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Plotting practices and politics: (im)mutable narratives in OpenStreetMap


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


It has been argued that crowd-sourcing offers a radical alternative to conventional ways of mapping, challenging the hegemony of official and commercial cartographies. In this view mapping might begin to offer a forum for different voices, mapping different things, enabling new ways of living. Instead of the Latourian notion of the map as immutable mobile, fixing knowledge and bodies and facilitating governance, the wikification of mapping might facilitate a more mutable politics. This paper focuses on these possibilities by examining OpenStreetMap (OSM), arguably the most significant and emancipatory of neo-geographic assemblages. While not underplaying the importance of a political economic understanding of the Geoweb, it suggests we need to attend more to the contexts through which emergent knowledge communities enact alternatives, and that notions of practice are central in any evaluation of changing politics of representation. Communities involved in OSM contest the geographies that they call into being, and this process can be narrated through a consideration of local action, in different map spaces and places. A processual view of mapping reveals the extent of mutability of OSM, and highlights many of the tensions evident in collaborative remapping. New ways of mapping reciprocally create and reinforce newly expert knowledge communities that may be emancipatory, but that may also reify power relations. Crowd-sourced mapping is likely to comprise a hybrid of mutable and immutable elements.