DoctorM's Reviews > An Atlas of Radical Cartography

An Atlas of Radical Cartography by Lize Mogel
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's review
Mar 17, 10

bookshelves: geography, politics
Read in May, 2009

An intriguing introduction to cartography-as-activism and the 'radical cartography' movement. The Atlas comes as two boxed items: a collection of essays and ten accompanying maps. Each map is done to illustrate a particular point, and the quality varies. (And, yes, the lack of proofreading/spell-checking in the maps is annoying) The maps demonstrate some particular political issue--- clusters of surveillance cameras in Manhattan, CIA 'rendition' flights, 'unauthorised' settlements in the Calcutta suburbs, EU detention centers for illegal migrants. Radical cartography argues that maps, in depicting the world, have political messages embedded in them, and radical cartography hopes to use maps to depict those political assumptions and make viewers aware of political and social realities obscured by those in power. There's an element of play and theatre here, as with the CCTV map of New York, or the mash-up map that shows San Francisco folded into map outlines of the Panama Canal and the various locations around the world which trade with or send raw materials to SF. But there are serious points to be made, too: the sheer density of networks supporting CIA flights or EU detention centers is eye-opening.

The essays can be far too jargon-ridden, but some, like the one addressing the Calcutta map, are excellent guides to both the map and the issues. 'Unauthorised' settlements in Calcutta in the 1980s-90s contained hundreds of thousands of dwellers who simply...didn't officially exist, who were off the map--- people who lacked addresses or official neighbourhoods and were cut off from voting, mail, ration cards, or services. The maps of those settlements were a first step into giving those people some visibility and a voice.

The Atlas of Radical Cartography is maybe a bit concept-lite, but it's a very good introduction to a serious project, and worth following up on through the bibliographies and notes in the essays.
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