personal geography and  mental mappings.


Official Maps, Lived territories

I want to briefly illustrate  this divergence  between official maps and  lived territories  by looking  at three  instances, from the 1880s, 1940’s and today.  The first properly forensic maps of London were  produced by Charles Booth for his Survey of  life and labour in late Victorian London. This survey  constituted the founding moment of British social science and established the major  tradition of empirical social survey  and surveillance of the urban poor which continues to this day.  In the preface to his early study of East London(1899),  he had this to say:

“East London lay hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures: starving children, suffering women, overworked men; horrors of drunkenness and vice; monsters and demons of inhumanity, giants of disease and despair. Did these pictures truly represent what lay behind, or did they bear to the facts a relation similar to that which the pictures outside a booth at some country fair bear to the performance or show within? This curtain we have tried to lift”.
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It’s a complex metaphor which I don’t have time to go into here but as a foundational  statement it  defines the project of social science as  a break with the fanciful anthropology of the  urban explorers and slum novelists. In contrast to the close up, hand  coloured  portraits of Henry Mayhew   we are to be given a more distanced, dispassionate and systematic view of urban and industrial conditions ‘as they really were’; on this scientific basis alone, in Booth’s view, could effective  remedies be developed. He was a pioneer of evidence based urban policy making.

Booth pioneered a  new methodology of observation; he sought to replace the impulsive impressionism of the flaneur with a more clinical approach: the precise  notation of physical details using a standard protocol to classify habits, habitats and inhabitants according to a set of common socio-economic  indicators  of class.  Children playing in the street, women gossiping at open doors, broken windows, violence, domestic arguments, the presence of prostitutes and thieves, all these were so many tell tale signs of the dangerous and perishing classes. Flower pots, closed doors, lace curtains, scrubbed doorsteps and almost empty streets were the marks  of the respectable artisan.

The function of the maps with their street grid plan view of the city was to translate  these observations into a colour coded   topography of wealth and poverty (SLIDE). Black for the underclass  (vicious and semi criminal), dark blue for  the chronically destitute, lighter blue for those who were respectably  poor and  so on.  It is interesting to note the number of street that were recorded as mixed, ‘some  comfortable  other not’. Today those same streets might indeed be a mix of  comfortably off middle class professionals  and people living on benefits, but  in the 1880’s it signified the skilled and unskilled living side by side. For all its claim to scientific objectivity  this map  turns out to be  a transcription of an already  highly developed anatomy of moral distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, the rough and the respectable,  based  on the not always reliable reports of ex- colonial  officials  and policemen whom were  recruited as Booth’s  eyes on the street.   The maps fix a highly unstable   semiology of social distinction  into a model of spatial inequality.  For Booth and those who have followed in his footsteps up to the present day, the material signs and statistics of poverty are more eloquent in speaking for  the poor than their own voices;  the new  scientific methods  permitted the direct undistorted recording of social fact, uncontaminated by sentiment or ideology and the function of  cartography was precisely to substantiate  that  proposition.

What is interesting about the Booth survey is that in fact it conducted numerous interviews of workers and tenants, involved participant observation – as part of  her study of the sweated trades Beatrice Webb spent time in a tailors workshop off Brick Lane  learning the skills of the seamstress  and made copious field notes. It also   collected  many photographs. None of this material was published  in the numerous  volumes  of the study  because Booth regarded it as ‘anecdotal’ and hence ‘unscientific ’, it was unmappable  and its publication might jeopardize the impression of objectivity he was so concerned to cultivate. The material  now sits in the Booth  archive in the LSE  as mute evidence of  a pioneering piece of urban ethnography that anticipated the work of Thrasher and  the rest of Chicago gang  by quite a few years.

Booth himself was acutely aware of the tension between the nature of the evidence he was collecting and  the procedure he adopted for its representation. He wrote

“The material for sensational stories lie plentifully in every book of our notes but even if I had the skill to use my material in this way- the gift of the imagination that is called realistic- I should not wish to use it here”.

The tension between what I am going to call  the sociologistic and sociographic approaches to understanding  and mapping the city is  here clearly  stated.  Sociologistics is the collection and analysis of primarily quantitative  data   in order to  document  patterns of  behaviour or interaction and their correlation with the distribution of  various socio-economic indicators. It is the basis of evidence based policy making and the calculations of political arithmetic.  Sociographics involves the collection and interpretation  of primarily qualitative data in order to establish the contours and meanings of  discrete social worlds and their correlation  with structural variables such as class and  gender.  This  distinction broadly corresponds to the familiar opposition between nomothetic and idiographic methodologies  except that it also cuts across  the  conventional contexts of their application. For example the common, defined  sociologistically, refers to the statistical frequency  of some phenomenon – it is something frequently  found. From a sociographic standpoint the common refers to some shared nexus  of  values or idioms.  In an ideal world  these two approaches would compliment one another, but, of course, they have become implicated in  very different  ideological  standpoints within  the social sciences.

My second  example is an iconic  map of  London produced at the same time  I was finding my way around the streets of Euston cum  Bloomsbury  on my trike. The  Abercrombie Report  published in 1948  was the first comprehensive attempt to produce a master plan  for the metropolis, and was undertaken to co-ordinate   its post war reconstruction. Perhaps its most significant feature was that in abandoning the piecemeal development which had hitherto characterised metropolitan growth it went back to Ebenezer Howard’s model of organic community. The result was to turn London into a series of self-contained improvement zones, little islands of urban redevelopment, an unconscious mapping perhaps of the ‘stand alone’ island story so central to Britain’s wartime image of itself, a  mixture of   civic  and ethnic  nationalism embedded in the neighbourhood. It was just this mix of prides of place which was gently satirised in the  celebrated   Ealing comedy ‘Passport to Pimlico’(1949)  in which this part of London declares  independence  from the rest of the country. Forty  years later the campaign  against the LLDC plans for the transformation of the Isle of Dogs  drew on the same trope, and under the banner of ‘give us back our land’ closed the bridges which connected  the area to the rest of mainland London.

The  keynote map produced by Abercrombie (SLIDE)  shows London as  a  set of self contained urban villages;  even though the term was not in currency at the time, this  model of neighbourhood as organic community pulled upon powerfully resonant  historical images of the commons as well as Patrick Geddes model of  urbanism .  Yet this map  stood in a very ambiguous and unstated relation to the territorialities of the working class  city, with its   street gangs, its male manors and dense  matrilocal networks expressing a rather different pride of place.  Abercrombie himself had a horror of  the unplanned and   the ‘do –it-yourself’urbanism of the  plotlanders  which emerged in response to the ruination of working class residential areas  during the war. He wrote ‘ It is optimistic to count upon the temporariness of the many shacks, caravans on posts, old railway coaches and stationary omnibuses  that have sprung up in our cities. These objects, seedy on their first appearance, do not mellow with time  but have a knack of lingering on, patched  and botched into a decrepit and disreputable old age ‘.

The urban village is very much an invented metropolitan tradition and refers primarily to working-class neighbourhoods in the inner city that either have become gentrified, or are where the ‘gentry’ have always lived – at least since the eighteenth century. Ironically it was Jane Jacobs, the American urbanist who was an apostle of ‘spontaneous un-slumming’, who  popularised the term as a model of piecemeal urban renewal in inner city areas threatened by ‘slash and burn’ redevelopment – an alternative regeneration strategy led by small businesses rather than large property developers or the state. More recently, environmentalists have adopted the urban village as a symbol of historical individuality threatened by the culturally homogenising pressures of globalisation, as well as a model of local democracy and sustainable community development. Amidst cries of ‘there goes the neighbourhood’ as yet another Starbucks opens, the ‘small is beautiful’ school of urbanism has made significant inroads into both popular attitudes and professional planning practice over the last decade. And by no coincidence it  figures prominently in the prospectus for the legacy  residential  development of the Olympic Park as providing some sense of local attachment in  what  is otherwise an international visitor attraction.  As the  brochure puts it :

‘the Park will be inspired by London’s long history of ‘villages’, quality public spaces, facilities and urban living, learning from the best of the past – to build successful communities for families of the future’.

This   brings me to my third example. Today   a new kind of  map of London is being drawn, which attempts to capture  emergent patterns of inequality within the  global  space of flows of people, information, commodities and finance  that characterizes our city’s traffic with the world.

Danny Dortling’s  cartograms which are featured extensively on London Mapper  and in his many books, are brilliant demonstrations of how state of the art mapping technology can be used to   graphically portray  a whole array of statistical data. They show the big picture, the picture as generated by Big Data,  by systematically distorting   shape and area to illustrate the magnitude of a particular variable, for example population density (SLIDE):  the bloated  south east is   contrasted  dramatically with the emaciated north, an image of regional disparity  with multiple resonances. Note that here  the digital  map represents  the territory analogically, rather than mimetically. Nevertheless it remains within the framework of sociologistics, and  the  sociographic dimension remains mute.

Across these different cartographic genres, a similar perspective is being pursued. Whether the map is being used forensically, prescriptively, thematically  or diagrammatically,  it  functions rhetorically  as a tool of social scientific investigation, urban  planning  and policy making which asserts a strict  relation of correspondence between map and territory. As such it confirms our common sense understanding of  that relation  which enables us to find out way about, even in unfamiliar terrain,  an understanding which is however interrupted whenever  we religiously follow the instructions of our sat navs without bothering to look out the car window only to find we have ended  up in a rubbish dump. The discordance of map and territory  is as rich source of urban myth  and  its social imaginary  as their fictive concord is powerful in enabling us to function on autopilot as we move about the city.

What is not shown on these maps, indeed what has become unmappable is the lived experience of wealth and  poverty,  the locally situated knowledge of everyday urban living.What is not mappable is the process  whereby people become attached to places,  to birth places and dwelling places and other lieux de memoire, these haunts of the imagination which  configure our personal geographies  and invest   places with reputational identities  as well as personal meaning (SLIDES).   Today however  a whole army of urban imagineers, estate agents,  planners, PR consultants, advertisers, property developers,  are busily employed in trying to disseminate positive images of  neighbourhoods (often as urban villages)  in order to sell them to potential  punters.  When    Wallace Steven wrote ‘people live not in places but in the description of places he could not have  imagined in his wildest nightmares that a  poetics of  place would become a central mechanism   of gentrification and the  capitalist expropriation of  the commons.

