A CRITICAL ATLAS OF THE GRAND PARIS 

Drawing on principles of deep mapping, feminist geography, and critical cartography, I experimented across media, modes of representation, and cartographic languages to examine the expansion of Paris through a series of material and digital maps.


Mapping as a Critical Practice

Maps are not merely the product of scientific knowledge, nor a straightforward visualization of geographic data. They are never neutral objects of knowledge, rather, they are “sites of power and produce worlds that are intimately bound up with that power”. Critical literature abounds on the map as a tool for colonial domination and resource extraction, as a militaristic technology of surveillance, as a mechanism for rationalizing and commodifying landscape, as an expression of the totalizing gaze of the State over a territory to control and discipline land and labor. With the growing accessibility of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the proliferation of open data portals, it has become ever so easy to download a geographic dataset of far-flung places and to represent them from the distant, emotionless perspective of the “god’s eye view from nowhere,” or the “god-trick’”. Without a careful critique of the limitations of these spatial epistemologies and the power relations that produce them, GIS can lock us into a cartesian space with an X & Y coordinate and perpetuate processes of epistemic violence by imposing one mode of representation while casting other forms of knowing the world as obsolete or not “scientific.” As a cartographer and an urbanist trained in GIS software, it is particularly critical for me to remember that maps can also “create territory,” became self-fulfilling prophecies once a place has been designated as dangerous and worthless or as profitable and exploitable.

How, then, can we reclaim maps and mapping as an act, as a subjective and embodied practice, as a pedagogical device, as a narrative tool, as a decolonial research method, as a critical and radical affirmation? Drawing on principles of deep mapping, feminist geography, and critical cartography, I have experimented across media, modes of representation, and cartographic languages to explore the making of the Grand Paris through a range of angles, generating what I hope is a collection of “multimodal,” “multivocal,” and “multilayered” maps. Working across geographic scales and historical layers, I have used hand-drawn sketches, archival materials, collaging, digital maps, material maps, GIS software, and sound recordings to represent my topic of inquiry through time, space, relations of power, globally networked flows, and subjective reflections on the making of urban space. As an urbanist, I read the city as a palimpsest of layers sedimented in place, and as a socially produced space carved out by relations of power, everyday experiences of inhabitants, and practices of resistance. Maps are a tool for me to represent space not as static or neutral but as co-produced, contested, and constantly being reshaped and as a way make sense of complex urban situations in a visual, shareable way. By drawing on different cartographic traditions and aesthetic sensitivities, I hope to reveal another layer of interpretation through each representational method, to validate multiple forms of knowledge, and to reclaim mapping as a capacious, inclusive practice.