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Deconstructing The Map: The Jb Harley Theory

1007 words - 5 pages

Historical geographer JB Harley wrote an essay on Map Deconstruction in 1989, in which Harley argues that a map is more than just a geographical representation of an area, his theory is that we need to look at a map not just as a geographical image but in its entire context. Harley points out that by an examination of the social structures that have influenced map making, that we may gain more knowledge about the world. The maps social construction is made from debate about what it should show. Harley broke away from the traditional argument about maps and examined the biases that govern the map and the map makers, by looking at what the maps included or excluded. Harley’s “basic argument within this essay is that we should encourage an epistemological shift in the way we interpret the nature of cartography.” Therefore Harley’s aim within his essay on ‘Deconstructing the Map’ was to break down the assumed ideas of a map being a purely scientific creation.
In ‘Deconstructing the Map’ Harley looks at the writings of two well-known philosophers’ Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida, looking at their argument’s around maps. Foucault, a renounced philosopher in cultural theory, examines the external power and the omnipresence of internal power in the cartographic representation of place. Derrida applied conceptions of literary understanding to the maps construction. Derrida’s argument was that like a literary text a map could also be read, and using theory Harley was able to deconstruct the map. Another name that is just mentioned in this essay is Panofsky; Erwin Panofsky was an art historian, “most frequently associated with the concept of iconography, matching the subject-matter of works of art to a symbolic syntax of meaning drawn from literature and other art works.” In Studies in Iconology (1939) , Panofsky came up three strata of meaning; the first being what one actually sees with their eyes without looking for any in-depth information such as imbedded symbolic meanings, the second aspect is “ the level of secondary or conventional meaning”, and third being the intrinsic meaning, which is looking at an icon such as a map and thinking what is the natural meaning of this. By using Panofsky’s theory as a guide Harley formed his deconstruction analysis.
Using the writings of Foucault Harley explored the idea of maps as emblems of power. “From Foucault’s writings, the key revelation has been the omnipresence of power in all knowledge, including the particular knowledge encoded in maps and atlases” , Harley examines the power encoded within a map, for example, by looking at a map and examining why certain elements are included or excluded. By using the writings of Derrida, Harley was able to deconstruct the map and to come to the conclusion that maps are emblems of power because they can decide what to represent or what not to represent. “The map-maker is often as busy recording the contours of feudalism, the shape of a...

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