‘Anthropography’: Identity and the Material Mapping of Movement

Patrick Laviolette, UCL/Massey University
Source: Patrick Laviolette
Thirty years ago Malcom Crick (I976) provided an explicit conceptualisation for map usages. His definition for what constitutes a map was that it is “something that is itself a representative device [and] can be employed as a means of representation” (I976: I29). He divided mapping metaphors into two categories: i) those that fit into ‘mirror theory’ where they are iconic reflections of spatial reality; and ii) those that are a part of a ‘semantic field theory’ where they generate a figurative spatial language. Though this simple dichotomy is limiting and perhaps even questionable, Crick was nonetheless able to make the astute claim that the social scientist’s task was to devise methods for reading maps that chart out the worldviews and lifeworlds of different social groups.
Source: Google Earth
Maps are quintessential tools and symbols for geographers and others interested in tourism studies. They form an important component in the results of their research. But the broader cultural use, interpretation and understanding of cartographic images has not been of particular interest outside these fields. Despite a rapidly developing interest in images and visual culture, anthropologists per se have largely overlooked the medium of mapping, at least as far as traditional topographic maps go. The closest parallels that ethnographers have come up with have been in relation to deciphering the ritualistic, navigational/wayfinding, mnemonic and artistic mappings of landscapes or ‘national’ political territories. Such themes are comprehensively developed in the work of Barbara Bender (I992); Alfred Gell (I985) Tim Ingold (2ooo); Susanne Küchler (I996); Maryon McDonald (I989); Howard Morphy (I99I); and Angèle Smith (2003). For instance, Alfred Gell (I985) draws on ethnographic material on the navigational skills of Melanesian seafarers. His work on how to read spatial navigation illustrates the ways in which mapping in Melanesia is often indexical and egocentric. The person references him or herself in relation to known markers. The purpose of mapping in this context is to produce images, the navigational utility of which emanates from their relationship with an imaged spatial grid or cartographic co-ordinates. But what about the non-navigational and metaphorical purposes of these images and artefacts?

With reference to the relationship that exists between maps and identity, recent anthropological research (ASA panel 2007) is beginning to explore the dialectics between the narrative construction of topographical discourse and the embodiment of spatial practice. This ethnographic work – with an emphasis on an approach grounded in material culture studies – suggests that cartographic portraits condition, and are conditioned by, experiential journeys as well as social images which both project and reflect cultural identities. Such spatial projections embed notions of home, belonging and visitation into the fabric of individual and collective perceptions. In highlighting some of the more affective, haptic and kinetic ways of gauging the interactions that people have with the visual imagery and iconography of maps, it posits that maps themselves are powerful social agents, operating as material metaphors in the formulation of social difference. Moreover, by investigating the embodied construction of belonging that takes place through map outlines, this work is interested in evaluating how residents and visitors frame their discursive, visual and sensorial experiences of place. This occurs through a diversity of mapping practices which in cultural terms can perhaps be usefully defined as ‘anthropographic.’
So an obvious point of departure is to ask, beyond the obvious definition ‘the anthropology of maps’, what else would be involved in formulating the realm of anthropography?
Further Reading:

  • ASA panel (2007)
  • Barbara Bender (1992) Theorizing landscapes, and the prehistoric landscapes of Stonehenge.
    Man (N.S.) 27: 735-755.
  • Malcolm Crick (1976) Explorations in Language and Meaning: Towards a Semantic Anthropology.
    London: Malaby Press.
  • Alfred Gell (1985) How to read a map: remarks on the practical logic of navigation. Man (N.S.)
    20 (2): 271-286.
  • Tim Ingold (2000) To journey along a way of life: maps, wayfinding and navigation. In The
    Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.
  • Susanne Küchler (1993) Landscape as memory: the mapping of process and its representation
    in a Melanesian society. In Bender, B. (ed). Landscape – Politics and Perspectives: Oxford: Berg.
  • Maryon McDonald (1989) We Are Not French!: Language, Culture and Identity in Brittany. London:
  • Howard Morphy (1991) Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal System of Knowledge. Chicago Univ. Press.
  • Angele Smith (2003) Landscape representation: place and identity in nineteenth-century Ordinance Survey maps of Ireland. In Strathern, A. & P. Stewart (eds) Landscape, Memory and History:
    Anthropological Perspectives. London: Pluto Press.