Mapping social science data:
The Map Communication Model vs. Critical Cartography

Associated reading: Shannon obit.

Map communication model

Claude Shannon in 1962
Shannon founded information theory

Countable Information

He was something of an eccentric personality, and was often seen riding through the hallways on a unicycle of his own design while juggling three balls (Shannon would have fit in perfectly with the exuberant boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s where the young dotcommers rode through their offices on motorized scooters or Segways). Shannon loved juggling and even created a tiny mechanical stage on which three clowns juggle a number of rings and balls.

He also designed and built chess-playing machines and a kind of maze-solving device which was one of the earliest experiments in teaching a machine how to “think.” Although these demonstrate a whimsical side to his nature they were all directed to some end. The unicycle for example was a practical experiment in control under conditions of inherent instability.

Shannon’s achievements

1. Information can be defined. Smallest unit? = 2
Execute or not execute the prisoner?
Notice that they progress as powers of 2:

2^1 = 2 bits
2^2 = 4 bits
2^3 = 8 bits = 1 byte
2^10 = 1,024 bytes = 1 kilobyte
2^20 = 1,048,576 = 1 megabyte
2^30 = 1,073,741,824 bytes = 1 gigabyte
2^40 = 1,099,511,627,776 bytes = 1 terabyte
2^50 = 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes = 1 petabyte
2^60 = 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 = 1 exabyte

These are the ones in most common usage (for example in measuring the amount of RAM memory on your computer—hard disk space is usually measured in decimal, not binary units). One exabyte represents a tremendous amount of information (some authors have calculated that the sum total of all online knowledge is 5 exabytes (Morville 2005)). There is also such a thing as a zettabyte and a yottabyte (2^70 and 2^80 respectively); while 10^100, a much larger number, is the better known “googol” after which the Google company named themselves (misspelled!)

2. Communication could be improved if the “signal” was strengthened against the “noise” (signal to noise ration, SNR)

3. Information was fungible, that is, convertible to other forms and transmitted over distance. Paintings, songs, voices all could be represented as bits. And of course, maps.


Basic idea in cartography: maps work when they best communicate information

Arthur Robinson The Look of Maps (1952)
--cartography should be more scientific, less "artistic"
--empirical, functional (form follows function)
--close connection between symbols and their referents (avoid "arbitrary and capricious" symbols
--coined a new term: "percipient"
--did not actually develop a map communication model but paved the way for it

Look of Maps: Page 1, page 2

Actual Map Communication Models (MCM)

--first one was developed by Christopher Board, late 1960s
--corresponded with the "quantitative revolution" in geography (1950s-1960s).

--map as a communication system

Illustration of MCM by Alan MacEachren:

Traces the communication of information from the cartographer to the percipient or map-user

Popular during the 1970s - 1980s but still tacitly accepted today

Critized for lacking any ability to account for meaning that we obtain or encounter when using a map (Leonard Guelke critique for example, p. 16). Maps lack context that is relevant to meaningful human occupation if only understood as MCM.

If the MCM is inadequate, what can improve or even replace it? Two areas of work emerged during 1990s. (1) Critical cartography. (2) geovisualization.

--both wanted to make maps work better or play a better more meaningful role in our lives. One was based on fresh theoretical thinking, the other on an expanded view of the MCM.

Critical Cartography

--provides a critique of the MCM

Ever since the late 1980s cartography has sought a more powerful way of understanding the role maps play in our lives.

--Brian Harley "Deconstructing the Map" (1989)
--he applied thinking from literary criticism and philosophy (Barthes, Foucault, Derrida)
--the map is more like a text that carries knowledge/power relations
--Foucault (1926 - 1984) famous for his work on how power is manifest throughout society, & the subject. Two ideas: "discipline" and "biopower".

The "power of the map" (book by Denis Wood, 1992)
Maps Work by Serving Interests
Maps are Embedded in a History They Help Construct
Every Map Shows This…But Not That
The Interest the Map Serves is Masked
The Interest the Map Serves Can Be Yours

--during 1990s "critical GIS" also developed
--response to technocratic, naive empiricism of GIS world
--article on Jon Cloud's new work arguing that GIS developed in the military

--Friday Harbor and NCGIA Initiative 19 “GIS and Society” 1993 (Goodchild interview)

--meeting in Puget Sound 1993 between GIS users and social theorists such as John Pickles
--book by Pickles Ground Truth (1995). Was going to be jointly by Pickles and Harley, but Harley died December 1991 from a stroke.

--"critical" here means not just placing criticism, but being more careful and questioning about maps and GIS, about recognizing the constructed nature of maps, one's own positionality, the power of mapping in producing subjectivity (eg Columbus).

Geovisualization and Data Exploration: Tuesday