The Nijmegen Centre for Border Research (NCBR) is fascinated by the duality that makes borders the arenas of suffering, death, and oppression but also the theaters of desire, adventure, and freedom. Persuaded that maps create borders in minds before they create them in space, this blog aims at exploring alternative ways of representing those borders. Our intention is to inspire the development of new cartographies that assume the political responsibility of the discourses they promote. We have crafted the following manifesto on the conviction that any enterprise to liberate mapmaking would be greatly helped by a compass of guidelines. Its directions ought to be precise enough to provide a sense of orientation, yet loose enough to allow creativity to embark on bold journeys:
- Cartography is a political tool. Historically, the creation of territory and the political identities and affiliations it inspires have followed, not preceded, the representation of those territories, identities and affiliations in cartography. For this reason maps have always been a powerful tool of statecraft.
- There is no such thing as an objective map. Maps are always political statements or narratives. Cartography infiltrates meaning into space and in doing so invents geopolitical truths that legitimize political action and trigger political reaction.
- A map is inherently subject to morality. This morality depends on the intentions of the mapmaker and the interpretation of the beholder.
- Maps give meaning to the world. Maps engage in a process of meaning-making. The mapmaker inscribes meaning into geographical phenomena through representations of territory. Simultaneously, the map reader derives and adds meaning through an interpretation that is guided by a cultural background greatly influenced by the nation state and the symbolism it promotes.
- Maps create imaginary worlds. The worlds created by maps shape geographical imaginations, that is, the perception (or misperception) that one knows or is acquainted with geographies he has never visited or confronted yet feels equipped to understand.
- Maps are still the oligopoly of privileged political groups. They have an interest in educating, already from childhood onwards, a state-centric view on the world as the dominant imagined world. Other imagined worlds are still seen as merely ‘art’ or ‘creative’, but not politically important. We argue that all maps are a form of art, in the sense of a fabricated meaning-making, including political maps.
- Maps, as representations of reality, have an impact in political reality. Maps affect political reality by providing a spatial model for ideological or identitary divisions. At their worst, maps incite violence or legitimize it. Particularly politico-territorial projects (eg, empires, the nation state or separatist movements) over the last centuries, have relied on maps to create geographical imaginations that promote epistemic violence.
- Cartography warrants liberation. Cartographical contestation is of great political import to map the worlds of people who lack access to favourable means of mass dissemination. By opening up the representation of space to the democratic debate we may allow people to chart their worlds and imaginations on the map.
- We propose the term ‘Cartopolitics’ (see Van Houtum – Remapping Borders (2010); and Van Houtum: Van Atlas naar Hermes (2013). This concept refers to the political inscriptions and implications of mapmaking. For this new academic terrain we draw our inspiration from internationally established fields of critical geopolitics, critical border studies and critical and radical cartography.
- We advocate an artistic cartographic countermovement to emancipate the map (see the TedXTalk of Van Houtum: Free the Map). By researching the communicational process that allows cartopolitics to influence the geopolitical discourse we intend to understand and invoke those same mechanisms in a radical countermovement. This cartographical contestation needs to draw on the uniquely evocative power of art to reach a diffusion that allows its political statements to dialogue with traditional maps on an equal power basis.
Henk van Houtum, Rodrigo Bueno Lacy, Kevin Raaphorst, 20th of November 2014