This brings me back to  Frederick Jamieson and his little essay on cognitive mapping. What he points towards but does not fully explore   is the implications of his argument  for cartography itself. Today  there is a stark  opposition  between on one side  the    overview/top down/outside in  account   – the totalizing/globalizing  standpoint of the over dogs associated with sociologistics  and  the scientific  methods of   Cartesian cartography  and  on the other, the underview/ bottom up / inside out accounts  of the underdogs  centred on socio-graphics  and particularistic structures of knowledge and feeling represented in  personal geographies.

Now before we rush to take sides, and decide who are the baddies and goodies – and clearly  I have already indicated where my own  sympathies lie – let us consider that the problem may really be just that split representation;  equally  recent attempts to transcend  it  by conjuring up some  hybridized  third space consisting  of a conciliatory dialectic  or mash up between the two perspectives  may be equally problematic.  At any rate it is in this notional  third space and   its  melting pot of   ideas   that the current culture war between mappies and territorialists is being waged.  It is an argument  between on one side those who argue that the map not only precedes  and defines the territory, but has become its own territory. in the  words of Baudrillard ‘there is no there there’ because we are living  in a post modern universe where   virtual  simulacra have created a  self contained  hyper-reality  operating according  to  its own internal principles of indexicality  and the’ referent’ is  permanently deferred.  On   the other side  of the argument are  those  who  insist  that  the  primary process of navigation is accomplished  phenomenologically,    through  our  embodied  relation to the landscape as we move through it, so that the territory generates  its own organic process of   mental mapping.  The territory always and already precedes, and exceeds  the map, and sets the co-ordinates of its inscription.  Mappies accuse territoralists  of validating  ego or ethnocentric  maps, while territorialists accuse mappies of intellectual hubris and complicity  in the  imperialism of western Reason.  This is a debate that is clearly set to run and run.

It may be, though, that each position is referring  to a different ideal  type  of  translation between  map  and  territory  which it takes as axiomatic  but which may be found empirically in a variety   of weak and strong combinations. At any rate, what the debate  highlights is a central issue as much for cartographers and planners as for  communities on the front lines of  urban transformation : the legibility of space or the lack of it.  As Denis Cosgrove has argued  the Enlightenment  tradition in  city planning sees  geometry as a medium of urban legibility. The city was to be read as a text for its rulers, citizens  and visitors. Printed urban maps expressed and reinforced the city’s legibility, offering panoramic prospects  constructed from a  panoptic  standpoint  and/or a rationalized grid in the form of a street plan, with  functionally zoned districts : the central business district, the industrial  or commercial area,  residential districts, the inner city and suburbs  and so on. At the same time  cartographic theory and early nautical  technologies (quadrants, sextants, log books, marine clocks, rulers) combined with   regimes of navigation  and surveyance  to  create   standardised   protocols  so that  the map became a stable,  combinable and transportable  source of knowledge about the world.

This describes the situation in the early modern period, the period of rapid urbanization and colonialism. But  today   global and post colonial cities have a spatial logic of networks and flows  that does not fit easily  within these traditional grids of representation. Planners now talk of linear and polycentric cities, no one quite knows where London begins and ends, and certainly  its administrative boundaries no longer correspond to  its gravitation pull. I have already discussed  the changing configuration of East and West  in London. The long established  centre/periphery relationship  has been overlaid and complicated  by other lines of distinction  which are not just about class and race but  a host of other  place identifications.  The Thames Gateway Plan which stretched from inner London to Southend  created a complex  artificial geography whose 15  development areas were both discontinuous and  cut across all kinds of boundaries, requiring  a structure of governance of quite  Byzantine complexity. Most of the people who lived in the so called ‘zones of change’ were not even aware of the fact. As we will see   the need  to impose some form of symbolic order and meaning on an increasingly polyvalent and conventionally un-mappable  space is one of the main drivers of current   attempts to apply  digital mapping technology to crowd sourced  data and to involve communities in participatory mapping projects.

Now one of the key shifts  from early to late capitalism is from  a scopic regime in which the distinction between public and private space  is clearly demarcated and policed to one in which the two are systematically conflated, so that the urban fabric becomes  a  multi-layered assemblage of signs, technologies and narratives whose decoding  cannot accomplished by simply reading a map.   The  City  as one big  mash up, a digitalized version of the melting pot thesis.  As the public realm becomes increasingly privatised and the most intimate aspects of personal experience are broadcast and become public knowledge via social media, the  traditional proxemics  of modernity are also  overturned. In the age of  space/time compression  people may interact more closely and intensely with those who live on the other side of the city or the world, than with their next door neighbours. I well remember a  shopkeeper on the Isle of Dogs who told me he  could skype his family in Bangladesh every day of the week but was frightened to go out of his front door in case he got attacked  by a local racist gang.

On the more positive side this disjunction in scope and scale between map and territory has  offered many artists a point of entry into a field hitherto dominated by Cartesian cartography  and the Ordinance Survey. Networks and flows are very much up  their street (SLIDES).In fact  artists  maps have become radical chic and now appear extravagantly packaged in   coffee table books. Many of them are sophisticated attempts to map the space of flows; even if their aesthetic  properties are more significant than their implied analytics  they do point in the direction  of freeing map making from its Cartesian template. One of the most interesting  recent examples  is the map of the New East End by Adam Dant  (SLIDE). He asked a number of ‘scouts’ to walk into  east London  from its outskirts   stopping and asking  passers by at random  to point them  towards where they though the centre of town must be. His map,   traces these routes   which converge on a  rubbish bin  in Westfields Shopping Centre.  The map itself in its circular design  recalls one of the earliest pre-scientific  cartographic forms. All good stuff, but  is there more to the legibility issue than finding new/old forms of representation?


Rethinking the commons

It is at this point that the argument about the new commons  advanced by   Hardt and Negri in their book ‘Commonwealth’, enters the fray. In the book, which for a time became  a bible of the  anti-globalisation movement,  they argue that the chaotic synchronicity of neo-liberal capitalism  has its spatial analogue in the deregulated city where a  multiplicity of  different forms of economic, social and cultural life jostle together, converge, compete and enter into contradiction. But Hardt and Negri  have not just reinvented Simmel’s  characterisation of city life as a  melting pot, or rather cauldron,  of diffuse experience ; they see it  as a space of bio-political flows in which the movement  of labour and capital have become intricated in new  circuits of information,  transport, and communications, new forms of social networking,   in  a way that cuts across the distinction between private and public,  local and global.
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A    more empirically grounded version of the Hardt and Negri  thesis is to be found in  the work of Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin  in their  study of  what they call ‘splintering  urbanism’. In their book  they show how  the  networked infrastructures of   the global knowledge economy have had a direct spatial and highly localised effect  in  creating new zones of social exclusion, inhabited by communities  radically disconnected from the space of   flows and immobilised  in post coded micro-territories of poverty and alienation. The new communications infrastructure creates blockages in the urban fabric which require the creation of bypass systems, both overground and underground. The result is what has been called  an ‘archipelago economy’ in which  some communities are simply stranded, severed spatially as well as culturally  from the critical mass of   the network society.

Hardt and Negri’s  aim is to identify and connect  the local forces of contestation to  global  capitalism. They are in search of a new revolutionary subject to replace the industrial proletariat  and they find it in what they call ‘the multitude’ : all those individuals and groups  who find themselves marginalised in and by  the neo-liberal economy: not just the urban poor and unemployed,  those on  zero hours contracts or dependent on diminishing welfare benefits, but  the interns and casual portfolio workers of the knowledge economy and creative industries, the self employed, students,   all of them     oppressed by the precariousness of their daily  circumstances, their lack of opportunity,   but  equally disconnected from organised  labour,   hostile to  the  authoritarian  surveillance of the state,   suspicious of conventional political parties, critical of  many aspects of the dominant consumer  culture, and  often engaged in various kind of life style politics. Welcome to Hackney Wick.  Whereas  the ‘masses’  in Marxian political geography derived their powers of social combination from their emplacement in the factory and the contradiction between relations and forces of production,  Hard and Negri’s multitude  find its locus in the city and its spheres of circulation; they figure the city as the ‘body without organs of the multitude, a factory for the production  of the common, of people living together, sharing resources and amenities, exchanging goods and ideas‘ ;  ‘Commonwealth’  argues  that this  biopolitical productivity  is captured for capital  through  rent  and real estate values, but has otherwise  floated free of capitalist exploitation. They also recognize the potential negativity of the commons, its  noxious anti modern and destructive tendencies and suggest, perhaps a little naively,  that  the main aim of urban social movements is to transform nasty  urban encounters into enjoyable ones. Anyone who has had the misfortune to live  on an estate or street with anti-social neighbours  and been subjects to harassment and abuse on a daily basis knows that local organisations  and the police are  notoriously  reluctant to intervene and that ASBO’s   become little more than a currency of  reputation for ‘hardness’  amongst local youth gangs. Shifting the culture of such areas requires more than a rhetorics of aspiration, however politicised, it needs  the building of  opportunity structures which are embedded in  and accessible to the most deprived sections of the community.

If ‘Commonwealth’ is short on strategies for dealing with the  darker side of the commons, it is  definitely  upbeat when it comes to assessing the revolutionary potential of the multitude.  If Russell Brand had more in his head that his own verbal rhetoric  he might have  come up with some of its more gung ho formulations. As it  is parts of ‘Revolution’ read like Hardt and Negri for  dummies.  But there is more to  the notion of multitude  than that . What brings  Hard and Negri’s   motley crew together  is a shared concern to defend and extend the commons and its special moral economy.  This notion of the commons as a connective tissue  of democratic engagement, at once intensely site specific  and focussed on planetary   issues has  become an important   strategic concept, not only for the Occupy Movement but for a whole new wave of radical planners, community activists, and cartographers. In contrast to  the  mechanical solidarities  of the classical factory proletariat with its close knit local communities and  relatively homogeneous culture, this   political commons is composed of heterogeneous elements.  It is both an imagined community and a site of real social praxis, where personal and political geographies once more coincide and where  differences are recognised and  reconciled  within a shared framework of commitment to redistributive justice. At least that is the theory or rather, the principle of hope.

