Review: New Directions in Radical Cartography

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Book & Geospatial Resources Review of New Directions in Radical Cartography: Why the Map Is Never the Territory.

Review by Tim Kiser

Book Cover for New Directions in Radical Cartography: Why the Map Is Never the Territory.
Book Cover: New Directions in Radical Cartography: Why the Map Is Never the Territory.

Cohen, Phil, and Mike Duggan (editors). New Directions in Radical Cartography: Why the Map Is Never the Territory. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021. 354 p. $130. ISBN: 978-1-5381-4719-1.

In 19 chapters by 30 authors, this book collects examples of academic and community-based projects that make use of cartographic practices, understood broadly, in the areas of academic research (primarily in the social sciences), community building, political and social activism, and artistic practice. Counter-mapping, which seeks to use cartography to challenge dominant authority, tradition, and power structures, is a recurring theme. The book is primarily one of text and not imagery; its small illustrations are presented in dull and blurry grayscale, and I found them uninspiring as a result.

The editors are both British academics: Phil Cohen is a cofounder and research director of the Livingmaps Network, “a network of researchers, community activists, artists and others with a common interest in the use of mapping for social change, public engagement, critical debate and creative forms of community campaigning” (according to its website); and Mike Duggan is the editor-in-chief of its journal, Livingmaps Review. As noted in the preface, the book’s contributors all have some connection (sometimes loose) to the Livingmaps Network. The geographic scope of projects detailed in the book is international, but there is a strong United Kingdom emphasis. Two chapters are focused on United States-based projects: One details the creation of a “memory palace” through conversation with former residents of Fresno, California; and the other discusses a community partnership initiative at the University of Kentucky Department of Geography.

The book’s chapters are divided among four parts: The first explores contemporary debates and innovations in cartographic theory and practice. The remaining three primarily present discrete projects, most of them modest in scale, which demonstrate the themes of the first. One section is focused on cartographic representation in relation to marginalized communities and the environment and includes three chapters focused on their authors’ interactions with children in Belfast, London, and Athens, respectively. Projects in the next section are positioned as “ground-breaking approaches to counter-mapping” by artists, activists, and academics. These two sections are both dominated by projects in which elements of cartography are incorporated into their processes, but that do not necessarily result in physical or digital maps as final products: In various ways, activities such as thoughtful conversation and walks in the city — with a friend or research subject, or among community residents or participants in a workshop — are designed to incorporate formal or informal acts of mapping, sometimes temporary, sometimes imaginary, which serve as guides or aids to these activities, or as conceptual structures for them. By contrast, the closing section is centered on experiments in “analogue and digital-mapping,” with somewhat more of a focus on maps (however experimental or abstract) in and of themselves. This section also includes a coda that discusses radical cartography and counter-mapping in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a map cataloging librarian focused day-to-day on the examination and description of maps as finished products, I found the expansive breadth of the editors’ and authors’ perspectives on what cartography is, and how it can function in a variety of social and research contexts, to be pleasantly provocative. For many readers, cartography itself may seem to recede in centrality within several of the chapters, which by necessity must devote significant space to the context of the projects they detail. Writing styles are as varied as the subject matter and authors, as one might expect, but I did find it to be a generally cohesive collection, an outcome which may have been aided by the authors’ interconnections through the Livingmaps Network. The book closes with brief summaries of each chapter, which I found useful; I would have appreciated brief biographies of the contributors, which are not provided.

For those map librarians not already well-familiar with counter-mapping and related practices, the book will serve as a worthwhile introduction to contexts in which diverse practitioners have applied, or been inspired by such practices. For those map librarians who already are, it will serve as a useful survey of recent projects that incorporate them. The book is recommended for large academic libraries that support research in the social sciences.

Tim Kiser
Michigan State University Libraries
East Lansing, Michigan

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