Alex Gekker: Digital maps as objects of playful-casual power (2012-2016)

Alex Gekker: Digital maps as objects of playful-casual power

PhD candidate and researcher in “Charting the Digital” European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC Grant  agreement n° 283464.
Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON)Media and Performance Studies
Promoters and Supervisors: Prof. Joost Raessens (Utrecht University), Dr. Sybille Lammes (University of Warwick) and Chris Perkins (University of Manchester).
September 2012-August 2016


My research looks into the interrelations of digital maps, power, technology and interfaces, asking how is power (or attempts of it) being exerted through mutable reconfiguration of geographical signs on screens and the databases behind them. I examine this through ethnographic case studies, Actor-Network Theory and software studies.

Challenging the notion of the map as an objective depiction or as a scientific image has led to a renewed understanding of historic maps and their contemporary counterparts, but it was still bound to the unchanging, unyielding immutable mobiles (Latour 1988) paper maps created to keep the territory stable while being moved about.

That changes with the introduction of the digital map, a mutable mobile (Lammes 2009), consisting of a complex composite of materials, software and practices. The digital map is present in our phones, our navigational equipment, our games and our apps. It mundanely changes our relation to our environment and has an aspect of co-creation between the map maker and user largely absent from previous mapping practices. The map becomes a habitual practice, and there exist an increasingly growing cultural capital of usage and interaction with such maps.

This poses a new set of question, and, coupled with trends in contemporary cartography, allows for a re-examination of digital maps’ roles in the politic and power relations. If we take mapping as a navigational rather than mimetic practice, agreeing that the map does not resemble the territory but serves as a series of referents which assists a user in reaching a certain goal (November, Camacho-Hübner, and Latour 2010) then from an Actor-Network Perspective (Latour 1987; 2005), the digital map can be understood as a translational actor that allows effective combination of people, locations, objects, practices and policies to create change.