Social Cartography

Leonardo da Vinci, Town plan of Imola (first ever use of planar view instead of perspective), image available here

Social Maps Definition/History: maps whose purpose is to represent specific aspects of society at a given time and place, (usually statistical data put on a map)/ they emphasize the power of space in shaping society over time/ in its earliest incarnation, the social map was concerned with epidemic disease, particularly cholera/ later in the nineteenth century the perceived problem of mass migration to the growing cities led to the application of segregation as a political device to separate disparate populations/ the use of mapping as a tool of social investigation reached its peak with the emergence of a science of social investigation in the 1880s/ maps shifted from having a symbolic power to having a descriptive (arguably scientific) power/ they used dots and circles or cloropleth maps of different shades/ these helped hypothesize on the actual causes of diseases or crime and poverty/ London was forefront to cartographic innovation due to mass urbanization and the need to manage a diverse, densely crowded population

Maps are social constructions, whose integrity as scientific objects is limited to how precise they are when taking account of their scale and similar measurable parameters. As soon as decisions start to be made on selection of data and the way in which those data are to be presented on maps, the social and political context in which they were created will start to influence how they are read. Once this fact is recognized, one can get beyond the traditional criticism of maps and start to consider what they are in reality: objects laden with meaning, which reflect the context of their creation. Yet maps continue to be incredibly useful for capturing data as well as for providing a starting point for analyzing those data statistically.

Inherent weaknesses: stat errors/ positioning can affect how the world is viewed/ they are influenced by the social and political context they are created in/ their study in rapidly changing populations impose a false appearance of stability/ as records it is essential to take into account the historical time they were created in/ iconographic: color can carry powerful moral connotations, it can also be used for propaganda/ by drawing boundaries around people other from themselves, European powers defined the separation of the center from the periphery/ the complex use of space belies the normal approach to interpreting segregated social space, which tends to focus on the residential location of a minority group, overlooking their opportunities for movement across the city, throughout the day and the week/ not all spatial arrangements are a direct reflection of the societies: more complex societies are normally comprised of a structured non-correspondence

Notes and excerpt from Laura Vaughan’s: “Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography,” UCL Press, 2018

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