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Benjamin, C. (2016). Countering Counter Mapping Methods: Constructing A Humanities GIS Methodology In the Age of Electracy. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 436-437.
Countering Counter Mapping Methods: Constructing A Humanities GIS Methodology In the Age of Electracy

Countering Counter Mapping Methods: Constructing A Humanities GIS Methodology In the Age of Electracy

Most government and business sponsored geographic information systems (GIS) are employed to manage, track, and exploit labor and production. GIS has primarily been used to regulate political economies, “the concern for life is to administer it (life) through controls and regulations so that resources might be rightly apportioned” (Crampton, 2011). Therefore, governments and businesses use GIS is to produce abstract intelligence and knowledge about people and terrains, which they use to make decisions for distributing goods. These goods can include hospitals, parks, roads, military air strikes, etc. By understanding GIS as an engine for political decision making, we can begin to understand that maps are inherently political. However, GIS, because of its ubiquitous, malleable, and slippery nature, can be used for more than simply calculating statistics to influence the distribution of goods. Instead, GIS can be used to distribute ideas, concepts, emotions, and narratives (the qualitative data of our human actions) in order to act as a counter-map.

Nancy Lee Peluso (1995) first defined counter-mapping as an effort to “appropriate the state’s techniques and manner of representation to bolster the legitimacy of “customary” claims to resources” (384). In this definition of counter-mapping, counter-maps contest governmental decisions on political economies by representing location specific knowledge that challenges the abstract statistical knowledge sanctioned by the state. Researchers usually create these counter maps by using participatory GIS (PGIS) methods. PGIS is a cartographic research method that asks members of a population of a mapped geographic area to become active producers in their own mapping. It asks the population members to map their own problems, wants, and needs. For example, Sarah Elwood (2006) has used PGIS with community members from low income neighborhoods in Chicago to help community members advocate for neighborhood improvements (197-208). Though this use of counter-mapping may be helpful to advocate for the redistribution of goods, I argue, it doesn’t do enough to contest the primary political functionality of GIS. GIS in these projects often simply replicates the dominant ideology of GIS - that its sole function is to be used to make decisions for the distributions of goods within political economies. This definition of counter-mapping has constrained our imaginations and the ability to play with the functions of GIS and to miss out on potential GIS poetics. The central question in consternation is: how can maps function in the age of electracy unconstrained by the ideologies of the paper map?

Instead of focusing on the political and economic functionality of GIS, which I argue is a print centric way of thinking about GIS, what would it mean to create an electronic poetic discourse of GIS? How can GIS be used to map human emotion, desire, and truth? This type of reasoning resists the temptation to define GIS as a tool for deliberate decision making and to understand GIS as a medium for invention. Invention is the counter logic of GIS hermeneutics -- GIS heuretics. Gregory Ulmer (2002) states, “The purpose of the course is to approach electracy by trying to invent it (what I call “heuretics” --the use of theory to invent forms and practices, as distinct from “hermeneutics,” which uses theory to interpret existing works)” (4). How can we invent geography for the electronic apparatus? This question can be answered following the models provided by Ulmer. Ulmer invents a method for applying humanities discourse which relies “not on positivism but quantum relativity; not realism but surrealism.” Surrealism, then can act as theory that counters traditional positivistic and “rational” decision making. In the Surrealist Manifesto, Andre Breton (1924) writes:

“(I)n this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience. Logical ends, on the contrary, escape us. It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense. Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices” (2).

We can see that, just as I’m searching for a theory and method that resists hermeneutic rationalizations of GIS, so were the surrealists resisting positivist rationalism, because these rationalisms limited creativity and human experience. Therefore, surrealism allows humanities researchers to infuse creativity back into the research milieu.

Furthermore, one humanities method that may be applied to electronic map making, GIS, is psychogeography, an avant-garde method developed by the Situationists who were heavily influenced by surrealism. Guy Debord (1959) defines psychogeography as derive, meaning “to drift.” He defines derive as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (3). By implementing psychogeography, the researcher ignores the boundaries and zones of a city, disturbs the modern distance between researcher and space, and allows the researcher to gain the feeling of a place. By performing psychogeography, the researcher is allowed an intimacy with space and place which may change the conclusions he or she may make about a particular space had he or she relied solely on traditional GIS hermeneutics. Here, emotion has been injected into the research paradigm.

This paper then, describes a method of using GIS tracking services to record a pscyhogeography performed in Bradenton, FL. Currently, there is a heroin epidemic happening in Bradenton, FL, particularly in the South Bradenton neighborhood, and there have been several maps issued by the government and local media agencies that track heroin overdoses in Bradenton, FL. To counter map these official and popular maps, I used Debord's drifting methodology which he outlines in “Theory of the Derive,” to perform three different drifts. My goal was to record the feeling of South Bradenton. These drifts were tracked using the GIS interface My Tracks mobile phone application by Google, Inc. During the drifts, My Tracks recorded my path as I drifted through South Bradenton, FL. Additionally, I used my cell phone to take images and videos of the neighborhood and I recorded notes, thoughts, and feelings into a notebook with time stamps. Once the drifts were completed, the My Tracks paths were exported to Google My Maps and the photos and notes were imported into the My Map and added to their corresponding places on the My Tracks path. This presentation will showcase these maps and contrast them to the government maps created about the heroin epidemic. My presentation then focuses on my analysis of the results, the usefulness of psychogeography for geographic research in the digital age, and further research needed for the development of a theory for electronic geographic research and methodologies.

  1. Breton, A. (1924). First Manifesto of Surrealism 1924. In Harrison, C. and Wood P. (eds.) Art In Theory, 1900-2000 an Anthology of Changing Ideas. New York: Blackwell Publishing.
  2. Crampton, J. W. (2011). Mapping: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS. John Wiley and Sons. vol. 11.
  3. Debord, G. (1959). Theory of the Derive. In Knabb, K. (ed.) Situationist international anthology. Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, pp. 49.
  4. Elwood, S. (2006). Negotiating Knowledge Production: The Everyday Inclusions, Exclusions, and Contradictions of Participatory GIS Research∗. The Professional Geographer, 58(2): 197-208.
  5. Peluso, N. L., (1995). Whose Woods Are These? Counter‐mapping Forest Territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode, 27(4): 383-406.
  6. Ulmer, G. L. (2002). Internet Invention From Literacy to Electracy.