C.R. Perkins

University of Manchester, Geography SED, UK


Research into map use has so far largely focused on cognitive approaches and underplayed the significance of wider contextual concerns associated with the cultures in which mapping operates as a discourse. Meanwhile cartography is being democratized and people are creating and employing their own maps instead of relying upon cartographers to create maps for them. Critical cartography has begun to offer new ways of understanding this cultural and social change, but research into map use has so far not really engaged with this critical turn.


This paper argues that a broader conceptualization of map use, informed by critical cartography is becoming more and more appropriate. It stresses the need to rethink map use as a set of everyday activities practiced in very diverse real world contexts. Such an approach views map use is a social activity, best interpreted using methodologies from the social sciences. As well as carrying out experiments that seek universal best practice, we need to employ more qualitative approaches to reveal local complexity. These methodologies are likely to employ a mixture of ethnographic and textual methods, and to be informed by some of the concerns of Actor-Network Theory. Map use becomes a process not an end. Research becomes much more open-ended. And our concerns as researchers are much more contingent on the contexts in which we carry out our research.


Using case studies of community mapping, the mapping of golf courses, mapping art, and of map collecting this paper shows how different insights into the nature of map use can flow from rethinking mapping in this way. The same map may be employed in very different ways in different contexts. It is concluded that networks of practice of map use depend upon relations between many different artefacts, technologies, institutions, environments, abilities, affects, and individuals. The cultures of map use ought to be a central concern for cartographic research!