Short Paper , , , ,

Towards a situated mapping: visualizing urban inequality between the god trick and strategic positivism

Taylor Shelton
Mississippi State University

This paper asks, and seeks to answer, the question: what makes mapping critical? I argue that most examples of ‘doing’ critical mapping tend to fall into one of two camps with very different manifestations, goals and assumptions. The first of these groups takes inspiration from Donna Haraway’s invocation of – and desire to counteract – what she calls the ‘god trick’ of ostensible technoscientific objectivity, reworking the map in order to challenge its privileged epistemological position. The second group seeks to leverage the ostensible objectivity of maps and quantitative data to prove the existence of social inequality in the spirit of what the geographer Elvin Wyly has called ‘strategic positivism’. The rest of the paper argues, however, that these two positions are not mutually exclusive, and that practitioners of critical mapping need not choose between the twin imperatives of stabilizing our understanding of the objectivity of cartographic knowledge and taking advantage of such a pervasive understanding in order to produce more just social and spatial outcomes. It is possible to simultaneously use maps to prove that inequality exists and that space matters, while also demonstrating that the ways we conventionally think about space through maps aren’t really sufficient to understand what’s actually going on in the world. Using examples from my own research on mapping the relational geographies of concentrated poverty and affluence in Lexington, Kentucky, I demonstrate one possible example of what such an approach to situated mapping might look like.