Data Born-Mapped: Spatial epistemology and the making of new narratives

Nicholas Bauch  |  Abstract for paper presentation at AAG conference  |  April 2017  |  Boston, Mass.

Maps come next.  What do they come after?  They come after data collection and observation, neither of which is cartographic by nature.  To utter “map it” means to extract information from its context and put it into a new visual form, the info-spatial complex that we know as cartography.  The map is a translator’s device to “make a phenomenon spatial.”  Insights are gleaned, then the data go back to their home in the cell of a spreadsheet.  The foray into “graphesis,” as Johanna Drucker puts it, is complete.  Cartography is—even for spatially-minded practitioners—an awkward bending of data’s form that snaps back to the columbarium where it lives eternally, as soon as we can be sure no secrets were hiding in the geo-referenced graphic.
In this paper I present an alternative to this model of the map in present-day geographical practice.  What happens when maps do not come next, but instead come first?  How can maps precede not-yet-realized data sets?  I make the case for an emphasis within Geo-humanities on leading with graphic forms, which can change the underlying structure of narrative.  I move towards a practice of making already established visual relationships among the pieces constitutive of a space.  This is spatial epistemology.  Georg Lukacs writes about the “inevitable” encounter among people, objects, and environments in descriptive fiction.  There is only inevitability in a map that leads.