Monday, September 15, 2014

Maps of Meaning and Peter Jackson

Right out of the box let me note that I did not read even the majority of Peter Jackson's often intricate arguments and review of other people's research in his book Maps of Meaning: An Introduction to Cultural Geography, New York (Routledge) 1989. But here are a couple of thoughts that stuck with me when leafing through the book. 

There were successful combinations of spatial and sociological arguments, such as David Ley's analysis in The Black Inner City as Frontier Outpost (= Monograph Series no. 7), Washington, DC (Association of American Geographers), 1974, of inter-gang violence in Philadelphia, that marked out the territories of the gangs, overlaid them on a map, and then showed with lines of various thickness where the hotspots of violence occurred (chapter Culture and Ideology, section Territorial Struggles, pp.68-70; map on p.71); or the collaboration between Ley and R. Cybriwski, Urban graffiti as territorial markers, in: Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol 64 (1974), pp.491-505, which argued that graffitis are used as markers in contested border areas (pp.70; map on p.73), previously identified by the gang-violence analysis. 

Thus, arguments of spatial correlation of events are possible that would be hard to spot in other representations. The problem is that the objects that are identified in the environment are configurations of physicality, but the mere mapping of the physical is insufficient. As Jackson puts it in his summary,
Too often in the past, cultural geography has degenerated into the an inventory of 'culture traits', mapping physical artifacts like barns and fences that are visible in the landscape. (p.180)
I take Jackson to mean that, unlike the graffiti investigations, the objects are so noticeable that they force themselves upon the attention of the geographer without any theory to make them stand out or have the geographer go looking for them. The graffiti themselves, while physical configurations, are only meaningful for the mapping process if they are related back to the gang that produced them, and if temporal qualifications, such as order of application or inter-graffiti relationships, are gathered as well. They require a background-theory that allows the association of the tag back to the gang, which is external to the signs.
The alternative approach adopted here is to view culture as the medium or idiom through which meanings are expressed. If one accepts the preceding arguments for a plurality of cultures, then 'culture' is the domain in which these meanings are contested. (p.180)
The situation is even cleared in the case of the mapping of gang violence; though these events and their properties can be localized in space, they no longer persist in space; they are ephemeral and thus require a theory to find them and a GIS to put them into spatial relations. The configuration of the neighborhood, however, which provides the relations of proximity for the analysis of the events, is a separate mapping. Equally separate is the territorial claims of the gangs and their associations. This association may be even more meaningful in situations of collaboration; the Philadelphia setting seems more of a all-against-all configuration, where alliances are not present. Thus the argument is based on a four-way mashup of independent data that is unified across time and space.
  1. The incidents of violence, coded as localized gang vs gang expression with a specific severity.
  2. The spatial configuration of the neighborhood.
  3. The territorial claims of the gangs.
  4. The inter-gang alliances (which may be the empty set).
The punchline of Jackson's observation is that, since it is only the models that suggest what data needs to be gathered and thrown onto the maps, the connection to the cultural theories is tantamount for the relevance of cultural geography (p.180).  

This suggests that a model palette is a key resource for the cultural geographer, using distinctions sussed out by cultural theorists in other settings to at least start out from. Here are some of the more interesting models that Jackson depicts in his book.

There is the model of social closure by Frank Parkin, a Weberian redevelopment of Marxist class theory (cf. Frank Parkin, Marxism and class theory: A bourgeois critique, London (Tavistock) 1979) (cf. Jackson's exposition pp.53f; graphic Figure 3.1 on p.55), which is concerned with understanding the way in which dominant groups express their power (hegemony) over subordinate groups. Given the two units, and the uni-directional arrow of dominance, there is either the scenario where the dominant group manages to dominate and project its power over the subordinate group (Parkin terms this exclusionary closure), or the subordinate group manages to exert power over the dominant group (Parkin terms this usurpationary power) [the London Dock Strike of 1889 comes to mind, RCK]. Furthermore, the exclusionary closure can be coupled into a kind of "pecking order" called dual closure, when an intermediate group is identified, which is both dominated by the dominant group but dominates itself over the subordinate group. Jackson gives the example of the Upper and Middle Class dominating the white male working class, which in turn dominates the black & female working class (cf. Figure 3.1 on p.55).

There is also the model of linguistic structuration, as developed by Anthony Giddens (cf. Central Problems in Social Theory, London (Macmillan), 1979; The Constitution of Society, Cambridge (Polity Press) 1985) (p.157). As Peter Jackson explains,
Systems of grammar have no independent existence; they represent the outcome of many individual acts of speech, sedimented through time into rules and conventions. Language is a structure of signification that is reproduced in social practice. Like other practices, however, it does not exist outside social relations of power. Grammatical rules and other linguistic conventions provide a system of sanctions through which certain practices are legitimized and social norms enforced (see Figure 7.1). (p.157)
The cited Figure 7.1 depicts a tabular structure of boxes, where each box is connected to its surrounding neighbors by lines (not arrows). The contents of these boxes runs as follows:

  • INTERACTION --- communication --- power --- sanction
  • (MODALITY) --- interpretative scheme --- facility --- norm
  • STRUCTURE --- signification --- domination --- legitimation 

Unfortunately, Jackson provides no example application, as he had done with the other models or research results that he describes, leaving this schematic somewhat abstract and a mere grab-bag of distinctions that might be employed.

In conclusion, there is an important caveat to raise regarding mapping with respect to the relationship between time and space. In the context of discussing the micro-geography of prostitution (cf. Figure 5.3, p.119), Jackson warns of the danger of the reduction or exclusion of the temporal dimension in the map making static---"freezing" in Jackson's terminology, with scare-quotes in the original---an inherently dynamic process, as "prostitutes themselves adapt their spatial behaviour to prevailing circumstances, constantly moving between and within cities" (p.118). 

For the mapping of graffiti and gang violence, I believe, this would mean that different temporal slices might give different indications of contestedness; furthermore, as gang territories shift or gangs are absorbed, the data has to be adjusted or culled accordingly.

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