Thinking with the Reviews of New Lines

It has been just over a year since New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map (2017, Minnesota) has been available, and I have so appreciated the response. While I had shared many of the ideas in various essays and presentations while working on the book, and certainly with my friends and colleagues, I wrote New Lines to further a set of curiosities -- largely around what had shifted in the terrains of critique and technique. What was new? What was newly imminent? How might the various binding stories of our discipline and our digital culture begin and end differently?

And so: many thanks for your enthusiasm, your support, and your push-back! New Lines has been reviewed in Social and Cultural Geography (Giada Peterle), Cartographic Perspectives (Stephen Appel), the International Journal of Geographical Information Science (Jim Thatcher), Rhizomes (Dillon Mahmoudi), and in a book review forum organized by Chen-Chieh Feng, Shaun Lin, and James D. Sidaway in Transactions in GIS (with eight reviews by Harriet Hawkins, Brian Jordan Jefferson, Wen Lin, David O'Sullivan, Marianna Pavlovskaya, Taylor Shelton, Dan Sui, and Ming-Hsiang Tsou).

In what follows, I wanted to share from these thoughtful reviews. My interlocutors offer much for further discussion, research, and drawing/writing, and I want to highlight some of these below:
"The proposal is to resist the fast-map temptation by studying, not simply doing, and sometimes even by abstaining from the obsessive map-or-be-mapped affect. Thus, cartographic theory as a form of awareness is a philosophy of deceleration." (Peterle 2018)
I really appreciate Giada Peterle's take on the proposal I attempted to offer: that attending to cartographic rhythms might open a space in which to examine maps under pressure. The difficulty is how to attend to these rhythms in ways that appreciate and utilize the state-of-the-art in map use research. The stakes are incredibly high:
"... in the context of ever-changing digital media, attention work is a key aspect of a culture of action for building solidarity." (Appel 2018)
In the end (or the beginning?), I really did (and do!) intend to encourage the making/drawing/tracing of new maps. But the hope would be that such a deceleration might allow us to attend to all the diffractive potential of new lines. To attend, to care, to pay attention. Doing so does not necessarily mean a retreat into the cartography cube or the map communication model. Instead, I am more interested in what Arthur Robinson calls the 'essentially subjective' (see a presentation with Amber Bosse at ICC 2017) -- and to elevate the essentially subjective is to activate a form of map literacy that is resistive to behavioral models of cartographic design. Resistive and restless. Indeed, as Jim Thatcher (2018) puts it, "to live in the troubles between different epistemological and ontological commitments" requires not a rejection of previous models that have inspired so much pen to paper, but to work at them from the edges, to examine remainders as significant, co-constitutive elements in a broadened notion of How Maps Work.

The perspective I hoped to inspire in the writing of the book is one of productive tension, or as Dillon Mahmoudi (2018) states: "sometimes competing, sometimes complementary, and sometimes agnostic." As Taylor Shelton (2019) writes in his review, "The more things have changed in terms of new spatial technologies, the more things have stayed the same." The title of the book, New Lines, was meant to play with exactly these tensions of newness. I suggested, instead: "New lines, not novel ones, but imminent, coming, projecting." (8) It's easier to write and think about novelty. The imminence of drawing and tracing is perhaps a more difficult notion of newness -- a difficulty I certainly was not intending to resolve.

While my published response to the book review forum is available here, I would like to underline some of my favorite passages from the reviewers.

The question of memory persists. What of the post-70s developments in computation cartography and GIS will be archived? As Feng, Lin, and Sidaway conclude,
"Paper maps are vulnerable, but have also, given certain conditions, proven enduring and easily reproducible. We wonder how and in what forms the artifacts of GIS will variously fade, survive, or circulate?" (160)
Indeed, as Esri enters their 50th year (following the 50th anniversary of the LCGSA), what archives might be available to help understand the transition of this environmental consultancy into a software company? What might these materials and living figures tell us about the commodification of the processes of earth writing?

