3.3 Maps and the modern world

Maps play a fundamental role in the functioning of modern Western societies. They are important as legal documents in both the public and private spheres: your proof of the boundaries of your property as well as the location of international borders. Maps are important in military campaigns, territorial disputes, explorations for mineral resources. Maps may be a source of conflict and competing claims to land and water. In some cases the conflicts are also cross-cultural. Western-style corpor
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3.2 Maps and the circuit of knowledge

Activity 3

The circuit of knowledge starts with a question or questions. For example, look at Figure 1 and Map 3, A and B. Figure 1 shows how the circuit of knowledge can be used to investigate a question, using Map
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3.1 Maps as history

Maps represent knowledge of the time and space within which they are compiled and produced. In this way they form part of the historic record. An old map is a picture, albeit selective, of the past and forms a baseline for studying change. The first edition of the Irish Ordnance Survey (see Map 2 below) provides a picture of the landscape just
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2.2 Mental maps

One of the maps mentioned in the description of my journey to London is the idea of the ‘mental map’. This concerns the notion that we all carry maps in our heads. When asked for directions to a place, our reply is based on a mental map which may be quite close to a ‘real’ map; or may be quite impressionistic and have more to do with our feelings and senses. Have you ever been misled by directions which told you to turn, say, second left, only to discover that the person who gave the
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2.1 How do we use maps?

Reading about maps, I have been struck by the number of times that the idea of ‘maps as part of our everyday experience’ has been mentioned. In fact, I was thinking about it recently, when I was preparing to travel from Belfast to London. I left home with a mental map of my journey to the airport – but on the way I found that the road was blocked by a burst water main. ‘Plan B’ was to consult my local road map for the quickest alternative and, in doing so, I wondered i
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1.1 What makes a map?

Map 1
Map 1 The Millennium Dome in Greenwich, one of 56,000 photographs taken for the Mill
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Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • identify some of the important characteristics of maps in relation to their value to social science

  • recognise and give examples of how maps can influence our “view” of the world

  • describe the relationship between data and space as represented on a map.


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Social constructionists take issue with psychological accounts of human behaviour, criticising them for making universal generalisations and for having too great a focus on the individual. By contrast, a social constructionist approach sees behaviour as shaped by social context, and by issues of power and knowledge.

Those arguing from a critical social perspective would criticise essentialist accounts of difference for several reasons. First, they would argue that there is a danger of m
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