There certainly is plenty of evidence of a seismic shift  away  from a political culture  based  on  class cleavages and allegiances  towards  a cultural politics centred on disparate  interests  and affinities. Consider this comment about the changing demographic  profile of  English football supporters:

‘At a distance, united in the stadium, the English football  nation appears to be a homogenous collective. On closer examination it is not quite so simple. The composition of the crowd reflects wider changes in English society in recent years. The middle aged remnants of the old hooligan firms rub shoulder with members of the official supporters club, many of them women, and members of the growing corporate brigade taking advantage of hospitality packages. Alongside them are small groups of friends, networks of tournament junkies  and stag party posses’.

In the same way gang formations have changed from being quite highly structured, and even hierarchical affairs, strongly embedded in tightly defined  areas which they claimed as their exclusive territory, to much more loose knit networks, still post coded, but less about turf and more centred on  particular activities( viz drug dealing, skateboarding) and  shifting street scenes or impromptu hang outs.

At this point perhaps it is worth recalling some of the back story. The whole notion of the  commons  refers us  right back to  Magna Carta (the first Big Map) and then to historic struggles against the enclosure movement in  18th century rural England and  various campaigns to protect customary use rights over pasturage, and woodland; then in early 20th century it is about the   right to roam the countryside and establish public rights of way (viz the Kinder Scout trespass); during this period  the idea of the commons  was also taken up by the Council Communists, Anarcho-syndicalists and  Guild Socialists as a model for the kind of direct democracy and collective self emancipation  of the working class which they sought  to achieve.  Today  it is  more about   guerrilla gardening,  the movement to green  our cities and  the fight against globalisation, including global   warming.

The commons is not and never has been   an exclusively rural affair. It is  also about the trespassing  actions of  place hackers who  risk life and limb exploring  secret and forbidden  places  in the subterranean  and  skyscraper  city; it is made by taggers  and skateboarders who find edgelands and other unregulated spaces in which to cultivate their particular styles of performance art cum extreme sport. It is emerging in all kind of nooks and crannies in the urban fabric which are neither public nor private space.  Take for example  the British Library where much of the research and some of the writing of this paper was done.  The original Reading Room in the British Museum, which I describe in my memoir, was a hallowed sanctuary of private scholarship, a kind of  exclusive  social club  for writers, academics and intellectuals and it was extremely difficult to get a readers ticket. With the move to  new premises in St Pancras – now London’s new knowledge quarter where once Somers Town gangland  used to be –  the library became open access. Anyone could get a day pass  and the place has been occupied by a large and shifting population of young people, most of  whom do not actually use the Reading Rooms, but  throng the indoor ‘streets’, the  corridors which connect the reading rooms and the sitting areas. Here they sit with their laptops and tablets doing their homework or   doing ‘research’ i.e. looking up stuff on the Internet. Books are conspicuous by their absence, but the kids obviously love the ambiance, the cafes and exhibitions, the sense of being  part of a community of scholars in a legitimately peripheral way. The BL  is somewhere cool to meet your friends  and   provides somewhere safe and warm  to hang out : it is a  commons in a building.

The commons   is  thus not just about celebrating the  wilderness or reclaiming the streets, and  it is about culture  as well as nature. Common culture used to mean the culture of the’ common people’, the vulgar and the vernacular,  and thence  associated with the industrial working class, the space and time of  its pleasures, the protocols and proprieties that made up a distinctively proletarian public realm. This  still exists in a residual and fragmentary form, but when Hardt  and Negri  talk about the artificial or cultural commons  they are referring to something quite different :   shared codes and idioms of communication  which are  translocal, link place to place, and people to people   in a more or less transient  actor network.

Perhaps the main distinction between   historical and contemporary forms of the commons is that the former are embedded in a  grid of inheritance  and its moral economy – land, customary rights, even jobs  were regarded as being held in trust  by one generation  for the next, part of a sustainable legacy of livelihood, bound up with strong attachment  to the singularities of a place. The commons that Hardt and Negri are on about  are by definition more volatile and opportunistic, more easy to mobilise  through social media  but difficult  to organise into an  apparatus  that can sustain struggles of long duration. The real tragedy of the commons today  is not counterfinality, the fact that individuals ( or nations)  pursuing their own self  interest  are likely to destroy the shared amenities and resources on which  their survival depends, but that the everyday cultures of mutual aid which are so widespread  and spring up wherever collaboration rather than competition  is required  should be so radically disconnected from any sustainable political articulation.

There have been various attempt to characterise this non-place but site specific mode  of instant sociality and map its phenomenology. Hardt and Negri, as we’ve seen,  refer to it as multitude; for  Maffesoli   it is a neo-tribe  and represents a rejection of competitive individualism in favour of creative bio-political energy; Bruno Latour  calls it a swarm and Peter Sloterdijk  a foam, consisting of lots of   co-isolated but linked individual  bubbles.   Flash mobs and raves  are the clearest and most frequently cited  manifestations and emphasise the link with social media as the mobilizing agency; but there  are many other examples. These social groupings  do not conform to the  classical  crowd types  as described by Elias Canetti in his  study – they are not mobilized by fear, or prohibition, by the desire to wreak vengeance, or to defend  themselves against attack. The  rave comes close to what  Cannetti  describes as a feast crowd, in that its purpose is its own collective self  enjoyment, a form of  ecstatic  communitas  fuelled by music and drugs, but it is not embroiled in what Cannetti calls  the ‘entrails of Power’. Equally flash mobs   which began as a form of performance art and street theatre are attempts to occupy  and utilize  the cityscape  as a platform  for making   provocative statements,  by creating ‘temporary autonomous zones’  but they are not about to storm  any real or imagined Bastille.  Finally, the loose aggregate of individuals   referenced by those who invoke the wisdom or ignorance of crowds as a source of information or funding  is a rather lonely socially atomized one, united only by its temporary stake in a project, and/or by a collective obsession.

Personally  I think this instant commons  is best understood as a social formation  corresponding  to   the ‘pop up’ economy, involving  a  temporary suspension of instrumentalised  social networking  in favour  of more immediate and expressive socialities. As such it could be regarded as   the paradigmatic  commons  of the new’ precariat’.   Just-in- time post Fordist production has now penetrated into  the spheres of distribution and consumption. What gives the appearance of dynamic entrepreneurial activity is in fact an extension of precarious work, the permanent casualization of large sectors of the creative and service industries, where zero hour contracts and internships institutionalise the permanent deferral of regular full time work or   career structure. Pop up enterprises involve a new form of planned obsolescence; they make the chronic short termism of economic investment seem groovy by creating and catering for short run crazes and thus help maintain the steady state of distraction which is the defining characteristic of contemporary c consumerism and the ‘throwaway society’. A whole new set of  dispositions is required to function in the pop-up economy, involving the continual reinvention and multiplication of identities, the just- in- time production of the self, the capacity for ‘flexibility’ in the face of fluctuating and constantly changing patterns of employment, and the mastery of new technologies of communication. It is just these dispositions which are mobilized in these  instant commons. So  the  question becomes – can they be seen as an endorsement of  or a challenge  to the  ‘post fordist ‘ trend?

Hard and Negri   rather dodge the issue in my view. Their typology of the commons focuses on its de-territorialised forms and functions, its translocalism. But the  contemporary commons  are also a means of re-territorialising, reclaiming  and localising collective spaces   that  have been expropriated, privatised or  regulated in ways that put them out of bounds. Lets take one example of this type of commons and consider how it might be mapped :gay cruising grounds (SLIDE).  These   are usually located  in areas of urban dereliction,  edgelands, wastelands, cemeteries, abandoned buildings and also in  parklands  which are both accessible, offer cover and are difficult to police. Wimbledon Common and Hampstead Heath  are such off limits sites in London. Once established their location may be publicised by word of mouth and nowadays through  internet sites such as Grindr. Cruising grounds can be regarded as the commons of the gay community and they may also be monitored by the community, for example to encourage safe sex practices.  What tends to happen is that once an area establishes a gay reputation, it tends to be avoided by other people  who fear lest they may be identified as gay if seen in the vicinity. As  the volume of gay activity increases the site may become subject to public complaint and police  intervention, and may even be closed down  for a time.  Cruising grounds seem to follow the classic Chicago ecological model of invasion-succession- dominance, but  their natural history is cyclical not linear  and  if one is closed down another quickly pops up  to replace it  somewhere else. But let us note here in passing  that one person’s commons may  become someone else’s no go area.

One implication of this for mapping is that the territory is constantly undergoing change. The cruising ground  map may be prescriptive, it sends  people to particular sites  that correspond to their sexual preferences, but these micro territories  are subject to change at short notice and so to remain functional the map  needs to be constantly  updated. And this of course is precisely the advantage  on­line digital maps  have over  the traditional paper  format.

Let us also note that the association of marginalized groups with  unregulated spaces,  their very edginess,  gives them an aura of radical chic and  they find themselves recruited or recuperated  by a neo-liberal  urbanism  anxious to demonstrate  that  it encourages  life style innovation, especially amongst young people even as it closes down  the opportunity   for  ‘generation rent’ to achieve any kind of domestic autonomy.

There are many other  examples  of pop up commons. There are subcultural territories based on trajectories of movement  rather than fixed locales, such as  skateboarders and taggers;    the tent cities of rock festivals   have a similarly complicated  and fluctuating  existence.  Then there is  geo-caching – public treasure hunting for the digital age;  bookcrossing, in which books are liberated from their captivity on the shelves of private libraries and distributed out into the ‘urban wild’ to be shared and found  in unlikely places  by getting  their geo-location on line. The intellectual commons as  biblioscape. Meanwhile  for computer nerds  who don’t read there is Ingress  and other enhanced reality  games, which  get young people out of their bedrooms and onto the streets, transforming  real  landmarks and public buildings into so many virtual  portals in  a battle to save the city from aliens some of whom might just be the boy or girl next door. And lets not forget that gamers are inveterate map readers as they steer their way through labyrinthine  adventures.

