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:
- 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.
- 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.
- It is about creating a space of representation for counter-narratives, in particular those which challenge the grand narratives of urban progress and regeneration.
- 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
- 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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
US naval officer(loudly) :THIS IS CAPTAIN RICHARD JAMES HOWARD,COMMANDER OF THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER “USS LINCOLN” OF THE NAVY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE SECOND LARGEST WARSHIP OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY TWO ARMOURED CRUISERS,SIX DESTROYERS, 4 SUBMARINES AND OTHER SHIPS THAT CAN SUPPORT US AT ANY TIME.
WE ARE ON THE SHORTEST ROUTE TO THE PERSINA GULF TO PREPARE FOR A MILITARY MANOEUVRE THAT COULD LEAD TO AN OFFENSIVE OPERATION AGAINST IRAQ.
I ORDER YOU TO ALTER YOUR COURSE TO 15 DEGREES NORTH!!
IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY WE SHALL FIND OURSELVES FORCED TO TAKE WHATEVER ACTION IS NECESSARY TO GURANTEE THE SECURITY OF THIS AIRCRAFT CARRIER AND ENTIRE STRIKE FORCE.
YOU ARE AN ALLIED STATE, MEMBER OF NATO AND THEREFOR OF THIS MILITARY FORCE….
PLEASE OBEY WITHOUT DELAY AND GET OUT OF OUR WAY !!!
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.
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