Digital mapping as double-tap: cartographic modes, calculations and failures

Somerset SPOT 5 EA Jan 11 2014

I have a new co-authored, open access article (with Sybille Lammes) recently out in Global Discourse. Entitled ‘Digital mapping as double-tap: cartographic modes, calculations and failures’, the paper is a constructive reading of Bruno Latour’s latest project: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME) from a critical cartographic perspective. It should be part of a special forthcoming issue on AIME, although at the moment it sits orphaned under ‘latest articles’.

It aims to do a few things. In the first instance it’s a reading of AIME in relation to Latour’s previous cartographic work. That is, his Visualization and Cognition chapter (1986), the Paris: Invisible online project (2006), the co-authored article with Valerie November and Eduardo Camacho-Hubner (2010) and various other texts in which he’s employed some kind of cartographic metaphor or narrative in order to construct, elucidate or strengthen a conceptual argument. We think it’s worth re-visiting and re-analyzing them in light of the mapping stories that litter AIME.

Secondly it’s a constructive critique of AIME. In particular, it aims to strengthen Latour’s account of the moderns, by re-framing the double-click mode (introduced in previous articles, but foregrounded in AIME) as double-tap. Although this may seem like an inconsequential revision, the tweak in terminology allows Latour (and others) to actually further strengthen a conceptual argument concerning access and knowledge to the world. With the rise of ‘double-tap’ devices – touchscreen phones, tablets and other such technologies – talk of ‘double-clicking’ sounds oddly outdated.

Then we look to how thinking in different modal registers – ontological, cartographic and methodological – can help us to identify the ‘operative elements’ in different mapping enterprises. As critical cartographers have also talked of ‘modes’, we’ve drawn connections between Latour’s ontologically-pluralist variant, Matthew Edney’s cartographic version and Chris Perkins’ methodological one. Whilst there are huge differences between the three, we think this can serve as a kind of matrix for thinking about mapping endeavours – whatever they may be.

In the final section of the article we work with the above to expand on Latour’s conceptual legacy within critical cartography (the use and re-use of various terms including: immutable mobility, inscription, calculation etc.), to suggest another productive path: through cartographic failures rather than successes. Two cases – a flood event (image above) and a protest demo – are introduced to provide evidence for this methodological re-emphasis. Whilst Latour is keen to stress the contingency of socio-technical systems, we argue that there is still comparatively little space given in his many texts for failed projects (Aramis notwithstanding). In short, we think failure – and specifically failure in cartographic systems – needs to be attended to more thoroughly. This is a modest attempt to do just that.