Sunday, April 19, 2015

PARISH 13: Hollow Lane (via Callow Hill) -- Whitehall Farm -- Egham

A hollow way
on the way
back to Egham
the path worn down
into sandy loam
root branch and potsherd
a brand in its way
barely sticking out
curving and the end
shallow land track
Southwest Trains
whistling past toward
Virginia Water

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Five Great Spatial (Projective) Poetry Books

Re-reading parts of Derek Gregory's Geographical Imaginations this weekend for inspiration, I was struck by how much he talks about mapping and metaphor.

For some reason all of this made me start thinking about poetry.  Perhaps it was McGill-Queen's University Press's recent announcement reminding me that, in Canada, April is poetry month.  My personal library features several titles from MQUP's poetry list.  Carmine Starnino, I saw read in Montreal at Drawn and Quarterly.  Susan Hancock's Cast From Bells is wonderful (though I managed to leave my copy in a basement in Montreal, not exactly easily reachable from the garden in Surrey in which I'm writing).  

Here are five books of poetry that have a great sense of space.  Gregory is right to point out that mapping is an overused word and that calling it a metaphor often leaves things in a muddle, less clear (and thus less useful) than they were before.   These books, on the other hand, clarify, project, and interpellate in spatial ways that are both beautiful and practical.  They map in the best sense of the word, and in this sense they are the best books for starting to think about (metaphors for) mapping.

1. C.S. Giscombe, Giscome Road  (Dalkey Archive).  This book of projective verse conjures sense of place, names, and Miles Davis and it includes maps, cut up in ways that mimic lines of (projective) verse.  I caught a glimpse of Giscome outside London Drugs in Prince George British Columbia after reading his wonderful Into and Out of Dislocation (North Point Press).  Both books embody postcolonial hybrid sensibilities as they explore aspects of an ancestor Giscome, immigrant to Canada from Jamaica and one of the first black arctic explorers.

2. Atsuro Riley, Romey's Order (University of Chicago Press).  Riley's poetry is stunning, spatial, familial, and unforgettable.  When I read Riley I think this is how I want to write.  The poetic equivalent of Cormac McCarthy (without so much violence), you get to read a novel's worth of gnarled poetic imagery in just a few condensed pages after which you feel like you've been running around like you did when you were a kid, coming back in, exhausted, exhilarated, and infused with potential energy.  

3. A.R. Ammons, Garbage (Norton).  This long poem is a ticker-tape of stunning observation, detail, and churning poetic (and spatial) capability.  I would go as far as to call it a critical analysis of technology, society, and space.  His other work worth noting (because I've read it), is Tape for the Turn of the Year, written on a long stretch of adding machine tape.  This one out-does Kerouac by a mile for sheer interest.  And for stream-of-consciousness writing (a description which only partly does justice to this masterpiece) that is saying something.

4. As the above choices show, I love American Poetry.  It is my favourite kind, a love inculcated by my long running subscription to the Chicago-based Poetry.  Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems (Pan MacMillan) doesn't exactly break the mould (he was born in Brooklyn) but was known as a London-based poet.  The poems exhibit wonderful senses of space, or at least it seemed to me that way when I read them in my tent at Estes Park in Colorado, a cave of escape from an impending PhD defence that, at the time, was looming.

5. Derek Walcott, White Egrets (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux).  This is a fantastic book of poetry from the Nobel Prize-winner whose utterances are utterly captivating.  A telling of old age as something specifically so new and liberating it takes the breath away, this is essential reading.  How to layer thoughts into compelling, deep, manifestations of thought-enacted, this manual for mapping is essential reading.

Happy (Easter) reading!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Geospatial and Visual Methods Lab and ICT4D seek IT/tech expert

This posting is for UK eligible workers

Work or study with us

Are you or is someone you know a tech expert who could manage our IT and Geospatial & Visual Methods lab?

Royal Holloway, University of London (home of the ICT4D Centre) is hiring a dynamic tech expert to manage our IT and our new and exciting Geospatial & Visual Methods Lab. This is to support research and teaching (undergraduate, Masters (including our ICT4D Masters) and PhD). The role is full-time, permanent and has regular hours while at the same time offering huge potential to get involved in our ICT4D work, as well as with lots of fascinating digital geography projects in the Geography department. The department is known as a very collegial workplace and the ICT4D Centre team hopes tech experts with an interest in ICT4D will apply and also become part of our team. 


