Manual de Mapeo Colectivo: Recursos Cartográficos Críticos para Procesos Territoriales de Creación Colaborativa by Pablo Ares and Julia Risler (review)
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Manual de Mapeo Colectivo: Recursos Cartográficos Críticos para Procesos Territoriales de Creación Colaborativa. Pablo Ares and Julia Risler. 2ndedition. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2015. 80 pp., maps, drawings, photos. $14.00 paperback (ISBN 9789873687129).

For almost a decade, two Argentinians calling themselves Iconoclasistas – a graphic designer and a communications professor – have organized workshops, mainly in Latin America and Europe, where “collective mapping” is the primary tool. Their modestly sized and priced 2015 how-to guide (the first edition to be widely distributed) is already making an impact in places as far as Mexico, as geographer colleagues there inform me. Friendly and practical, it is just the book to channel the enthusiasm of place-and space-focused youth-fueled activist movements, especially local-scale ones. Reflecting their ethos of information sharing, Ares and Risler have released the book for free use at www.iconoclasistas.net.

The authors take the power of maps as a given – a sentiment first broadly articulated in the 1990s by Denis Wood, and by participatory mapping pioneers in places like indigenous Latin America. With this book’s urban focus, a more direct scholarly ancestor is the work of British geographer Philip Crang, who in a 1992 article in Environment and Planning D: Society and Spaceexplored the then-new “polyphonic textual strategies.” Like Ares and Risler (p. 59), Crang acknowledged that these cartographies – what some today call “neogeography” – do not “dissolve the problematic politics of representation, but rather reconfigure it.”

The democratization of mapping for community empowerment has been revived in the past half-decade with the proliferation of web-based citizen mapping tools for data collection and diffusion and, less successfully, for cartographic representation. Hip urban youth and subaltern activists are joining forces with post-colonialist scholars and art-world critical theorists to include maps and mapmaking as an organizing tool, and to inspire and document sociopolitical change. Perhaps someday the cornucopia of open-access GIS apps and the like will settle down into something more widely useful, but for now it’s a well-intentioned mess of technobabble. Coding is hard (though not for an admittedly growing number of millennials), as Philadelphia-based coder Patrick Hammons reminded [End Page 154]a crestfallen audience at the 2015 North American Cartographic Information Society meeting. Digitally dependent projects are often expensive, and the structure of GIS itself limits and channels associated human practices, as well articulated by Anne Kelly Knowles, Levi Westerveld, and Laura Strom in the second issue (2015) of GeoHumanities(building on John Pickles’ early critiques of GIS in the 1990s).

That’s what makes this little book so fantastic: it’s decidedly low-tech. The workshop activities it describes don’t depend on access to GIS, let alone any particular web platform or software. Its practical instructions and its simple drawings of bodies doing things are much like those in Johan van Lengen’s classic 1981 book The Barefoot Architect, widely distributed in Latin America as a 1990 translation Manual del Arquitecto Descalzo(another template is Ram Dass’ 1970 spiritual guide Be Here Now).

It’s unsurprising that this practical guide to urban political action mapping originated in Buenos Aires. Efforts in places like New York have been beautiful but short-lived, e.g., Salome Asega and Andy Ollove’s Sidewalk Assembly, a 2013 “cartography collective” which hoped to “map physically and forcibly, transforming the passerby into cartographer and wall into map.” The struggles many New Yorkers face, while serious, pale in comparison to Argentina’s 1976-1983 Dirty War. Starting in 2002, the Grupo de Arte Callejero placed copies of their poster map Aquí Viven Genocidason walls throughout Buenos Aires, locating the homes of suspected Dirty War perpetrators. These maps were one tool in the uniquely Argentinian protest method called escrache– a “creative public denunciation” – and are acknowledged by Ares and Risler as a milestone (p. 59).

Chapters 2 and 3 include summaries of 24 mapping workshops, about half of them organized with the direct assistance of the authors. Each addresses serious issues, but the stakes are never as heavy as with Aquí Viven Genocidas, nor the scale of the affected as large. Through...