Mapping the World? Critical Cartography and GIS for Social and Environmental Justice


A region, country, state, city, or even neighborhood cannot easily be described by “factors” (rage, age, income, etc.) despite the efforts of sociologists, policy makers, and geographers to do so. Instead, the world exists as complex sets of social relations of power: relationships between people, places, the movement of capital, and the struggles against exploitation. Maps do not naturally lend themselves to explorations of these social relations; however, maps do provide insight into the conditions in which we live, work, and reproduce ourselves and one another. Maps also tell very convincing stories by appearing objective. They even produce new realities: borders, fears, and even nations. Maps can provide tools to support movements for liberation and can also reinforce dynamics of oppression and exploitation. Maps can influence perspective, policy, and grassroots activity in a variety of ways, both through the conscious efforts of the mapmaker(s) and through the implicit power relationships shown (or left out of) maps. Maps can reveal the inherent contradictions in capitalist society. Perhaps most importantly, maps provide inroads for asking questions about the world around us, up to and including: What is space? In this course, we will explore the power of, as well as the problems with, mapping for social and environmental justice. Through a variety of case studies, we will learn how to use ArcGIS specifically and how to apply this use to a number of topics. Maps are also pieces of art. They are representations of the world around us; as such, we will also examine social and political aesthetics. Students will be encouraged in their conference work to think about a spatial phenomenon related to social and environmental justice and to think beyond the technology of Geographic Information Science (GIS) to the role and responsibility of maps and spatial science. Students will be encouraged to explore the production of the world itself through the lens of a particular social struggle. Students taking any one of the three geography seminars offered in the fall semester are especially encouraged to continue their conference work in this course through the medium of GIS and creation of visual representations and analyses.