image cartographic turnA Cartographic Turn - Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences explains mapping and cartography from alternative perspectives at the foundation level. This book helps readers to understand how mapping can be used in a social context and with a view toward philosophical elements. Since so much about traditional mapping has been oriented toward location and navigation, this text is important because it opens doors exploring communication and understanding of spaces and places in improved ways. 



A Cartographic Turn
Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences

Directed by

Jacques Lévy



Routledge - EFPL Press

2016 | 336 pages ISBN: 9782940222704


Reviewed by

Jeff Thurston


Maps and cartography have a unique role in society. They not only document the locations of events and places, but they also tell stories, share knowledge and cause others to think and wonder about spaces and places. This is the case for both printed and digital mapping products. While the largest use and applications of maps are mainly focused on location and used for mavigation, the social function and capabilities of maps is relatively new. This is particularly so in the case of innovation that brings digital visual products in both hardware and software platforms.

"The Cartographic Turn contains contributions on maps and cartography from multiple authors from various disciplines: geography, demography, cartography, art theory, architecture and philosophy. While such diversity could imply that this book is a collection of independent contributions gathered only by their topic, this impression would be misleading. Rather, this book develops four simple propositions that actually can be streamlined into a single concept expressed through four different perspectives. Above all, maps convey rational, aesthetic, ethical and personal messages, at times separately but more often in unison, and this mix offers ample fields for studying social complexity. Beyond that, maps are, by their very existence, both representations of pre-existing spaces and creations of new spaces."

Contributions from many people fill the pages of this book, including those involved in a wide range of disciplines such as architects, social science, geography, demography, art theory, cartography and philosophy. The book begins by explaining the mathematical nature of mapping, rooted in the location of spaces and places that bring consistency, order and a form of reliable measurement to the world. Veering then toward the cosmic nature of maps, the text turns to philosophy and the social aspects of mapping purpose. It is here where we learn about what maps can bring to philosophy and other topics including the arts and cinematic mapping. 

The relationship between the map and atlas is carefully detailed, and we learn how, where and when the two combine into alternative perspectives for viewing various places around the globe. We quickly learn that many map types have emerged over time - narrative maps, body image maps, maps of itineraries, cadastral maps, economic maps and so on. In other examples we can see maps explained in terms of language, acting as sources of reason, consideration and decision-making where visual elements share communication patterns in different ways and means. From this perspective, symbolism, figuration and de/reconstruction are considered and described.

Cartographers have long explained that maps are representations. This immediately raises the question: are maps reality? Can we, in fact, evaluate a map and understand where it lies on a continuum of reality? Since maps are constructed to portray a message or purpose, one can expect that specific maps have specific purposes. Maps can then be de-constructed to provide many messages, depending upon how their content is understood and realized. In a sense, the map designer aims for a specific audience, but he or she can never really know that that message is delivered precisely as intended? This becomes much more the case as both digital and analog forms of map use can take place. And some might even argue that 2D, 3D and 4D mapping can deliver representations in new and innovative ways. 

When the reader begins to place these kinds of thoughts and questions within their real world context, we can quickly see that maps and visual graphics can influence how projects are designed, planned, built and maintained - and communicated. Examples within the book such as Two Switzerlands, the French War on cities and the Jewish people as represented between myth and reality are explored. 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of mapping evolves through social representation and demographics. How we understand rural versus urban areas, age class distributions, environmental patterns and economic valuations all find variable representative approaches and means for reating effective maps. And maps today attempt to cover global scales, sharing stories across boundaries and locations in an attempt to follow and understand larger patterns and changing situations. We constantly query about 'who' is the author of a map or product, yet, the trends today appear to also include more collaborative mapping tools and technologies. Indeed, augmented reality is also included in this book as new forms of visual representation are being explored and harnessed for use. 

In summary, A Cartographic Turn - Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences is directly aimed at the basic elements for using and understanding why maps exist, why they are used, how they are considered and understood and how they have changed over time. It will be very hard to read this book and not appreciate and understand mapping and cartography purpose. Yet, the book merely opens the door, as intended, into the world or social use and exploration of mapping. It is hard to imagine how one can explore social mapping without first reading this book because it includes the foundation steps for doing so. 

This is an important text to read for anyone using maps, graphics and cartographic products today. So many projects wish to share knowledge and to create understanding, yet there are few pieces of information that help new and experienced designers, planners and teachers about this changing space that combines social awareness with graphic innovations. This book is easily in the top of the pack for those that should be read.