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Description - Method 2: Mapping

This cluster focuses on the relationship between mapping - the process of representing spatially non-spatial and spatial positions and relations - and critical security studies. We consider mapping to be both a method and an object of inquiry. That is, it can be a means for understanding how actors, ideas and objects relate to one another, be it in networks, fields, controversies or other to-be-named social or geographical spaces; a means of mapping (in)security. But it can also be, simultaneously, a process to be studied. Maps are a form of articulated relations - through diagrams, charts, statistics, or even through the deployment of metaphors. Our cluster, taking this into consideration, believes that the social uses of mapping are to be interrogated as much as the actors, ideas, objects that are represented.


Spatial and geometric metaphors - network, field, cartography, diagram, topos, rhizome etc - often linked to specific methodologies involving spatial representations, are increasingly present within social theory and its application in critical security studies. Yet mapping, to a certain extent, is a process of controlling, fixing, bordering and disciplining by transforming qualitative differences into quantitative data; so how can it be used in a critical way? Can one map social realities, be they geographical or not, while simultaneously accounting for complexity, contingency, transformations, movement and reflexivity? Or is mapping essentially linked to an ontology of determinism, fixity and what James C. Scott has called state simplifications that do not just fulfill a didactic purpose but also enable a tighter form of governance? While the role of mapping typically is to make things evident in the ethymological sense of the term (what can be seen and hence what can be shown visually), is not the essence of criticality to question the self-evident? Can the activity of mapping be properly described as a method of visualizing the results of one's research or even of doing research? And how can the conventional place of mapping in security studies be circumvented or even countered by the method of mapping itself?

In considering critical potential of mapping, both analytical and political questions arise. Analytically, post-positivist methods and analyses promote a consideration of how mapping relates to both the representation and production of a given reality, how mapping relates to cognition, and how mapping may work toward (de)naturalization and (de)construction of social reality. Politically, if mapping has traditionally been about fixing, we can also envisage social processes of counter-fixing or counter-mapping. Mapping is thus not in and of itself a critical practice or tool, but if the productivity of mapping is its ability to make action possible by ordering social realities, then critical security studies might well attempt counter-mapping operations.

For example, how would a critical mapping differ from the mapping of Iraqi culture carried out by the US Army's Human Terrain System (HTS)? What is political about inverting the globe and representing the South as the North? What does it mean to criticize a practice while sharing the same method and hence engaging in a form of mimetic rivalry, following René Girard's expression? Why are some spaces more frequently or intensively mapped than others? And even when used critically, does mapping not still require processes of abstraction, reduction and of transmutation of the qualitative into quantity? Are there gendered and postcolonial critiques to be made of even critical uses of mapping? And what about resistance to the practice of mapping, such as pulling down street signs in an effort to subvert the use of maps? What purchase do mapping metaphors provide? And what critical function does mapping produce and make possible? These and other questions animate the work of this cluster.

Avenues for further research

  • What are we mapping and how would we do it? Possible objects of mapping include: controversies, networks, Bourdieuan fields (structural homologies between social positions on the one hand, dispositions and affirmations on the other), movement, transformations, things, others' mappings, spaces, actors. How can one map movement, feeling, complexity, time, history, processes, qualitative change? What terminology is most appropriate: mapping, schematisation, cartography; maps, schemas, diagrams, graphs? Are we mapping literally or metaphorically? And, what is not mapping?
  • How can we think of the activity of mapping in a critical way? For example, mapping of others' maps, counter-mapping existing maps. What are the methodological differences between Latour's networks, Bourdieu's fields, the analyses of critical geographers?
  • Spatiality and scale: how can one account for complexity and non-Euclidian spaces? Does one have to flatten 3D activity into 2D representations (Latour)? Do we naturalise scale when we use maps as cognitive tools? How are we to deal with slippages of scale? For example, migration data: the concept of migration was  historically reserved for what we would now call domestic politics; but over time has come to connote something international – we sometimes forget the history of our scales and what has come to exist. What are the roles of numbers and categories in mapping? Can we map without categories?
  • What is the relationship of mapping to knowledge production?
  • Where is the international located, and how is it produced? Knowledge production and the international are mutually implicated/produced. How are debates about the international/transnational/global produced through various practices of mapping? How have they emerged and changed historically?

Sites of empirical investigation

  • Human Terrain System: mapping of populations, social network analysis (SNA) on the part of the military, the police and intelligence services.
  • Mapping of (in)security professionals in Europe and transatlantically.
  • Use of mapping in security studies (e.g. re: migration) and how critical security studies can deal with this usage?
  • The arms trade and its control: the flow of military equipment, the production of knowledge about the arms trade, and the production of the international through both of these.

Method coordinator

Christopher Alderson,