We support and celebrate diversity and welcome applications from all parts of the community. If you would like to discuss the role informally, you can also get in touch with  


Link to the job ad (deadline April 7)

Scholarships now available

International Excellence Scholarships are now available for our popular 1-year Masters in Practising Sustainable Development (ICT4D specialism)

More information is also available on a variety of scholarships, including region-specific ones for Latin America, the Middle East and the US is available here (earliest deadline 13 April):
The Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London (linked to the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) brings together 10 academics and 13 doctoral researchers plus Masters students. Colleagues come from the departments of Geography and Computer Science, the School of Management, and the Information Security Group and we see our diverse approaches as a core strength. One of the leading centres for ICT4D research worldwide, it was also ranked 7th among global Think Tanks in Science and Technology (Uni of Pennsylvania/Wharton School, 2015). We cultivate partnerships across the world (e.g. recently UNICEF, UNCTAD, Observatorio de Favelas in Rio, CDI, Akatu, DFID, Deutsche Welle, Streetinvest etc) while benefiting from London as a culturally diverse city and Tech-Hub with a community of over 400 ICT4D practitioners and researchers. We are fully committed to producing research of the highest quality for, and in collaboration with, marginalized people in the global South and North.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Top Ten Counter-Mapping Papers of All Time

These are the top academic references on counter-mapping.  There is a gap between 1996 and 2002; while several of the best papers came after 2005, when counter-mapping as a subject of academic inquiry really took off.  Two of those appeared in Current Anthropology.

In the late-1990s gap, one could fit all kinds of material, including Sterritt et al (1998) Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed; writings by Nietschmann and Poole in Cultural Survival Quarterly, and others.  For this list we stick to the academic paper as the relevant unit.  Many of these are mentioned in part two of Denis Wood's Rethinking the Power of Maps

What all of this points to is, really, that counter-mapping is something that is done, by local and/or indigenous peoples.  The outcome is often an atlas of some kind.  Innumerable atlases have been produced focusing, for example, upon the English countryside (parish mapping); Mayan lands; Inuit traditional hunting territories; Sto:lo First Nations; and Nisga'a lands (Sterritt et al, 1998).

Canada has a disproportionate number of counter-mappers producing atlases because of the sheer number of First Nations groups within Canada.

Brody Hugh  1981  Maps and Dreams  Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre is perhaps the all-time best counter-mapping text, but it is a book, and we are focusing here on academic papers.  The title of my book Maps and Memes is a play on Brody's title.


1. Peluso Nancy  1995  Whose Woods Are These? Counter-Mapping Forest Territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia  Antipode  27 (4) 383-406

I always start with Peluso because the Antipode paper is short.  But as noted above Maps and Dreams is really ground zero.

2. Crouch David and Matless David  1996  Refiguring Geography: Parish Maps of Common Ground  Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers  21 (1) 236-255

Denis Wood goes on at length about the Parish mapping project in Rethinking the Power of Maps.  The best academic paper on the subject is, however, Crouch and Matless in TIBG.

3. Hodgson Dorothy and Schroeder Richard  2002  Dilemmas of Counter-Mapping Community Resources in Tanzania  Development and Change  33 (1) 79-100

An early example of authors brave enough to actually use the word counter-mapping in the title of an academic paper.

4. Smith Derek  2003  Participatory Mapping of Community Lands and Hunting Yields Among the Bugle of Western Panama  Human Organization 62 (4) 332-343

Smith's article shows how participation often equates with counter-mapping.  The participatory aspect of mapping is not a requirement for counter-mapping.  It can be a very expert-driven thing.  Smith was a member of the panel of examiners at the defence of my master's degree at Carleton University in 2005 (along with Simon Dalby, Sebastien Caquard, and Iain Wallace).  He was my second supervisor/advisor as well.

5. Aporta Claudio and Higgs Eric  2005  Satellite Culture: Global Positioning Systems, Inuit Wayfinding and the Need for a New Account of Technology  Current Anthropology  46 (5) 729-753

Aporta and Higgs rely heavily upon Borgmann's Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (Chicago) and, as such, this paper is very critical of new technologies.  GPS upsets rhythms of life for Inuit hunters, forcing straight-line thinking into the traditional wayfinding paradigm.

