Philippe Rekacewicz of Le Monde Diplomatique and VisionsCarto came to University College Dublin last week to host a workshop on experimental cartography. His visit was part of a conference organized by Professor Federico Ferretti that doubled as launching pad for UCD’s new MA in Geographies of the Global South program.
Following in the tradition of other radical or experimental cartographers, Philippe’s methodology is to construct maps that make otherwise ‘invisible’ processes ‘visible.’ This has the effect of turning what is nominally an important technology of power and positivistic puritism on its head. Instead, many of Philippe’s maps bring attention to deep-seeded spatial inequities and asymmetrical relations that are often ‘left off the map’ so-to-speak.
Philippe’s collective VisionsCarto has made their work publicly available, so you can see for yourself how powerful some of these maps are in challenging geographic assumptions. The collective’s maps cover important topics from the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ (I say so-called, because it is really a humanitarian crisis of the European Union and Western-led intervention), to geopolitical conflict and cooperation, arms deals and more. Philippe’s and other radical cartographers work serves as a useful reminder to geographers that it is possible to reclaim map-making as a tool of critical scholarship and enquiry.
(Map by Philippe Rekacewicz)
The workshop focused on getting all of our inner-cartographers to come out of hiding. I was flat out embarrassed that this was the first time I’d made a map in over a year. Coming from a poli-sci background meant that most of the maps I had made previously were in a GIS workshop and conformed to an extremely positivistic worldview. Mapmaking, I decided then, was not so useful a technique to apply to many of the spatial problematics I was interested in. The workshop reminded me of the value of using cartographic representations to critically reflect and even challenge some of these processes.
We didn’t have very long to prepare our maps, but I was surprised at how quickly ideas came rushing out after being given the opportunity to represent them in cartographic form. My map (pictured above) draws its inspiration from the work of Doreen Massey and personal experience. As an avid traveller I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many wonderful people the world over. I’m always disappointed that my privilege does not extend to granting the same opportunities to many of these friends who are often arbitrarily held hostage by overly restrictive visa regimes, border controls, and other biopolitical technologies meant to control the flow of people over space. While I, being a white male American, am able to go almost anywhere I please – as can almost anyone that is part of the global privileged caste. I’ve also been taken aback recently about how ready some reactionary forces in Europe and the United States are to defend their privileged caste from becoming ‘corrupted’ by the ‘other.’
My rather hastily drawn map is meant to draw out some of the obvious inequalities of this system and to challenge the ‘annihilation of space by time’ assumption common to much of the globalization debate. Rather than viewing time-space compression as a neutral development, I and many others take it to be a deeply political project whereby the mobility of some people and capital is encouraged while others are restricted. These mobility regimes are enforced by a range of practices from detention centers to intelligence sharing and bordering. In this sense time-space compression takes on the appearance of a prison.
Imagine for a moment that you are on a satellite, further out and beyond all actual satellites; you can see ‘planet earth’ from a distance and, unusually for someone with only peaceful intentions, you are equipped with the kind of technology which allows you to see the colours of people’s eyes and the numbers on their number plates. You can see all the movement and turn in to all the communication that is going on. Furthest out are the satellites, then aeroplanes, the long haul between London and Tokyo and the hop from San Salvador to Guatemala City. Some of this is people moving, some of it is physical trade, some is media broadcasting. There are faxes, email, film-distribution networks, financial flows and transactions. Look in closer and there are ships and trains, steam trains slogging laboriously up hills somewhere in Asia. Look in closer still and there are lorries and cars and buses, and on down further, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a woman – amongst many women – on foot, who still spends hours a day collecting water.
Now I want to make one simple point here, and that is about what one might call the power geometry of it all; the power geometry of time-space compression. For different social groups, and different individuals, are placed in very distinct ways in relation to these flows and interconnections. This point concerns not merely the issue of who moves and who doesn’t, although that is an important element of it; it is also about power in relation to the flows and the movement. Different social groups have distinct relationships to this anyway differentiated mobility: some people are more in charge of it than others; some initiate flows and movement, others don’t; some are more on the receiving-end of it than others; some are effectively imprisoned by it.
Europeans, the US, and Canada often play the role of ‘jail-keepers’ that develop the discourse, practices and technologies to enforce mobility regimes. They keep the other prisoners in check. At the lower end of the caste prisoners are treated as variously more or less threatening, some requiring solitary confinement, while others are given the much less dire sentence of serving their time in minimum security.
Regardless if the map is a perfect representation of of space, it highlights the deeply contradictory nature of time-space compression, and by flipping the ‘world is flat’ narrative on its head, attempts to make ‘visible’ the ‘invisible’ regimes of control that most in the privileged caste almost never have to deal with.
Check out more of Philippe’s interesting maps and those of the VisionsCarto collective here.