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Reviewed by:
  • Cartographies of Place: Navigating the Urban ed. by Michael Darroch and Janine Marchessault
  • Brandon McFarlane
Michael Darroch and Janine Marchessault, eds. Cartographies of Place: Navigating the Urban. McGill-Queen’s University Press. x, 310. $34.95

Cartographies of Place: Navigating the Urban is essential reading for any humanist interested in the study of urban space and culture. Edited by Michael Darroch and Janine Marchessault, the collection amalgamates research produced by the Culture of Cities Project (2000–05), the Urban Research Methodologies Symposium (2007), and the Urban Mediations Symposium (2009). The collection represents nearly a decade’s worth of scholarship that contemplates how arts-based research and an attention to mediation can help us better understand our cities and urban spaces. [End Page 346]

Organized into three thematic sections—“Legibility,” “Navigation,” and “Locale”—the strength of Cartographies of Place partially originates from the diversity of perspectives it integrates. The chapters in “Legibility” are epistemological and ontological in nature; they seek to produce a vocabulary that will facilitate the study of how we may understand the urban through art and culture. The chapters in “Navigation” are case studies that contemplate how new mapping and communication technologies are facilitating innovative urban cultures that are renegotiating the connection between identity and urban space. The chapters in “Locale” explore intersections between cities that are being enabled through media technology. They articulate how transnational urban cultures are opening up new forms of resistance against colonialism and globalization.

A couple of chapters merit special notice owing to their innovations. Ben Highmore’s “Metaphor City” argues that humanists can best contribute to urban studies by conceptualizing and analysing metaphoric systems that seek to represent the city. Saara Liinamaa’s chapter productively expands on the idea, showing how “artists are not merely representing the city, but actively researching the city within their production of art works.” The two chapters theorize the humanistic study of the urban and legitimize arts-based research as a necessary means for rendering the urban legible.

Rob Shields’s “The Virtuality of Urban Culture: Blanks, Dark Moments, and Blind Fields” develops an important intervention that distinguishes the city from the urban—as he suggests, there is a critical tendency within the humanities to conflate them, a trend that has significantly impaired the study of urban culture. To clarify, the city refers to the material manifestation and territory of a large human settlement, whereas the urban refers to its cultural, social, political, and economic processes. Shields convincingly argues that we should approach the urban as a virtual space and suggests that humanists are well equipped to analyse these complex urban processes. Stephan Kowal’s “The Cartographatron—between Media and Architecture: McLuhan, Giedion, Tyrwhitt, and Doxiadis” is also noteworthy owing to its focus on the Toronto school’s contribution to urban studies. What is a cartrographatron? Well, it was a technology developed between 1959 and 1963 that simultaneously projected a map and information, such as projecting the movement of automobiles or pedestrians onto a virtual map. He uses the technological innovation to distinguish between representing and presenting information and to theorize how new media technologies can facilitate an alternative understanding of the urban, particularly through the digital footprints left by mobile devices. He contends that these technological shifts have been mirrored by a movement away from representing the urban through linear lines and grids toward presenting the urban through patterns. [End Page 347]

Cartographies of Place offers several meaningful contributions that build on the works of Marshall McLuhan, Henri Lefebvre, Sigfried Giedion, Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Georg Simmel, and others. It provides models that articulate how the arts and humanities can contribute to the interdisciplinary domain of urban studies.

Brandon McFarlane
School of Humanities and Creativity, Sheridan College


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pp. 346-348
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