This book is a worthwhile reorientation of our geographical registers, attempting to underpin the construction of a functional region around the Mediterranean through gauging the level and quality of existing data of the countries surrounding it not in the EU. The compilation of existing data is then depicted as maps as per the mandate of the EU ESPON project of which this book is a product. As such the book covers a wide range of research areas in order to support policy development related to territorial development and cohesion around the Mediterranean. The focus is data around territorial structures, trends, and perspectives to inform sector policies, most prominently when it comes to energy, water and agriculture.
Mapmaking is indeed a way to frame narratives and has been the mainstay of my discipline; geography since its 19th-century origins – for better or worse. Founded on a traditional empirical approach to knowledge creation, whereby it is assumed that what is to be known is simply out there, readily representable, these early mapmakers overlooked their own assumptions and ways of constructing and adding to their mode of engagement and knowing. As a geographer in love with maps, one can easily relate to how easy it is to fall prey to the temptation that the world can simply be represented through a comprehensive exercise of mapmaking. Not least today, augmented by techniques of global positioning (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS). But from this very temptation I question the book and its agenda. Although very reflective about the data underpinning the maps, these are created under the auspices of the EU and can be seen as part and parcel of the surveying tactics of the colonial and consumptive enterprise. These are tactics of enclosure and overcoming any limits to capital accumulation through tying together the resources on the Southern side of the Mediterranean with demand structures on the Northern side. Traditional empiricist approaches to map making have indeed been and still are used in the service of the state and military apparatus (Wainwright, 2013). At the same time, we cannot shy away from the fact that the planet has become an interconnected whole. There is not a corner on the land surface that has not been mapped or visited in one fashion or another by humanity and there is a great thrust to coherently map in a synchronized manner each parcel of land. But for this to happen data underpinning the maps needs to be compatible and reliably constructed. The book is all about identifying the data shortcomings, so as to be able to make better maps, which in turn underpin a narrative of a Mediterranean region. As such the series of maps presented prompt a very necessary reorientation of our spatial register and it is tempting to buy into them as representations of what is out there. But the question needs to be prominently raised as to for whom, why and how these maps are being made and in whose service the narratives will work?
Not falling prey to this temptation, we need to realise that the ‘out there’ resists mapping and a holistic grasping. Through map making and making sense of space, ‘we [can] discover a web-like form of trajectories, of which some are stationary in space and some are in motion, while some entities may grow and others shrink in the process’ (Hägerstrand, 2004, p. 323). The Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand goes on to explain that ‘[t]his condition is the basis for cooperation and conflict and for the human yearning for power over spaces filled with resources or at least over parts of their contents’. The maps thereby weave a web of stories that make for our collective impact on the planet and our future (see Harari, 2017, ch. 4). Whilst this understanding allows us to recognise the value of connectivity, or how everything is related to everything else, and thereby space is fundamentally the ‘togetherness’ of all phenomena, to borrow a term from Doreen Massey (2005, p. 195), we need to loosen the bonds with predefined categories, not allowing oneself to fall back upon explaining things, people or phenomena as manifestation of some essential quality, e.g. to further project Europe in its capitalistic, consumptive guise. Rather than sticking to these reductive strategies we should strive to add, show more, unravel and unfold ever more in our maps. The geographer can thereby provide inclusive road maps, depicting a range of relations and consequences in a creative way. In their guide to counter-cartographies This is Not an Atlas the Kollektiv Orangotango+ (2018, p. 328) demonstrate how these can become tools for action, how creative maps can tie networks, build political pressure, educate, create visibility, show spatial subjectivity, foster self-reflection and critique.
But only if we differentiate between the map and the territory (see article page 86), maps can become part of a “fluid movement whose tactics range from art-making to direct action to policy-making. This slow, cumulative, and constant work across many scales of action is what creates social change” (Mogel & Bhagat, 2007: 12). So, in a nutshell, Not-an-Atlas wants to support emancipatory transformation on the ground by supporting counter-cartographies within and beyond these pages (see notanatlas.org).
The maps we create need to become open to our enterprise and narration. Maps do have the capacity to promote progressive social transformation. Maps are geography’s lexicon and by changing the vocabulary of cartography we can break through the crust of previously held politically conservative conventions, creating something brand new, potentially improving society and the underlying social relations. This cartographic re-description could be about participatory map and sense making, which in turn could and should inform the policies that the book aspires to inform. As such the book provides a wonderful provocation as to what type of Mediterranean region we want to see in the future.
Harari, Y.N. (2017). Home Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow. London: Vintage.
Hägerstrand, T. (2004). The two vistas. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 86(4), 315-323.
Massey, D. (2005). For Space. London: Sage.
Wainwright, J. (2013). Geopiracy. Oaxaca, Mililtant Empiricism, and Geographical Thought. New York: PalgraveMacmillan.