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All mapped out / Losing our way with mapping

5 years ago, Written by , Posted in Academia, Articles

Glen Smith | PhD Candidate, University of Tromsø, Norway on his article “Losing our way with mapping: Thinking critically about marine spatial planning in Scotland” published in Ocean & Coastal Management

All mapped out.

Restriction to marine and coastal space is not always blatant. It can be enforced through means that are generally regarded as normal and accepted practices.

Consider a map. It’s familiar. You have almost certainly used maps on many occasions, whether they be tourist maps, detailed mountaineering maps, or – most commonly now – Google’s map service. We also assume that all but the most crudely drawn maps represent the area in question accurately. We trust maps.

This article is not aimed at ending your trust in maps. You are encouraged to continue using them. Instead it takes a critical approach to mapping marine and coastal areas that uncovers more of what maps are and – importantly – more of what maps do.

A single map is a crescendo of processes and inputs that paints a picture at one given point in time. It is a snapshot of reality. Data is gathered, processed and simplified for map making by people, and as such the finished product can be seen to contain not only cartographical processes but also social relations, information gaps, political agendas, a search for solutions to a problem, subjectivity and creativity. What’s more, the use of maps involves many of these processes too. The map is open to various interpretations, often based on situational needs.

Additionally, maps not only represent reality but can also create it. If we map, for example, the movement of fishermen at sea, then we potentially create a visual argument for those behaviours to be altered (either increased, decreased or relocated) through future regulation. Maps can confirm completed actions and legitimise future ones, as is demonstrated in this paper with the example of marine space use on Scotland’s west coast. As more people use and create maps – on an increasing number of portable devices – their increasing influence is clear to see.

With a critical approach maps can be questioned. And so can claims to the sea.

The article can be found here