In all these different ways  the city is being reclaimed, reinvented as an  adventure playground  for the adult and the relatively affluent   even as  it becomes increasingly out of bounds to children and the urban poor.  I think much of  this  new activity must be understood as a form of re-enchantment of the public realm  in  counter movement to  the pervasive withdrawal from  civic engagement.  As the old political culture goes into what seems like irreversible  decline and more and more people become politically homeless, or seek  refuge  in  UKIP, (any port or resort  in the immigration storm!),  so a new   space emerges  which offers a surrogate   agora in which issues of self governance manage to bypass or foreclose  wider structural questions of power and privilege. And again we have to ask  whether this is  a way of subverting or undermining  repressive systems of social regulation  – is it a strategy of collective empowerment  –   or  does  it actively depoliticize  the issues?


Smart Cities? Networked  Space, Big Data  and Do- it- Yourself Urbanism

We  have been  talking  about social sites perched  precariously in the interstices of an intensively networked and regulated space of flows. The problem is to find a way to map and consolidate this  new geography of the commons, and this poses  as big a challenge to cartographers as tracing economic supply chains or global information networks. For example  there is the issue of the  complex interlocking nature of the commons.   As my examples show the  cultural or sub-cultural  commons  often overlap  with the creative commons, which is based on  Web 2.0 open access  platforms  for producing,  sharing, investing  and distributing  all manner of cultural goods.  So too with  the intellectual commons – the free  on line  sharing of knowledge and information, as  exemplified by Wikipedia.
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The emergence of cybergeography has given us some of the tools for a imaginative rendition of networked space, but it is in its infancy. In the meantime cartography is facing its own internal crisis  of representation  related to  digitalisation. In a pre-digital age, i.e.  the period in which I grew up,  maps meant ordinance survey maps, and their use was largely confined to expeditions to  the countryside. As in this famous picture  (SLIDE) the ideal typical  map reader  was a rambler, part of a nation- wide community whose appreciation of the landscape was both aesthetic – we went in search or the picturesque or the sublime in nature- and  therapeutic – it was where the industrial working class and townies in general went to  get away from the smoke and  those ‘dark satanic mills’  and to engage in healthy  exercise in the Great Outdoors.  Let us never forget that walking and cycling whose popularity greatly increased the volume of OS sales, were largely a working  and lower middle class pastimes and in this context the relation between map and territory  was experienced as organic, built into the landscape. But  the digital surfer, the rambler in cyberspace, is quite another story and we have not yet found a cartographic idiom tp math.

The emergence of a cartographic commons as a community of digital practice is  now a significant feature  of the political landscape  if not perhaps quite the game changer its champions claim.   OpenStreetMap (OSM)  and Wikimaps are  especially notable  for their close  intersection  of creative, cultural and  intellectual commons. They  have been  heralded as  the triumph of the unwaged  amateur map maker  over the professional cartographer but their real significance, in my view,  is that they   incorporate  all the principles of  reflexive modernity identified by  Giddens and    Beck;  they involve  a  conscious on going consideration of the means   and processes involved  in map making and a continual revision, editing, over writing. Moreover the history of this process   is stored on line  so the genealogy of collective authorship  becomes transparent – the map  is palpably the work of many hands. There is  continuous public deliberation and open debate about OSM’s   function and  status – what and who is it for, what is it  setting out to show, different naming and graphic conventions, what should be tagged and annotated and so on.  Everything and everyone is kept in the loop.

Which brings me to  Big Data.  Big Data has given a vital  impetus  to sociologistics.  It is sexy. It where the big research money  and  the policy action is.  It is integral to designing  the ‘smart  city’, the city whose networks and flows are regulated by smart technology. This does not mean that slow data, sociographic data  which takes time to gather, has been made redundant. Quite the contrary. It  becomes even more strategic  in providing  a frame of reference within which big data can be interpreted by non specialists, by  ordinary citizens rather than by politicians or policy wonks.

This also has practical implications. Consider how  we might go about designing  a smart system for finding lost property. The big data approach  is to tag and track everything  using bar codes and set up  a system of scanners  rolled out across the  city, creating an internet of things  which is searchable in real time. This is the most expensive option – it would cost millions to install in a  big city.  A lower cost option  is to  use a device like trakr which is a small piece of plastic attached to an easily  losable object like your keys, wallet, phone, umbrella or bag ; it will obligingly bleep and send you a map and message showing it location.  But there is also an  app which plugs  into your local social network – your friends, neighbours and workmates. You simply report  what you have lost and where you think you thing you  might have lost it ;  this alerts people in the network to look for it, they  report if they find it and arrange to return it to you. In other words you mobilize informed eyes  who are familiar with the area and can draw on their local knowledge to help  find your stuff. Interestingly for my later argument,  this is  an example of an actor network,  the lost object itself become an actant, which  through the mediation of the app mobilizes  a network of shared concern around it  so that whether or not it is found, people discover and strengthen  the social bonds of the neighbourhood.  What evidence there is suggests that there is very little difference in success rates between these three strategies. But there is no doubt which one is the  most user friendly and most supportive of the commons!

It is against this background of social media activism that we have to consider  the renewal of D-I-Y urbanism and popular planning   based on creating pop up commons.   Spontaneous urbanism  has a long  and largely working class history, very well documented by Colin Ward and Ken Worpole,  from the   squatters movements  before and after the second world war, to the  construction  of   holiday resorts  like Jaywick   by  workers from Fords Dagenham in the 1950s and 60’s. These were all permanent  settlements, some of which, like Jaywick, have now fallen on hard times, mirroring the plight of the post industrial working class.  In  contrast  the contemporary form of  D-I-Y  urbanism is very much a  pop up  affair– now you see it now you don’t.   Here is how one of the many websites devoted to encouraging and supporting the practice and addressed primarily to planners,  describes it :

‘A new attitude toward public space is emerging in cities across the globe. Citizens are increasingly using urban space to advance political and social justice goals through protest, occupation, unsanctioned modification, and other means. Of particular relevance to planners, urban designers and local policymakers are the actions called, variously, do-it-yourself (DIY), tactical or guerilla urbanism, through which individual actors have become increasingly empowered to create and implement low cost interventions in public space aimed at solving fine-grained urban dilemmas. Though often illegal or at best unsanctioned,  for example in Toronto  the  Urban Repair Squad  impersonate  road workers in their quest to add bike lanes, bike boxes, and sharrows to their city’s streets, such  interventions are increasingly lauded within   segments of the planning, design and  even local government   communities as pragmatic and fiscally prudent approaches to addressing unmet needs of urban residents in the face of municipal fiscal crises, austerity measures and  increasing privatization of public space’.

So  after a promising beginning we find ourselves  back in lalaland with David Cameron’s Big Society where the heroic efforts of  a few concerned  citizens  and voluntary groups makes good urban dereliction at zero cost to the  public purse and without making any direct demands on the  rolled back, cash strapped state. Of course this may not be the whole story. Do-it –yourself schemes of  neighbourhood renewal may become a political platform for    radicalization  around  more structural issues such as affordable housing, and help  build coalitions between  different areas and groups. However on this website the scope and scale of  crowd sourced place making seems  rather  deliberately limited to compensatory action.  The website notes:

‘There is a renewed willingness to get involved and, literally, do things yourself where your local government may not have the resources to. It hardly even needs to be mentioned that the ever-increasing ways of connecting with like-minded people on the Internet – from Spacehive,  Kickstarter  Neighborland  to blog networks – also efficiently spread ideas and inspiration across communities and between timezones.’


Lines of Desire

Key  to  mapping  all these commons is the concept of a line of desire, micro territories created by  improvised  patterns of pedestrian footfall  or guerilla action that often  subvert the  planners rational   grid of getting from A to B in the shortest possible time.  Lines of desire are not the preserve of flaneurs,  place hackers or guerilla gardeners. They occur  where and whenever anyone strays off the beaten  track, and as Robert MacFarlane shows in  his book The Old Ways, many of these unofficial, collectively self- made  paths,  are what he calls ‘xeno-topic’, that is they  create a landscape of  the unfamiliar and the uncanny, the ‘other scenes’  that  unsettle the map/territory  relation and   reveal  the uncommonplace   buried  under the taken for granted clichés of common sense.
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Many of the footpaths and hollways shown on our ordinance survey maps started out life as lines of desire; they   are examples of people  voting with their feet, creating alternative routes,  and embedding them  in the landscape.  They are the  paradigm of the embodied commons where natural and cultural histories intersect. We don’t read the choreography of these paths, we perform it.  They take us for a walk, and sometimes for a ride, like Heidegger’s famous Holwege, the  woodcutters paths that lead into the heart of the German forest and then peter out – a metaphor for the  trajectory of wandering or errance   that  for Heidegger is  how we dwell in the world.   Where there is a will there is a waypoint. Unfortunately, for Heidegger the triumph of that  particular will became associated with the will to power of the German people.   Tim Ingold   and Edward Casey have explored this intimate connection between dwelling and wayfaring, roots and routes, without the metaphysics or the lebensraum.

The notion of a line of desire is inextricably  bound up  with psychogeography. It derives from  the French situationists  practice of  the drift (or  derive)  as exemplified in  Guy  Debord’s maps of Paris  and   thence links  to the work of latter day  radical pedestrianista  such as Michel  De Certeau, Iain Sinclair and Will Self;  all in their different ways set out to chart the  deep maps of the city, the territories  hidden from  public view. At times  psycho-geography as practiced by the French Sits  is talked  about   as if there was nothing more to the derive   than a gang of intellectual nutters going on an extended pub, or rather café crawl around Paris and attempting to engage passers by in intense and increasingly drunken conversations about Marx, Hegel  and Lauremont. Or perhaps  discussing  the need  to create a situation in which there is no turning back while crossing  a busy boulevard. In fact for a time the groupuscule  did become seriously engaged in public debates about the future development of Paris and in particular the extension of its banlieux into a whole new metropolitan subregion. It is perhaps worth noting in passing that the French ‘derive’ also means leeway, that is  the effect of wind in pushing a boat off course  so that it deviates  in its water track from the  course plotted on the chart. In other words it indicates the constitutive gap or difference between ( digitally encoded)  map  and  ( analogic) territory in any form of navigation, whether at sea or on land.