6. Harris Leila and Hazen Helen  2005  The Power of Maps: Counter-Mapping for Conservation  ACME: An International e-Journal for Critical Geographies  4 (1) 99-130

Over the years ACME has produced some excellent special issues, including one on critical cartographies, in which this paper appeared.  It focuses specifically on conservation.  I found it useful during my time as a GIS technician at the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority to have this reference to hand.

7. Turnbull David  2007  Maps, Narratives, and Trails: Performativity, Hodology, and Distributed Knowedges in Complex Adaptive Systems  Geographical Research  45 (2) 140-149

This paper pushes the boundary of counter-mapping into the cognitive.  It is chosen as an example of alternative or creative counter-mapping.  Maps as art might equally fit this bill.

8. Wainwright Joel and Bryan Joe  2009  Cartography, Territory, Property: Postcolonial Reflections on Indigenous Counter-Mapping in Nicaragua and Belize  Cultural Geographies  16 (2) 153-178

Wainwright makes a very clear statement of his position on counter-mapping in his Decolonizing Development.

9. Sletto Bjorn  2009  'We Drew What We Imagined': Participatory Mapping, Performance and the Arts of Landscape Making  Current Anthropology  50 (4) 443-476

Bjorn was external examiner at my PhD defence (in the UK, 'viva').  His work has been an inspiration and new papers have appeared in places like Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, though his Current Anthropology piece remains his best.

10. Willow Anna  2013  Doing Sovereignty in Native North America: Anishinaabe Counter-Mapping and the Struggle for Land-Based Self-Determination  Human Ecology  41  871-884

This paper was brought to my attention by Thomas Thornton.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Top Ten Critical Indigenous Studies Texts

The ten best books on indigenous methodologies, with a bias towards mapping.  I won't say that it is the all-time best list, but that it is 'a' current selection from 'the' best of what's out there.

What counts as a 'critical' indigenous text?  In my opinion, the text must be critical across the board, reassessing writing from indigenous and non-indigenous scholars alike.  It must be methodological, and theoretically challenging, pushing thinking in new directions.  It cannot accept status-quo formulations.  It should express world-historic content in some sense, without being overtly/overly pan-indigenist or universalist.

The following list is very much focused on Canada and North America, and it is largely culled from my new book, Maps and Memes 2015, McGill-Queen's University Press:

1. Smith Linda-Tuhiwai  1999  Decolonizing Methodologies  London: Zed

This book inspired the title of my master's thesis (Decolonizing Geographic Information Systems, with Simon Dalby supervising).  It was re-issued a couple of years ago, and remains a corner-stone in indigenous methodologies, with implications for indigenous studies, qualitative research, mapping-as-power, and much more.  The approach uses Foucault and Lefebvre to theorize indigenous approaches to research, with specific focus on the Maori.

2. Harris Cole  2002  Making Native Space  Vancouver: UBC Press

This magnificent tome by the legendary Canadian scholar looks at how indigenous spaces in British Columbia are shaped by surveying and mapping practices.  Derek Gregory's The Colonial Present covers similar epistemological issues for Israel/Palestine.  Both texts are very critical of colonial mapping practices that are both ongoing (think drones) and far from neutral or benevolent.

3. Archibald Jo-Ann  2008  Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit  Vancouver: UBC Press

This scholarly work makes use of stories to illustrate methods for producing sensitive research by, with, and for indigenous and First Nations peoples.

4. Kovach Margaret  2009  Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts  Toronto: University of Toronto Press

This innovative work positions itself by weaving together stories of indigenous research.  It also has a wonderful sense of the author's own position in the research process, giving the book a sense of deep integrity

5. Niezen Ronald  2009  The Rediscovered Self: Indigenous Identity and Cultural Justice  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press

Ron Niezen was at the 2011 Annual Association and Anthropologists meeting in Montreal.  I attended his talk "Routes of Exposure: Public Mediation of Indigenous Rights Claims" and asked a question afterwards.  He pointed me to his chapter on indigenous suicide and epidemiology in Healing Traditions (Kirmayer and Valaskakis, 2009, UBC Press).  This got me started in the direction that would result in the final shape of my book Maps and Memes.  All of this occurred after Niezen had attended my PhD defense at McGill University, with Bjorn Sletto, George Wenzel, and Andre Costopoulos in attendance.  The Rediscovered Self covers a range of Niezen's important thought.

