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‘double-tap’ devices – touchscreen phones, tablets and other such technologies – talk of ‘double-clicking’ sounds oddly outdated.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.

‘Print this Map. Get off the Internet. Take to the Streets’: 5 of the Left’s Best Mapping Moments


Mapping and activism have a long history. In the final days of the Paris Commune the military advances of the Versailles army were mapped on a daily basis as the revolutionaries sought to keep them at bay. Fast forward nearly 100 years and the Situationists were once again mapping Paris in altogether more abstract ways – this time to resist the advances of the modern city. In more recent times we’ve seen the rudimentary mapping of protest camps in Madrid, New York and Hong Kong.

The above is from another article I wrote for Novara Wire. This time on mapping and activism. There’s at least one in there that critical cartographers should be familiar with (Detroit) and a few more they may not be. It’s hardly a definitive list but just a couple I think crystallize some of the political issues the left has dealt with historically, notably race relations, anti-globalization, immigration/detention and student activism. The maps themselves aren’t particularly radical in the sense of production and style, I’d argue, but they certainly contain radical content. Moreover, all were produced by extra-state, autonomous actors – historically those without the power to map.

If you want a little more on the intersection between mapping and activism there’s plenty to go at. A recent open-access article [PDF] by Rhiannon Firth (UEL) in Interface is fantastic, and draws on the wonderful map archive at the 56A Infoshop in Southwark to argue for an ‘anarchist pedagogy’.

On the notion of ‘radical cartography’ I’d suggest reading Mark Denil’s critical piece in Cartographic Perspectives, as it seeks to explore what radicality really means in relation to mapping practice. He also suggests the Fürth map I selected has a radicality due to it ‘cutting across the cartographic schema itself’. In other words, it pushes the boundaries of what a map is, and can be. Hackitectura‘s work does similarly.

The final map I chose (‘Sukey takes it off again’) is the subject of my PhD work, and I have an upcoming article in a special issue (‘Spaces of Protest’) of Media Fields on the connection between it and playful protest action. I’ll post a link when it’s live.