Fundamental cartographic theory has been addressed by the ICA Commission on theoretical cartography over many years, recognising that from a methodological point of view, conceptual analysis in Cartography is very important. Various structural models of cartography (or its parts) have attempted to describe the process of mapping as a science, an academic discipline, a technology, or an inherent human impulse. Furthermore, the tasks of cartographic design can be deconstructed, and the map artefact itself (e.g. is it a model, a language, a communication channel, a decoration or an archive?) can be examined.
Since the mid-1990s, cartosemiotics has undergone development. It has general (theoretical) and applied (useroriented) subdivisions, the latter encountered in both cartographic and non-cartographic traditions. Outside of the cartographic tradition, cartosemiotics may be applied in biology, geography, ecology, geology, linguistics, etc. The map semiotic approach to Cartography allows us to examine map syntactics (which links the graphical representation with aesthetics and other parameters of design), map semantics with map sigmatics (indeed this can form the basis of many studies of cartographic ontology) and map pragmatics (which attempts to cover the entire area of human experiences with maps, from perception and cognition, through use for navigation, to employment in artistic, cultural and literary works). Such an investigation can improve the effectiveness of representations and data modelling.
There are various communication and visualization models as presentation forms in Cartography. Furthermore, cartographic representation entails conceptual modelling of the world and can thus itself be studied as a cognitive process. The new term ‘conception-analytical approach’ is a research area which has significant links to diverse conceptual models and spatial data handling in GI systems. More properly allied to spatial analysis, analytical cartography makes use of the spatial representations which cartography produces in order to examine patterns, trends and measures in the data. Analysis transforms geospatial data into knowledge. The nature of such map/cartographic/geospatial knowledge must be recognized, along with methods for describing and managing that knowledge. Cartographic theory may also assist in producing cartographic ontologies, which can be fundamental to the exploitation of cartographic databases and their applications. Terminology within cartographic fields themselves can be identified and developed: for example, glossaries of definitions and terms used in specialist areas.