6. Hall Anthony  2011  Earth Into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press

This massive tome is a comprehensive look at colonizing/decolonizing practices in North America.  It is a post-Columbian treasure trove of great writing and insight, and it informed my approach in Maps and Memes.

7. Escobar Arturo  2008  Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes  Durham: Duke University Press

If you have ever wondered how the work of deLanda, deLeuze, and Ingold are really relevant to indigenous peoples, this is the book for you.

8. Johnson Leslie  2010  Trail of Story, Traveller's Path  Edmonton: Athabasca University Press

Leslie Johnson explicitly include GIS in her ethnoecological approach to indigenous knowledge.  What is so refreshing about this book is that it brings home the idea that GIS is not epistemologically opposed to indigenous knowledge.  Core structures and 'primitives' cross-over and pollinate each other in a complex and very sophisticated interplay of ideas and connotations about the place of mapping, practices, and knowledge systems in landscapes and their formation.

9. Lewis Malcolm (ed)  1998  Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Map Use  Chicago: University of Chicago Press

This is the only dedicated cartographic text listed here.  It covers indigenous mapping from an historical/North American perspective and is absolutely essential as both an indigenous-oriented and cartographic text.

10.  Mark David  Turk Andrew  Burenhult Niclas and Stea David  (eds)  2011  Landscape in Language: Transdisciplinary Perspectives  Amsterdam: John Benjamins

The first word that springs to mind here is 'ontologies' for some reason, but that could just be my own background working at McGill with people like Renee Sieber and Christopher Wellen.

I first met David Mark along with Claudio Aporta and others in Renee Sieber's apartment in Montreal.  Mark has a wise and humorous presence, in the most respectful of senses.  He is an intriguing speaker and thinker, and his work resonates with that of Stephen Levinson, and others.  It is very much on the linguistic side of mapping, but not at all inaccessible.

Top Ten Critical GIS Papers of All Time

See the previous post on the top ten critical GIS books of all time, and you will notice some overlap. The first list did not include Rundstrom, Chrisman, Sparke, Kwan, Haklay, Leszczynski, or Kitchin.  These are the papers that changed the playing fields of critical GIS and geography.  4 of them appeared in Annals AAG.

Critical GIS took off a few years after the Wood/Harley revolution in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.  There was a half-decade of contentious debate (or all-out battle) between 'positivist' GIS-types, and human geographers that was never really resolved.  However, the work of feminist GIS academics went a long way towards bridging the gap, as reflected in the list below starting around 2002.

1. Rundstrom Robert  1995  GIS, Indigenous Peoples and Epistemological Diversity  Cartography and Geographic Information Systems  22 (1) 45-57

Along with Ground Truth, this publication changed my life.  In my naive (at the time) way, I couldn't believe that anyone had thought the same thought as me.  As a budding GIS technician and future geography post-grad I didn't trust my own thoughts enough to verbalize them or write them down.  Rundstrom gave me the confidence to do so, and I started quoting this paper extensively in 2001 through to my master's degree at Carleton University in 2005.  It is still the key text in critical and indigenous GIS.  The author is a professor at the University of Oklahoma (Norman).

2. Wright Dawn  Goodchild Michael and Proctor James  1997  Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS as 'Tool' vs. 'Science'  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  87 (2)  346-62

I love the idea of ambiguity in GIS. At a time when GIS wars were all about binary oppositions and divides between the critical-human and the positivist-GIS views, a dose of ambiguity and/or blurring was necessary.  This paper is still very useful in a pedagogical sense.  I introduce it into my critical GIS and the geoweb class and ask students to tell my why they think GIS is a tool or a science.  Reasons given for why they think so are often fascinating, and go to the heart of philosophies of computing, technology, and society (which might start me waxing poetic about Turing and artificial intelligence or some such thing).  It is a great discussion-starter.

