Making maps with gaps

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Taiteen ja median maisteriohjelma
Maps, as influential visual narratives, shape our perceptions of space, often concealing biases despite their apparent objectivity. This thesis combines theoretical insights with practical research to explore the potential of participatory map-making workshops. It focuses on how such workshops, by addressing gaps and absences in maps, can empower individuals to critically challenge conventional, standardized views of the city and search for other types of representations that can cultivate a sense of plurality and belonging in space. Drawing on critical cartography, critical data studies, and data feminism, the study explores the biases and power dynamics inherent in maps and data. Emphasizing the critical role of participation, the research integrates feminist design, participatory design, critical visualization, and counter-mapping. Together, these frameworks advocate for the recognition of experience, process, local knowledge, and plurality in map-making. Rooted in J.B. Harley's concept of "cartographic silences," the project uses information gaps in maps as both a visual and conceptual tool. This approach stimulates critical engagement with maps and encourages reflection on issues of presence and exclusion. Complementing the theoretical framework, the research searches for new insights by materializing the conclusions through a practical approach. Through a series of participatory map-making workshops, participants engaged in creative exercises, conceptual discussions, and hands-on activities, fostering a collaborative environment for sharing diverse perspectives on space. A key outcome of these workshops is empowerment, enabling individuals to question the standardized navigation maps we use daily and share their personal worldviews. The act of map-making, along with the visualization of the process, reveals the power dynamics that determine the value and selection of information, which translates into the inclusion and exclusion of places and people. Finally, the research underscores the need to resist standardization, which often suppresses local perspectives and diminishes a sense of belonging. Maps designed collaboratively and under feminist principles of care, community, plurality, and embodiment emerge as tools for envisioning a more complex and pluralistic society. Alternative maps are not meant to replace the standard navigational maps, but they broaden our understanding of experience, representation, and inclusion in space.
Vyas, Rupesh
Thesis advisor
Hall, Peter
map-making, critical cartography, participation, workshops, plural space, community, counter-mapping
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