09 February 2008


Maps have power. But one of the powers should not be that they deceive us into thinking that they do not exist as part of social context, a context of power relations. When photocopying (maps) this week at school, I was gazing at a large wall map of the school district. An innocent piece of cartographic communication--right? But wait! As I began following the district boundaries delineated on the map, I saw the boundaries separating the inside-the-district from the benighted outside-the-district areas. Part of the district boundary runs down one side of the street where I used to live. Believe me, those excluded people just across the street from my district boundary feel the power of this map, as my school district is considered by many to be the best in the State. They want in. It can affect prices of real estate, too; and determine the whereabouts of large investments. It is true that some legal agreement between the neighboring school districts (one urban, the other rural) had to be settled to create the boundaries of the two districts.

But, it is not a multi-page legal document written in legalese that is taped to walls at schools and at City Hall and referred to by interested residents and real estate agents and developers--IT IS A MAP (that can be read easily). The multiple copies of the map of the district regulate behavior more than the (single copy?) district legal document, written in prose, and available at City Hall. The school district map exists to present simple (official) information. It is assertive; it has power.

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