3. Brealey Ken  1995  Mapping Them Out: Euro-Canadian Cartography and the Appropriation of the Nuxalt and Ts'ilqot'in First Nations' Territories  The Canadian Geographer  39 (2) 140-56

Brealey was overshadowed by Cole Harris, but this paper and another by Brealey (published in BC Studies about Peter O'Reilly) are excellent.  It's a shame he hasn't published more.  Mapping Them Out was heavily influenced by Harley, but it made the application to BC First Nations explicit and was, therefore, essential to me in my early days as critical GIS practitioner.

4. Sparke Matthew  1998  A Map That Roared and an Original Atlas: Canada, Cartography, and the Narration of Nation  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  88 (3)  463-95

This paper made much of Edward Said's concept of contrapuntal cartographies (from Culture and Imperialism) and, thus, served as my introduction to post-colonial theory (and Said in particular).  It also had the somewhat unfortunate effect of getting me 'into' Homi Bhabha a bit which, upon later reflection, never really proved to be that productive.  A Map That Roared is an absolutely essential paper.  Sparke's book In The Space of Theory is one of my all-time favourite books of geographical theory.

5. Kwan Mei-Po  2002  Feminist Visualization: Re-envisioning GIS as a Method in Feminist Geographic Research  Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92 (4) 645-61

Around the time Schuurman published her thesis in Cartographica critical GIS took a turn for the better.  That turn took us directly into feminist territory.  Kwan led the way in the sense that she produced theoretically sophisticated, but very tool-grounded, geospatial visualisations of women's lives.

6. Schuurman Nadine  2006 Formalization Matters: Critical GIS and Ontology Research  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  96 (4) 726-739

The leader in critical GIS in all current forms, Schuurman's ontology paper was published at a time when 'ontologies' (in the engineering sense) was beginning to take off.  She clarifies the ontology/ontologies distinction (one is concerned with philosophy of existence; the other with object-worlds).  She also makes a very cogent point about the ontological status of map legends.

7. Chrisman Nicholas and Harvey Francis  2005  Full Circle: More Than Just Social Implications of GIS  Cartographica  40 (4)  23-35

I first met Nick Chrisman at a Spatial Knowledge and Information (SKI) conference in Fernie BC (this was also, as it happens, where I first met Nadine Schuurman).  My paper on Unearthing Google received its first question from Nick.  He advised me (as, he told me, he had advised his student Francis Harvey) to 'forget about the cyborg.'  I couldn't do this.  What I didn't realize at the time was that Chrisman had been part of an original group responsible for what came to be ESRI's ArcGIS.  See his book Charting the Unknown, which tells the story of how computer graphics at Harvard became (rightfully) the industry-leader for GIS.  It is interesting to read in light of current developments: mapping in the cloud and QGIS.

8. Kitchin Rob and Dodge Martin 2007  Rethinking Maps  Progress in Human Geography  31 (3) 331-44

I first met Rob Kitchin at last year's RGS meeting at Imperial College London.  He is a very friendly person and a convincing speaker.  I had critically reviewed his (also with Dodge) Code/Space in Cartographica a couple of years before, which made me feel a bit self-conscious.  However, it was very useful and timely to hear about his new book The Data Revolution, and especially new thinking around data/code assemblages.  A sophisticated thinker, and leader in the field. Rethinking Maps takes a processual view of cartography that is post-representational, ontological, and in-tune with new developments in online mapping.

9. Leszczynski Agnieszka  2012  Situating the Geoweb in Political Economy  Progress in Human Geography  36 (1) 72-89

This is one of the first deeply critical papers to directly address political aspects of the geoweb (as defined by Scharl and Tochtermann in their groundbreaking The Geospatial Web).  But while that text was ever so slightly triumphalist in tone, and a bit uncritical; Agnieszka's paper pulled no punches.  It is the definitive statement on how un-neutral the geoweb is; the question of neutrality in mapping, GIS, technology, and the geoweb is both ambiguous and persistent and will not go away.  Therefore we need papers like this, and this one serves as a model of how to publish critical geographical thoughts.

10. Haklay Mordechai  2013  Neogeography and the Delusion of Democratisation  Environment and Planning A  45 (1) 55-69

I first met Muki at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Las Vegas (pre-2010).  He has since flourished at UCL and is a leader in geographical information science (he is in an engineering department). This paper is required reading for my Practising Sustainable Development and ICT4D students at Royal Holloway.  It gets them thinking about how all these wonderful mapping platforms produce social implications and power structures among those whom they propose to help.