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Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project: Towards a Critical Geographical Research Agenda

Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)

Abstract

Critical cartographic scholarship has demonstrated that maps (and geoinformation in general) can never be neutral or objective: maps are always embedded in specific social contexts of production and use and thus unavoidably reproduce social conventions and hierarchies. Furthermore, it has been argued that maps also (re)produce certain geographies and thus social realities. This argument shifts attention to the constitutive effects of maps and the ways in which they make the world. Within the discussion on neogeography and volunteered geographic information, it has been argued that crowd sourcing offers a radical alternative to conventional ways of map making, challenging the hegemony of official and commercial cartographies. In this view, crowd-sourced Web 2.0-mapping projects such as OpenStreetMap (OSM) might begin to offer a forum for different voices, mapping new things, enabling new ways of living. In our contribution, we frame a research agenda that draws upon critical cartography but widens the scope of analysis to the assemblages of practices, actors, technologies, and norms at work: an agenda which is inspired by the “critical GIS”-literature, to take the specific social contexts and effects of technologies into account, but which deploys a processual view of mapping. We recognize that a fundamental transition in mapping is taking place, and that OSM may well be of central importance in this process. However, we stress that social conventions, political hegemonies, unequal economic and technical resources etc. do not fade away with crowdsourced Web 2.0 projects, but rather transform themselves and impact upon mapping practices. Together these examples suggest that research into OSM might usefully reflect more critically on the contexts in which new geographic knowledge is being assembled.

Keywords

  • Critical cartography
  • GIS and society
  • Geoweb and society
  • Volunteered geographic information
  • Social and cultural geography
  • OpenStreetMap

Part of this paper has been written while Georg Glasze was a visiting researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in 2014. We want to thank Steve Chilton (London), Christian Bittner, Tim Elrick (both Erlangen), various colleagues from the OII and the three anonymous referees for their advices on aspects of this paper.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Data_working_group/Disputes (23.07.2014).

  2. 2.

    See for example the “How Did You Contribute to OpenStreetMap tool” available at http://hdyc.neis-one.org/ deploys charting and tabulation and mapping to document individual user name participation in the project, and the user diaries attached to the site.

  3. 3.

    As an example the Wiki suggests to classify “druse” as a denomination of “religion = muslim”—a classification which is contested for example by many Druze living in Israel who see themselves not as Muslims but as a proper religious group.

  4. 4.

    See for example the broad discussion on places of worship in OSM triggered by the debate on the Pastafarians (https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/2010-January/046620.html; 10.07.2014).

  5. 5.

    See for example: http://gis.19327.n5.nabble.com/Rendering-places-of-worship-in-Mapnik-td5379077.html (10.07.2010).

  6. 6.

    The governmental database contains 124 places of worship—all Christian. OSM contains 119, the biggest part with 106 being qualified as Christian (mostly protestant and catholic), 8 unknown, 2 other, 2 Muslim, and 1 Jewish.

  7. 7.

    See: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Map_Features (20.07.2014).

  8. 8.

    The tagging structure with its separation of use (e.g. amenity = place of worship > religion = *) and building = * in principle enables the separation of use and physical structure and thus is more sophisticated than many tagging schemes in state-based topographic cartography.

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Glasze, G., Perkins, C. (2015). Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project: Towards a Critical Geographical Research Agenda. In: Jokar Arsanjani, J., Zipf, A., Mooney, P., Helbich, M. (eds) OpenStreetMap in GIScience. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-14280-7_8

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