At this point another caveat needs to be issued.  Lines of desire sound fun, and are  distinctly more pleasurable than the daily commute from home to school or work. But they can also set traps by inscribing  the lines we draw under our own feet,  materialising  internal  borders and boundaries that we would otherwise ignore. There is the  famous story  about the boy  who is seen running round and round the block by a  friendly neighbourhood policeman  who stops him and asks him what he is doing; the boy  replies that he is running away from home but his mum has forbidden him to cross the road.  The transects of  many emotional cartographies are graphs of anxiety, fear, envy and frustration, underpinned by  various kinds of projective identification. They are not landscapes of enchantment .

I think that the main problem with psycho-geography is that it is not psychological, or rather psychoanalytic enough. If the psycho prefix  suggests  to you that this  version of geography has much to do with Freud, Lacan or Melane Klein, you  are in for a big disappointment. Debord was influenced by Bachelard’s work, ’The Psychoanalysis of Space’, but Bachelard’s ‘topo-analysis ‘  explicitly rejects the Freudian Unconscious. I think this is unfortunate because the fascination with maps and our basic orientation, both aesthetic and existential, to the landscape has  roots in the psyche  which takes us back to our earliest ways of exploring the world.  The mother’s body is, after all,  the first territory we explore, its hills, its valleys, its zones of excitement and interdict,  and how we hold that body unconsciously in mind generates the template for our developing  relationship to the environment. The parental  arms and lap gives us  our first sense of prospect on and refuge from the world, inform  our early  making of dens and hideouts and other vantage points,  and are   later   worked up into distinct ways of appreciating the landscape.  Michael Balint’s model of spatial object relations, outlined in his ground breaking ‘Thrills and Regression’,    provides  a brilliant  model  for  mapping   contrasting modes  of emotional attachment to place. For example there are those for whom  the world is a basically safe place with a few dangerous or exciting hot spots and those for whom it is  hostile and unwelcoming  with a few bolt holes. These scenarios  offer  very different ways of navigating and narrating the  environment, and  yield a standpoint aesthetics, a different sensibility about what is ugly and beautiful, safe or dangerous  about the environment.  In the  mapping   work I am currently doing with young people and local communities in and around the Olympic Park these concepts are proving very fruitful in understanding  where they are coming from  as they  negotiate  and make sense of this new place.

At the same time psycho-geographies are never not gendered. Boys have quite a different relation to the mother’s body than girls; how they hold it unconsciously in mind and use it as a subliminal template for  navigating   or  inhabiting particular kinds of space  varies considerably.   There is much more to this that the division between domestic   space, the Great Indoors, where girls and women have often been confined and   the public sphere or the Great Outdoors, traditionally dominated by boys and men.  It is as much about patterns of  sensibility   involved in modes of attachment to place, and also the sense of  what is/what is not a safe space to be. Boys  establish micro-territories which  enable them to assert and share  masculine prides of place otherwise denied them whilst girls attachments are less to specific sites in street or neighbourhood, and more  to  peer  friendship networks which may be quite geographically dispersed  and individualised .  There have been girls street gangs, and there are ‘home boys’ who rarely  venture outdoors,  but these are exceptions .

On the whole the  unofficial niches  which young people establish in the urban fabric have a  dual function: they constitute  temporary autonomous spaces   free from adult supervision and control,   spaces where they can meet, gossip, flirt, and  just ‘hang out’ without outside interference; but  in so far as they are policed by the peer group itself  they  are also  safe   from  potentially dangerous or hostile encounters with  other groups.  The balance between  adventure and precaution, prospect and refuge , autonomy   and security is not always easy to strike , and there are many ways to do it, but these  tactical spatial practices cannot be fully understood unless their underpinnings in psycho-geography are taken into account.

If  we are all budding psycho-geographers,  it is  also because we are  hardwired for both navigation  and narration.  We  have an internal sat nav in the hippocampus which tracks our bodily movement in space, and recent research  into these place cells has  shown  that taxi drivers, with their extensive ‘knowledge’ have more of them  than the rest of us.  The language centre of the brain operates a similar system of  neuronal pathways  which facilitate  the acquisition of narrative grammars. The plots of novels, the  imaginative geographies  and memoryscapes spun out by our life stories,  the ubiquitous use of the journey  and the book as  life historical metaphors,all bear eloquent testimony  to the intimate interaction of these two faculties. The practice of Going Walkabout in  order to tell stories may have been perfected by  native Australians in their dreamings,  but  the rise of performance walks, scenography and site specific  work of many kinds shows that even in  so- called post modern times  people from all walks of life make and enjoy very similar ‘narrigations’. Is this why taxi drivers and the old style bus conductors  were such good story tellers, enlivening our journeys with a stream of jokes and anecdotes.

However  reading a map is not like reading a book. We do not start  at the top left and work our way down to the bottom  right and then turn over the page.  Instead we use a compass reading and lat and long co-ordinates to  fix our position and, as we naively say, find out where we are. Nowadays, of course, GPS does it for us automatically.  But where we are coming from  in reading a paper map is actually quite another subject position  from that offered by  a compass reading.  When we scan a map to get our bearings,  we are usually either  projecting ourselves into the future – planning  the route we want to take, or  into the past remembering a journey we have already made. A map always has  multiple  tenses. That is why we say we are ‘poring’ over a map, we are figuring out the map/territory in one of these time dimensions, getting our bearings by going on a kind of graphic  ramble.

There are other specificities which differentiate  a paper map  from a book :  it  is not inter-textual, it doesn’t refer us to another map  and it suffers from hyper-indexicality, there is always a there  in relation to a here.  Maps are also  hybrids, a rich mix of  words, symbols  and pictograms, and the balance between these element may vary significantly between genres: there are maps which are primarily textual and others made up almost exclusively of pictures (SLIDES). Our attachment to them  as both model and metaphor of our relationship to the world  partly stems I think, from  this versatility. It remains to be seen whether  digital on-line maps inspire  the same affection  as paper ones.  If  we  upload  our personal narratives and photographs  to personalize a Google map   do we have the same degree of emotional investment in it as when we draw a memory map, or get out an old battered OS map that has been our trusty companion on many journeys and bears the material marks  of our passage ? There is something about paper maps as artefacts that inspires  devotion. Certainly it is hard to imagine people  collecting old sat navs, or waxing lyrical about History  Pin.


The In/voluntary Informant : Crowd sourcing and citizen social science

If the line of desire is one thread connecting   the different types of  commons,    crowd sourcing is another. I want to look   at  how this phenomenon  relates to what is becoming known as citizen social science  or sociology- made- by- all and, in particular  consider its implication for developing a participative mapping of the intellectual commons.

Today we are all involuntary informants. Courtesy of  our digital devices  we are enrolled whether we like  or know about it  or not, into a  gigantic virtual  research apparatus which routinely captures geo-locational data about  our habits and habitats, our preferences in eating,  reading and sex,  where we like to shop and to live. There are also  many  deliberative ways in which we volunteer information about ourselves, from filling in the ubiquitous on line questionnaires  to crowd  sourced market research. It is in and  against this background that citizen social science has developed.
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Citizen Social Science is in its infancy. Perhaps unsurprisingly it has begun by repeating the project of classical social science, namely to found itself on the principles of natural science: in this instance  the crowd sourcing of big data sets  generated from volunteer observers  of natural phenomena. As a form of participatory mapping of the natural commons it may be  perfectly adequate ; even if it  the sourcing is from  a rather lonely, social atomized, crowd, united only in its obsession with the topic. But actually  amateur naturalists do form a distinct community of practice through which they   develop and share  observational skills and  knowledge of fauna and flora. The same does not hold true for the amateur social scientist; we may all be   participant observers of the social worlds we inhabit but we do not  normally make it our hobby to go round noting  the behavior of our fellow citizens, unless we happen to be writers, visual artists, snoopers, policeman, working for Mass Observation in the 1930s or very paranoid. More seriously, to apply a model  which may work for the natural common to the artificial or cultural common means that the  recording of  evidence through observation is  treated as a  transparent  process, and  generates accounts based on  a naïve empiricism/realism.

A more nuanced  approach to Citizen Social Science has to be  grounded in the debates that have taken place over the past decade about the status of the knowledge claims  which  the social sciences  make, the  role of inter-disciplinarity, and the limits and conditions of dialogic research in the empowerment of informant communities. The debate has polarised around two positions that both turn out to be unsustainable. In the first case social scientists, by virtue of their professional training, claim to possess interpretative frameworks (or explanatory  models ) and  methodologies (or research practices) which enable  them to penetrate beneath the surface structures of social reality and yield privileged access to  deeper principles of social causation  hidden from the view of ordinary citizens.  The educative  mission of the social sciences  then becomes  to disseminate its  knowledge, firstly to policy makers, and secondly to the public, in simplified terms  that they can understand and act upon. From this position the crowd sourcing of social data in anathema since its reliability, objectivity etc cannot be guaranteed.

In the second case,  groups of citizens who are in some way marginalised by  or excluded from the mainstream institutions of society  are invested with a privileged insight  into their  workings   by virtue of their direct experience of oppression; their distance from the ideologies through which conditions of inequality are legitimated and  the fact that they  have no material stake in their perpetuation, supposedly enables them to ‘see though’ the veil of mystification which conceals the mechanisms of exploitation.  The task of the radical social scientist is therefor to validate  and give epistemic weight  to these perceptions  by embedding them in  interpretive frameworks which disclose or amplify  their full rationality. From this standpoint crowd sourcing might be a  way of sampling and validating  locally situated knowledge. The use of participatory mapping, for example training local groups to use GIS  to   is here seen as a practical form of empowerment.

