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The Uncanny Valley of Maps: The Eerie and Uncomfortable Places of Map Analysis

Authors: Amber Bosse*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Cartography, Applied Geography
Keywords: cartography, visualization, map design, participatory mapping, public scholarship,
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While the current political climate in the US is prompting the sudden removal of federally funded datasets, the censorship of scientific reporting, and the addition of controversial citizenship questions to the census, the need for publicly-driven and inclusive modes of scholarship is more urgent than ever. Though geographers and GIScientists have a long history of engaging participatory, collaborative, and counter modes of map production, cartographers lack a generative framework by which to understand the specific mechanisms driving the success of these maps. Because participatory etc. modes of production often focus attention on the broader process, rather than the product, maps produced through such methods often fail to meet cartographic traditions and exist in what I call the “uncanny valley of maps.” In this paper, I will discuss the mechanisms that are grounding practitioners and theorists in narrow conceptualizations of cartographic efficacy and demonstrate the emancipatory avenues that open up when one embraces, rather than ignores or shames, the maps in the uncanny valley. Through engagements with activist art, feminist data visualization, and Indigenous cartography, I challenge the disciplinary notion of “just because everyone can make maps, doesn’t mean they should” and demonstrate how inclusive map-production practices strengthen multiple facets of cartography.

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