Popular Geopolitics through Maps

In large part, my research is concerning itself (at the moment anyway) with the ways in which we come to have “mental maps” of certain parts of the world, or indeed the world as a whole (particularly places we’ve never been and are hence reliant on mediation/representation) and how conceptualisations of these spaces and places as stable/unstable, violent/pacific, safe/dangerous, homogenous/heterogeneous come about, through the practices of what has come to be known as “popular geopolitics”.

I’m particularly interested in how these “interior maps” come to be through non-visual mediations (i.e radio and sound), and how this can be seen as a dynamic process involving both human and non-human, material and expressive elements of techno-cultural assemblage.

Things must often, though, start from their opposites, so I want to share here, some interesting examples of how these mental maps, both past and present, have gone from the realm of the expressive/imaginary (individual and collective) into the material/visual.

Rose’s map shows a febrile Europe in the latter part of the 19th Century, giving visual, zoomorphic form to widely held popular beliefs about the malevolence of Russia and the need for strong, militaristic nationalism across Western Europe in response. This is  a representation from the “mind” of Rose, to be sure, but intimately connected to the swirling, volatile “affective atmospheres” of the European continent during this period.  An excellent visual collation of satirical maps of the late 18th and early 19th Century can be found here

If you can get past the somewhat hyperbolic soundtrack, this “map” offers a high-speed geopolitical history of Europe which puts to bed any remaining notions of the link between and permanence of the territorial state and “national identity”

This sobering time-lapse effort of every nuclear detonation in history captures, at least in part, the possibilities of a critical-geopolitics of mapmaking; visualising the abstracted world of “nuclear defence” and bringing to mind a world, and an environment pock-marked with the effects of geopolitical posturing.

Finally (for now), Yanko Tsvetkov’s series of maps, based around perceived national stereotypes and prejudices have been doing the rounds on the web and are collected  here They vary from the insightful to the crass, and draw inspiration from the satirical “World According to Ronald Reagan”

Tsvetkov’s maps are more varied, satirising multiple perspectives from the same, ostensible “view”, some with more success than others (the “USA and the World of Dictatorships” for example), ranging from the subtle to the scatological.

Interesting though, from a researchers standpoint, to see these stereotype maps in relation to the “tabloid foreign policy” from which these popular imaginaries  from which they both draw inspiration and reflect back.

Ok, I’m mapped out for the day, going to indulge in some tea and text now…


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One response to “Popular Geopolitics through Maps

  1. fromthefourthcorner

    Interesting stuff. It made me think of a paper I did a couple of years ago on how the European colonial powers justified their expansion through political theory and theology. Our lecturer was always using maps (and other illustrations) drawn in colonial days as a repesentation of how peoples were represented in the European cultures. Most maps in the 16th, 17th and 18th century had elaborate illustrations around the edges which depicted stereoptyped portrayals of them. For instance look at the picture in the bottom middle of this map: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Nova_totius_Terrarum_Orbis_geographica_ac_hydrographica_tabula_%28Hendrik_Hondius%29_balanced.jpg which shows Asia, America, and Africa all paying tribute to Europe, who is seated on a throne. These sorts of portrayals were especailly significant at the time because many people were still illiterate so it gave them an image of the importance of Europe dominating the “savages”. I think its clear that such representation are carried out today just in a more sophisticated manner.

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