Without going into the detail of the critiques of both positions, it is clear that, in the first case, the theoretical models developed by professional social scientists  are often highly reductive, and at best offer only partial explanations; the metaphor behind the model

(deep/surface structure, micro/macro context ) reifies the social and  hierarchises it as an  a priori principle  of causal explanation acting ‘ behind’ all manner of things while  leaving their actual mode of functioning in the world  quite  mysterious. Perhaps that is why  sociologistical  accounts, both of their own  research procedures and of the  phenomena they are setting out to explain, are often so thin  and opaque,  or  merely give  a statistical gloss to  some quite  banal understandings. Yet whatever it analytic shortcomings it has to be acknowledged that social statistics and the cartograms based on them do often reveal  patterns  that are not otherwise visible, and are certainly not self evident  or available to  locally  situated knowledges.

On the other side of the argument, disadvantaged groups  frequently produce explanations for their predicament which blame it on  other oppressed groups ( viz immigrants) or  resort to conspiracy theories  which attribute  elites with more power to control events or manipulate outcomes  than they actually possess. Their experience is never unmediated and is influenced by all kinds of external forces. That is precisely what common sense is, a continually  changing mash up of ideas, beliefs, and taken for granted assumptions.    To simply provide a sociographic platform for commonsensical views  on  the grounds  that they are the authentic  Voice of  the People, to  is to abdicate from any critical standpoint. Yet without this evidence, no grounded theory is possible.

To get a sense of the scope of the problems let us   look at two  recent  examples of  participatory urban   research which aims to support the emergence of  ‘spontaneous sociology’   through the recruitment and training of Volunteer Geographical Informants.  One  project used VGIs ( yes  it must be happening because  its reached the acronym stage!)  to count the number of street beggars  in different parts of central London and establish  their demographic profile. Crowd sourcing this data, in which about 20 people took part was thus a cheap way of carrying out a social survey that might otherwise not have been undertaken  for lack of funds. Even if the information produced was trivial and hardly Big Data, you can imagine enquiries of this kind  adding critical mass  to sociologistical analysis and hence to the political arithmetic that goes into the calculation of policy options. It could be regarded as a   slightly more democratic, and definitely less expensive  way of doing cheap and dirty,hit and run urban research.

The second example was  much more sophisticated and used VGI’s not merely as sensors to collect data but as  interpreters. They were in fact referred to as co-researchers.  The project was ostensibly about documenting and analyzing patterns of  behaviour in public places. It was not apparently informed by any  particular conceptual model or previous ethnographic research  – roll over Erving Goffman – but it spent a lot of time on training 60 volunteers in the rudiments of field work methodology. It was inspired by a  rhetoric  of challenging the knowledge power relations between social scientist and citizen informant  and  making participation  in the research process a capacity building exercise rather than  an extractive one. The methods used included  participatory mapping and diagramming, photography and video  documentation, and diary keeping as well as direct observation.  In addition to  noting what people were doing in the street, park  or shopping mall, the VGI’s were  also asked to record their own perceptions so a principle of researcher reflexivity was built into the process.

Now if the VGIs were doing all this what were professional  researchers up to? Of course they were observing what the VGIs were doing, how they were responding to the various tasks, what impact their involvement was having on their  attitudes and perceptions, For that was the real, if covert aim of this piece of work. It was an investigation into the limits and conditions of citizen social science. The study of public behaviour was merely a cover story. And what did these professionals discover about the amateurs? That they were, after all, and despite all the training and support, not professionals. This is what they wrote in their report:

‘While the  VGI observations could record the number and type of people present in public spaces it was not possible to develop explanations  for trends or  patterns of presence  or absence. However co-researchers did offer opinions about the ways different parks, shops and neighbourhoods were frequented or avoided by  different social groups, how this had changed over their life times  and how they themselves negotiated different public spaces.  These insider accounts  did propose some explanations for what was observed  including insight into the complex territorialities  of young people at weekend and after school, and also older people.  However some co-researchers were keen to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary  or to  seek the mundane in the unusual,- driven by the desire to produce interesting or relevant  data.’

It seems then that these amateur social scientists with their so called insider accounts,  had   discovered for themselves the techniques of defamiliarisation which the  Martian school of anthropology have   developed to enable people to view their own cultures from the outside,  and interrupt their taken for granted common sense views of the world. Instead of viewing this as a considerable sociographic achievement,  a real action of spontaneous sociology,  it is a seen as   an interference factor spoiling the accuracy of the sociologistical  analysis. The fact that these co-researcher   produced a  thick description of complex patterns of territoriality  is discounted because they did not arrive at a theoretical ly adequate explanation for it. Instead they are  made to feel that their locally  situated knowledge does not possess the same  validity   as academic knowledge which they define as objective, impartial, and generalisable. In a  word, scientific.

ANTS  in your pants, not bees in your bonnet

The problem in devising an adequate strategy  for participatory  mapping of  the commons  is not how to train up amateur social scientists  to think and behave  more like professional ones, by equipping them with conceptual or technical toolkits. It is the reverse. How can professors of  social science or digital  cartographers  think and behave more like  the ways in which   people, including themselves, go about doing   everyday mental mapping in order to make sense of their common worlds?  This is precisely the question  which  Alfred Schutz and the social phenomenologists  put on the research agenda  more than 70 years ago and which  Bruno Latour and his fellow ANTs  have been busily working  on for the past 25.

Actor Network Theory, or ANT is primarily a method  for tracing the connections between people, places, technologies, narratives  and things  which is closest to  how these connections are made in our everyday mental mappings.  Latour has spelt out  the approach  very  clearly in his book ‘Reassembling the Social’:

‘An actor network is traced  whenever in the course of a study the decision is made to replace actors of whatever size by local and connected sites instead of ranking them as micro and macro. The two parts are essential – hence the hyphen- the first part, the actor reveals the narrow space in which all the grandiose ingredients of the worlds begin to be hatched, the second part – the network, may explain through which vehicles, which traces, which trails  which types of information  the world is being brought inside those places, and  then after having been transformed there are being pumped back out of its narrow walls.’
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It is a prescription for a method, which, a bit like Husserl’s epoche, involves bracketing out the theoretical a priori’s  of traditional sociology. So out  go   macro and micro, deep and surface structure, process and agency,  local and  global. Instead of nesting these concepts inside one another as explanatory devices, as if  the relation between scope and scale were as fixed as it is in Cartesian cartography,   the activity or scoping and scaling is studied in itself  for what it tells us  about the  relations of power which it formats.  In some of the mental maps young people in our  Olympic Park project have produced the local sweet shop is more important and hence drawn bigger than Marks and Spencer. For the  aunt  in Milan Kundera’s  ‘Book of Laughter and Forgetting’,  written shortly after  the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia,   the apples in her orchard were more important that the tank parked outside  her front door, which looked to her like a little  bug about to take flight and in no way   as  significant   as the big  juicy apple she held in her hand. As we will see in a moment such a  transvaluation of values is what counter-mapping is all about

ANT shifts the focus of research away  from seeking empirical proof of totalizing structures ( its always capitalism or racism or sexism what dunnit) onto the tiny fragile conduits  that  give them their stability and meaning at the level of everyday life. It is an antidote and an alternative to the clunky  research methods which impose  frameworks of interpretation or analysis  operating  at a completely different scale from the scope of the evidence.   Once we no longer hierarchise the data  but keep the map flat we can  use crowd sourcing to thicken it with multiple layers of information. Once we stop  situating  actors, both human and non human,  in some a priori context   as bearers of  overarching functions or structures, or treat them  as puppets manipulated by the hidden hand of the market, vested political and economic interest or unconscious desires,once we break with all that  we are free to actually follow where their actions lead us. This also eliminates those cleavages between top down/ bottom up perspectives which have so plagued urban policy analysis. Above all with its emphasis on the translocal, ANT   ensures that we do not reify the local as an immovable object vis a vis globalization as an irresistible force.

In principle  ANT  enables us to  combine  sociologistic and sociographic methods. For example it helps us  think  more imaginatively about the urban semiology  of wealth  and poverty. We need to map the spatial distribution of tattoo parlours,  cash converters, discount stores, launderettes and betting shops, or wine bars, art galleries, bookshops, private gyms  and pet spas in terms of the  density and distribution of  the narratives   that converge on these hot spots, so we can  unpack the  meanings and values that are attached to them. That, at least, is what we are setting out to do in Living Maps  with our  Atlas projects.

Finally I think ANT should be renamed anarchist network theory because it rather accurately describes  the transversal, anti- hierarchical models of political organisation which  anarchists, council communists and Guild Socialists have variously espoused in contrast to the  centralized    vanguard party models which most Marxist and all Leninists and Trotskyist have held to, not to mention the bureaucratic  models of  reform advocated  by  state socialists. It also has a direct implication for developing a critical pedagogy  for participatory mapping projects  with young people and  local communities, such as the ones Living Maps is currently undertaking in and around the Olympic Park in Stratford.


Countermapping :towards a critical pedagogy

The priority for critical cartography today is to find new ways of reconnecting personal and political geographies. At the same time it has to  disclose the hidden rhetorics of power – and self empowerment- embedded in  conventional   map/ territory relations. It is easy to see how these objectives could pull in opposite  directions. One way to ensure this does not happen is   develop an appropriate  pedagogy of counter mapping.

