Doug Specht speaks on ‘Escaping the Cartographic Gaze’ at the Geospatial World Forum

4 April 2019
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This week Doug Specht presented his work on the Cartographic Gaze at the Geospatial World Forum, held this year in Amsterdam. Based on his recent work published in Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, as well as his writing with Dr Anna Feigenbaum for the book Mapping and Politics in the Digital Age, Doug’s talk sought to offer the audience a way out of the Cartographic Gaze.

In the talk Doug examined the relational dynamics between the mapper and the mapped, how this translates into the production of space, and how it reproduces hegemony. He explored the history of The Cartographic Gaze, which found dominance at the time of the printing revolution, which along with new instruments of measurement and newly ‘discovered’ lands, led to a prolific expansion of mapping activities in the 16th Century, and the production of increasingly detailed ‘birds-eye views’ of the world. These views from above, Doug argued, worked to serve as tools of possession, the explorer’s and cartographer’s elevated position and the commanding view provided by the maps mirrored the divine gaze of God, positioning the commissioner of the map in a seemingly omniscient position. This process was instrumental in the forming of the Other, and with that the subjugation of the Other.

Doug’s talk, part of a panel sponsored by UN-GGIM and Radiant Earth Foundation, then sought to challenge the way in which geographic information is being used in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He went on to suggest that while there is now much talk of new participatory modes of mapping, and about the importance of Geographic Information in achieving the SDGs, there is still a need to question the extent to which these new practices can break-away from the Cartographic Gaze to create new knowledges and representations of the world, finally suggesting that the Cartographic Gaze is unavoidable within mapping practices, and that the digital age has the potential to inadvertently strengthen, rather than weaken subjugation.

The slides from this presentation can be found on Doug’s personal website.




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Image: Doug Specht