Indexical Cartography - the trace as a map

Authors: Dietmar Offenhuber*,
Topics: Cartography, Geographic Theory, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: indexicality, citizen science, critical cartography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper investigates mapping practices at the boundary of physical traces and symbolic representations. Examples of such practices include citizen scientists investigating water contamination and creating maps that include a collage of geo-referenced indicator strips as physical evidence, or conflict mappers investigating military conflicts through cellphone footage and satellite images and creating maps that emphasize the raw footage over a generic cartographic symbology.

Based on these and other case studies, I develop the concept of indexical cartography based on the Peircean notion of genuine indexicality. This notion differs from the “map as trace” concept of indexicality as traditionally discussed and critiqued in cartographic theory — the index as a mere reference based on the uncritical assumption that the map is a truthful representation of the world. In contrast, genuine indexicality requires an existential relationship of a trace to the imprinting object.

Using case studies outlined above, I argue that the “trace as map” model of genuine indexicality follows a different logic compared to traditional cartographic communication. Indexical cartography is often found in the practices of amateurs and independent researchers, who lack the authority of institutional affiliations and therefore have to go to greater lengths to justify the veracity of their data. Instead of legibility and visual consistency, indexical cartography is concerned with presenting evidence. Instead of offering an interpretation of data, its goal is making the generation of data legible.

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