Elements  for such a pedagogy are to be found in the work of Paolo Freire  and those who have followed in his footsteps within  the popular education movement.  The aim of this critical pedagogy is to work against the grain of common sense, as Italo Calvino put it,  to identify that which in the  ideological inferno  is not inferno and  give it space, let it breathe.  And   to transform learning into an active dialogue between teacher and student, not  a one way transmission between  professional expert and an ignorant amateur. Such   an approach has been developed  in  the path breaking work of the Centre for Urban Pedagogy in New York,  and is implicit in some practices of participatory research and counter mapping. But these different threads have yet to woven together into a single coherent approach  and  again this is  what we are seeking  to do in Living Maps within the framework of citizen social science.
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I have indicated why I think  ANT methodology  offers  one possible  point of  departure for such a project. In so far  as it  entails a consideration   of  what social relays are  possible between  different  elements  of a  particular ensemble and why certain ones develop  and others do not, this approach  necessarily unfixes the map/territory relation and  opens up a space to consider  the play of a whole  set of alternative articulations   :  displacements, condensations, inversions, replications etc. This postulation of other possible worlds  is precisely  what  counter mapping  is all about; it involves  challenging stereotypical notions of what maps are for and what they are supposed to look like. And it extends that agenda into considering what alternative plans  or new environments  with  different priorities   might  be possible and what social and political arrangements would have to change as a conditions of their  implementation.

It seems to me that to properly  do this another element has to be brought into the mix :graphic design, because whatever form a map takes, 2D or 3 D, an on- line atlas or a multi-media installation, it always involves a graphic interface and some kind of design process.  And this is where issues of  knowledge transfer become paramount.  Here again the work of the  Centre for Urban Pedagogy is exemplary. Their graphic art teams work with  community groups in helping them  design and  produce leaflets, posters, and other campaign literature to ensure maximum impact; but also, in the course of that work, they co-construct  conceptual maps  that  unsettle  the more insular expressions   of common sense geography  and develop a critical perspective on urban policy making and planning processes.

There is a precedent for a  critical graphics methodology  which takes us right back to the beginning of citizen social science. In the 1930’s Mass Observation pioneered the use of volunteers  for recording observations  for social research purposes. More specifically for   the purpose of creating a popular anthropology of everyday life in Britain.  Their  nationwide network of ‘correspondents’ were  citizen observers , recording their perceptions of the world as they went about their daily lives.  It  this involved  a form of collective  auto-ethnography  and perhaps, as Jack Common, a working class writer   with Council Communist sympathies  put it rather unkindly  ‘ an attempt to get nice young middle class men  to penetrate into working class pubs to find out what the workers are thinking’.

In my view the main problem with Mass Observation was not  the restricted demographic of its correspondents, it was   the instability of its methodology  which was torn between a sociologistic and sociographic approach. Interestingly  at the beginning of MO  there was an attempt to overcome this divide by involving  artists and writers in training informants  to  exercise what would now be called techniques of  defamiliarisation,  designed  to disrupt  taken for granted  assumptions and  stereotypical perceptions.   The aim  was to  allow the collective unconscious to emerge, whether in  dreams, social rituals, jokes  or  stories. Humphrey Jennings in particular was influenced by surrealism  and the notion of  sociology as a poetics of everyday life made by all. The  poet/sociologist Charles Madge was  concerned to capture what he called the social eidos – what we would now call mental maps. Unfortunately the third member of the team, Tom Harrison, was  committed to a documenting social reality using  more orthodox   methods and under his leadership MO  backtracked and  treated its correspondents  merely as informants in the strictly anthropological sense, approved by Malinowski.

The story of MO is often regarded as a cautionary tale about how an apparently radical experiment in democratising the production  of social scientific knowledge turned into  an instrument of State surveillance  during the war   and ended up as a tool for market research with the rise of consumerism in  the post war period.  But I think the main lesson to be learn from this experiment was its prematurity. It simply lacked the tools  we now have for creating a  research infrastructure embedded in everyday life  and accessible to a very wide cross section of the population.

Participatory mapping  is important for the development of a sociology-made- by-  all  because its very conditions of possibility involve the creation of  a community of mapping practice which is geo-located in a specific site, or network of sites, and this provides a support  structure that public sociology requires but  has great difficulty in constructing through its own  research process.  The work of  Jean Lave  and her colleagues  into how  communities  of practice are organised and sustained  gives some idea of why this should be so. She shows that    they depend on   a process of peer  mentoring in which ‘old hands’ introduce beginners to the tricks of their particular trade. Beginners  start from a position of legitimate peripheral  participation, from whence they observe  how the  more experienced and skilful perform, and then as they acquire greater confidence and expertise  through practice, they take on a more active  role, until they become mentors in their turn. This is how young people learn to skateboard and to do many other things that are not on the school curriculum. It also  happens to  be how ethnographers ply their   trade: they are always  beginners  who need to negotiate a position  peripheral participation from which to observe  particular cultures and communities  and who rely on their informants as local experts  to initiate them into its mysteries, some at least  graduating to a leadership role in  actively espousing  the interests  of the groups they work with.

This apprenticeship model of informal learning  can be supplemented by more formal tuition, but the essential point is that the  educational process  is primarily mimetic   and only works  if it is  embedded  in a system of balanced reciprocity, a culture of mutual aid. In other words if it activates a form of  intellectual commons. The great difficulty  has been to strike  the right balance for as we have seen   all the talk about co-researchers, and participatory  or community  mapping  does not necessarily  suspend or reverse imbalances in knowledge/ power, and can sometime  hide or justify  their  persistence. In particular participatory mapping has been added to the  tool kit of narrative planners who use it to  win public support for already existing  developers schemes   rather than challenging them or proposing  alternative.  At the very least participatory mapping  has to be part of building a cartographic commons    involving   a  slow transfer of graphic design skills from  old hands ( who may or may not be professional artists,designers or cartographers) to  ‘amateurs’. .

From what I have said so far  it should be clear that mapping the commons  involves actively helping to create and sustain  them ;  this  should not be confined to its more politicized  versions, it  must include  the  ‘actually  existing communism’ of everyday life as well as numerous  subcultural instances. The comparative  study of  mapping cultures ( ethno-cartography) at least provides a research framework for such an enterprise. Counter mapping  is its practical implementation.

Counter-mapping is all about cultivating the art of what C Wright Mills called the sociological imagination, and that means not just charting  existing social imaginaries  but making new connections between personal and political geographies. The great virtue of ANT in this context is that it  reminds us that  the relation between map and territory is always contingent and always a process of translation, not only between  digital and analogue  or  between    scope and scale, but between the common and the uncommon,  between what connects and disconnects  the common  worlds we inhabit. And this is never not a question of power, the power to  articulate  these linkages, to establish fictive  concords, or to challenge and change them.

As for  the agenda of counter-mapping, in the light of the foregoing discussion it should be possible to  define some of  its working principles:

  1. It involves a process of thick mapping, linking the past, present and future, making visible what has been rendered invisible, making central what has been marginalised.
  2. It means putting one’s own self identity on the map (the subject’s  history,culture, plans, stories, feelings) but also  explores  dis/identifications with the Other- the other class, other ethnicity, other race, other generation.
  3. It is about creating a space of  representation for counter-narratives, in particular those  which challenge the grand narratives of urban  progress and regeneration.
  4. It is about mapping lines of desire, and especially the patterns of counter navigation that interrupt the flow of commodities and the compressed space/time of capitalist circulation
  5. It is about discovering and mapping counter-facticities, the projects that never happened and the projects that might be realised  under different political and economic circumstances from  the present

I have suggested that this  in turns requires a particular kind of critical pedagogy, whose main features could be summarized as follows:

  1. Deconstruction :challenging common sense constructs

Example :  mapping safe and dangerous spaces as defined by different groups, and correlating them with  a) maps showing the distribution of  traffic accidents, street crime  and  violence

  1. De-familarisation : making the strange familiar and the familiar strange

Example:  Using diaries of  different kinds of journeys ( routine journey and exceptional ones ( viz holidays)   to create a series of narrative or audio-visual  maps.

3.De-centering : moving from ‘me maps’ to mapping the Other scene

Example:  comparing and contrasting the mental mappings of an area done  by children, young people and senior citizens, men and women,  those with disabilities and the able bodied.

  1. Dialogue : creating a shared framework for negotiating differences of standpoint and experience

Example : working with different social groups  in a locality  ( viz in terms of ethnicity, age, socio-economic status)  to map the distribution of  positive and negative public encounters.

5.Deliberation : building a common ground of reflexivity and critical understanding

Example: Creating a  framework for sustaining  the practice of citizen social science  through work in schools, youth projects and  community centres, especially in areas undergoing rapid change linked to large scale regeneration.

Living Maps is attempting s to develop, test and evaluate such an  approach  across a series of Atlas projects in London. We are all too aware that such an approach is in its infancy, and that we are only beginning  to glimpse the rich potentiality of different kind of mapping practice.


On the risks of navigation

Latour’s theory of the map/territory relation stresses that their precise pattern of  inter-animation is always site specific and depends on circumstances which are partly brought about by  the nature of the interaction itself. He is trying to develop a theory of navigation that avoids seeing it either  as the enactment of cognitive mapping or  as a pure  technology  of orientation within Euclidean space. Appropriately he chooses a maritime example. He demonstrates how there  is a constant  to-ing and fro-ing  between  what the skipper on the deck of a yacht  is  doing as she guides  the boat  with a highly embodied and narrativised  sense of the interplay of sail wind and tide in these particular territorial waters and  the work of the chart plotter  below decks who is using GPS, radar, speed gauge and echo sounder   to track the motion of the boat through the water and find the course to steer. Tere is a continual dialogue between the two modes of navigation and as a keen sailor myself I can testify that one with out the other is  useless  and likely to lead to serious trouble!
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To finish  on a suitably maritime note  I would like to offer a little cautionary tale which  shows  what may happen when two  ways of mapping the world are on a collision course and  also that there is more than one way to cut Big Power down to size.. It  is a transcript of a radio conversation between Galician coastguards  and the  US navy which was recorded on 16 October 1997, and broadcast on Channel 106 of the Spanish Maritime Agency, on the Costa Finisterre.

Galician : (noise in background)..  This is A -853 calling you. Please alter your course to 15 degrees South to avoid a collision. You are sailing directly towards us – distance 25 nautical miles.

US naval officer : We advise you to alter course  to 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.

Galician : Answer negative. We repeat : alter your course 15 degrees South to avoid a collision.

US naval officer:  This is the Captain of a ship of the navy  of the United States speaking to you. We insist that you alter your course immediately to 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.