I am led to further think of these artifacts as the materials of aesthesis, following Harriet Hawkins:
"For while map art and some rather wonderful pieces of electronica cartographic art from a class project at Harvard in the 1960s do feature in the book, more important than these “aesthetic outputs” is I think the role for aesthetics, by way of the Bauhaus, around utility. This is aesthetics that is less about arty products than it is about that much older, earlier sense of aesthetics, as aesthesis, as the senses, as related to attention, to how we know and attend to the world." (162)
This is perhaps why I think the telling of stories around origins is productive, if always frustrating. Within them, we might witness decisions made about "how we know and attend" and see these decisions as moments in which another path might have been chosen.

These decisions are always saturated in wider social structures and struggles. There is much more work to be done, as Brian Jordan Jefferson points out:
"To be certain, the book acknowledges the influence of private profit and state power on the development of GIS pedagogy, but relations between the design and deployment of digital mapping and extant structures of capitalist, imperial, racist, and patriarchal power are never explored, which leaves the practitioner of radical politics wanting." (165)
I also read Wen Lin to ask a similar question,
"How might we document and trace these cracks produced from different directions and players, for example, to include not only cracks within the system but also resistance outside the system in question?" (167)
There are internal narratives that propel thinking of the implications of GIS forward. And there are forms of storytelling, forms of resistance, outside of the dominant discourses of GIS that need examined. This is why I suggest the 'Digitality' chapter of New Lines, not as the history of digital mapping, but an invitation for thinking through the presences and absences such storytelling promotes.

The connections between digital mapping and the military are also faint in New Lines. Dan Sui noticed, "All the components of geospatial technologies—such as GIS, GPS, and RS—and the development of the Internet can be traced back to an earlier, intimate connection to military operations." (174) However, I think there is a heavy-handedness to drawing these connections -- Neil Smith's (1992) "killing fields" or every student realization that GPS was a DoD technology -- that can seem to weaponize critique/inquiry with the perhaps unintended consequence of shutting down further conversation and attempts to do things differently (see Tsou's review). This is not to say that we shouldn't provoke important thinking about the imbrication of military spending and the discipline.  Along these lines, I agree with David O'Sullivan, that my story of origins is perhaps "also a comforting one, that places GIS and geographers beyond the scope of the Cold War military industrial complex and the contemporary security state" (169).

However, I was hoping to introduce more trouble into too-easy criticisms that would blanket technological tinkerings within the military-academic-industrial complex. I want to make room for other subjects and other ethics in working with geospatial technologies, that would also agree that doing or teaching GIS does not mean you are endorsing the use of these technologies as tools of violence, disenfranchisement, surveillance, or dispossession. Here, I continue to look to Marianna Pavlovskaya,
"Maps, too, can produce these imaginaries [of transformation] by visualizing both the workings and weaknesses of power, as well as the resistance and creative social practices that prefigure transformation." (171)
Ming-Hsiang Tsou found less hope, less productive tension, in the book, based on my read of his review. His view, that the book wields epistemology to beguile well-meaning GIScientists, was certainly not my intention. He writes,
"Epistemology is the weapon of critical GIS, to attack technological developments in GIS and cartography. However, it is not essential to many GIScientists, since knowledge in GIScience is built through commitments to scientific methods and falsifiability, not by radical aspirations. ... One of the biggest problems in New Lines is the demonization of scientific GIS and cartographic methods using radical aspects of social studies and technoculture theories." (175)
If I find much to disagree with in Tsou's assessment (and my response was posted, here), I am at least appreciative that his review points to ways in which the agenda of critical GIS (and critical geography!) is still necessary. Indeed, all these reviews help to provide energy to trace and draw, to continue to link-up understandings of the contexts of technological development to the practices of technological use, to connect the dots with new lines.

However, perhaps my favorite 'review' of the last year must be from a group of graduate student performers in a skit, wherein New Lines is thought to provide navigational advice, and yet: "No map." See page 53, Ian.
"No map."

Many thanks, everyone.


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