Galician : We see this as not possible nor useful. We recommend  that you alter course to 15 degrees south to avoid a collision







Galician This is Juan Manuel Salas Alcantara. We are two people. With us is our dog and food, two beers  and a man from the Canaries who is already asleep. We have the support of the transmitter Cadena Dial de la Coruna  and the Maritime Emergency Channel 16.

We are going nowhere  since we are speaking to you from the land. We are in lighthouse A-853 Finisterre, on the Galician coast. We have no shitting idea of where we rank in the Spanish Lighthouse Service.

And you can take whatever steps you consider necessary and which you find sexy  to guarantee the safety of your shitting aircraft carrier, but you are about to split open your ship on the coastal reefs of Galicia  and on these grounds we urge you, and wish once more to issue a heartfelt plea  that it is the best, the healthiest and cleverest move for you and your people  to alter your course to 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.




Note the entries are in the order of their enlistment in the argument



Ruth Glass   London- Aspects of Change ( 1964)

Kei Miller  The Cartographer tries to Map a Way to Zion  (2014)

Paul Feyerband   Against Method (2001)

John Law  After method : mess in social science  (2004)

Michel Serres  The troubadour of knowledge ( 1997 )

Marilyn Strathern   Commons and Borderlands  ( 2004 )


Personal and Political Geographies

Walter Cronon  Nature’s metropolis : Chicago and the Great West (1991)

George Woodcock Anarchism  a history of libertarian ideas and movements (1965)

Elisee Reclus Anarchism,Geography, Modernity, Selected Writings  (2010)

David Graeber  The anthropology of value (2009)

Phil Cohen  Reading Room Only: memoir of a radical bibliophile  (2013)

Kevin Lynch The Image of the City (1956  )

Colin Ward The Child and the City (1960)

Ken Worpole No Particular Place to Go: Children, Young People and Public Space. (2000)

Tim Butler and Chris Hamnett  The New East End (2013)

Phil Cohen On the Wrong Side of the Track?East London and the Post Olympics (2013)

Ben Campkin  Remaking London Decline and regenerartion in urban culture (2013)

Frederick Jamieson Cognitive Mapping  in C Nelson et al Marxism and the Interpretation of Cities (1990)

Rob Kitchin and James Kneale  Cognitive Mapping:past,present and future ( 2001)

David Harvey ‘Cartographical identities: geographical knowledges under globalization’, Spaces of Capital  (2000).




Official Maps,Lived Territories

Charles Booth Labour and Life of the People in London Vol. 1: East London (1902),

Margaret Simey and T. S. Simey  Charles Booth: Social Scientist (1960).

John  Steele  The Streets of London: Charles Booth’s Notebooks (1997)

Margaret  O’Day and David  Englander Mr Charles Booth’s Enquiry into London Life and Labour ( 1992)

  1. D. Epstein ‘The Social Explorer as Anthropologist’ in H. J. Dyos Victorian Cities (1985)

Phil Cohen   Material Dreams :maps and territories in the unmaking of modernity  (2015).

Jerry White  London in the 19th Century (2010)

Owen Hatherley Militant Modernism (2009)

Jane Jacobs  The Life and Death of Great American Cities (1974)

Alberto. Magnaghi, The Urban Village: A Charter for Local Democracy and Sustainable development ( 1992)

Danny Dorling  The identity of Britain :a cradle to grave atlas (2007)

Edward Soja Thirdspace :journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places (1996)

Denis Cosgrove Geographies and Vision: seeing, imagining and representing the world (2008)

Jeremy Crampton  Mapping: a critical introduction to cartography and GIS (2010)

Tim Ingold Perceptions of the Environment (2000)

Edward Casey Getting Back into Place (1993)

Phil Cohen and Mike Rustin (eds) London’s Turning: the making of Thames Gateway (2007)

Jonathon Crary  Suspensions of Perception: attention,spectacle and modern culture (2001)

Geoff Dyer et al  Where You are: a book of maps that will leave you entirely lost(2014)

Katharine Harmon You are Here: Personal geographies and other maps of the imagination (2004)

Karen O’Rourke   Walking and Mapping : artists as cartographers  (2013 )

Peter Turchi  Maps of the Imagination:the writer as cartographer( 2004 )

John Krygier    Everything Sings : maps for a narrative atlas  (2013)

Hans Ulrich Obrist  (ed)  Mapping it out: an alternative atlas of contemporary cartographies (2014)

Frank Jacobs  Strange Maps :An atlas of cartographic curiosities   (2009)




Rethinking the Commons

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Commonwealth (2009)

Naomi Klein Reclaiming the Commons New Left Review (2001)

Donald  Nononi (ed) The Global Commons  (2007)

Russel Brand Revolution (2014)

Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin  Splintering Urbanism:networked infrastructures,technological mobilities (2001)

Colin  Rowe and Fred Koetter Collage City (1984)

Bruno Latour and Ernst Weibel   Making Things Public  (2006)


Michael  Maffesoli  The time of the tribe :the decline of individualism in a mass society (1996)


Peter Sloterdijk In the world interior of capital:for a philosophical theory of globalisation (2013).


George Agembem The Coming Community (1993)


Elias Cannetti  Crowds and Power (1992)

James Surowiecki   The wisdom of crowds  2004

Peter Linebaugh The Magna Carta Manifesto  (2008)

Peter Clayden Our Common Land:the law and history of the commons and the village green (1985)

Ian  Borden   Skateboarding,space and the city: architecture and the body  ( (2005)

Bradley Garrett Place Hacking:tales of urban exploration (thesis) (2012)

Brian Homes  Unleashing the collective phantom: essays in reverse Imagineering  (2007)

Paul Farley and Michael Roberts Edgelands   (2011)

Guy Standing  Precariat:the new dangerous class (2011)


Smart Cities ?  Networked Space,Big Data and D-I-Y Urbanism

Ken Worpole  The New English Landscape  (2014)

Anthony Giddens. The Consequences of Modernity(1991)

Ulrich Beck   Risk Society :towards a new modernity (1994)

Manuel Castells The rise of the network society (2000)

Anthony O’Reilly Big Data Now :current perspectives  (2011)

Nik Bessis and Ciprian Dobre Big Data an internet  of things : a road map for a smart environment (2014)

Veronique Chatelet Interactive Cities. Anomalie/ digital_arts   (2005)

David Shane  Recombinant Urbanism :conceptual modelling in architecture, urban design and city theory   (2005)

D.A. Norman  Things that make us smart  (1993)

Eamonn McCann   and KeithWard (eds) Mobile Urbanism  (2013)

Anthony Townsend Smart Cities :Big data , civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia (2011)

Mario Raento et al Smartphones : an emerging tool for social scientists Sociological Methods of Research (2009)

Rob Kitchin  Code/Spac : software and everyday life (2011) / Mapping Cyberspace (2000)


Lines of Desire

Gaston Bachelard  The Poetics of Space  (1964)

Raoul  Vaneigem  The revolution of everyday Life (new translation by D Nicholson Smith ) (2013)

Robert  Macfarlane   The Wild Places  (2013)

Iain Sinclair  Lights out for the Territory(1997)

Will Self  Psychogeography(2007)

Steve  Pile  The Body and the city:psychoanalysis,space and subjectivity (1996)

David Pinder   ‘Cartography Unbound’  in  Cultural Geography (2007)

Jay Appleton    The experience of landscape ( 1996 )

Michael Balint Michael  Thrills and regressions (1968 )


The In/voluntary Informant: Crowd Sourcing and Citizen Social Science

Mike Savage and Roger Burrows  The coming crisis of empirical sociology Sociology( 2007)

Collins Harry and Evans Roberts  Rethinking expertise (2007)

Dan McQuillan  The Counter culture potential of citizen science  (paper)( 2014)

Muki Haklay Assertions on Crowd Sourced Geographical Information and Citizen Science  (2014)  Po Ve Sham

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin  Crowd sourcing Cartography : mapping experience and knowledge  Environment and Planning A (2013)

Andrew Barlow  Collaborations for social justice,professionals, publics and policy change  (2007)

Andrew Clark et al Learning to see Lessons from a participative observation research project on public space   International Journal of  Social Research methodology (2009)

L Goodson  and J  Phillimore  Community research for participation: from theory to method  (2012)

Erving Goffman Relations in Public: Micro Studies in Public Order (1971).


ANTs in the  pants, not bees in the bonnet

Bruno Latour Reassembling the Social: an introduction to actor-network theory (2005)

Richard Day Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in Newest Social Movements (2005)


Counter Mapping :towards a  Critical Pedagogy

Michael Burawoy  The critical turn to Public sociology  Critical Sociology (2004)

Judith Blau ( ed)  Public Sociology Reader (2006)

Jon Cidell   Challenging the contours: critical cartography, local knowledge and the public realm. Environment and Planning A (2008)

Sue Clifford and Alan King  The Parish Atlas of West  Sussex   (2002)

Dennis Aberley(ed.) Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment(1993),

Chris McFarlane   Learning the City  (2011)

Jean-Claude Plantin Participatory Mapping (2013)

Nick Hubble Mass Observation (2006)

David Turnbull  Constructing knowledge spaces and locating sites of resistance in the modern cartographic transformation’, in R. Paulston (ed.), Social Cartography: Mapping Ways of Seeing Social and Educational Change (1996).

Bjorn Sletti  We drew what we imagined :participatory mapping and the art of landscape making  Current Anthropology (2009)

George Foley Learning in social action (1999)

Jean Lave  Cognition in practice  (1988)

Delinikola D and de Soto P  Mapping the  Urban Commons (2014)

Rebecca Solnit et al  Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (2010)


On the risks of navigation

Bruno Latour et al    Entering Risky territory :  space in the age of digital navigation  Environment and Planning D  ( 2010)


Brian Harley The new nature of maps (2001)

Dennis Wood Rethinking the Power of Maps (2010).

James Elkins  The domain of Images (1999)

Gerry King  Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (1996)

John Pickles A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping and the Geo-Coded World (2004)

Martin Dodge,Rob Kitchin and Chris Perkins  The Map Reader:theories of mapping practice and cartographic representation ( 2011)