Cate Turk
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Maps as foams and the rheology of digital spatial media
A conceptual framework for considering mapping projects as they change over time

Everyday users depend on maps as stable bases by which to navigate their lives, but map theorists have recently pointed out how fluid and dynamic maps can be. This chapter proposes a conceptual model for studying the dynamism of online mapping. Drawing on Sloterdijk’s concepts of bubbles, spheres and foams, the chapter suggests a means by which contingency and temporal variability can be conceptualised. Taking maps as ‘bubbles’ in an actor-network of 'foam', it demonstrates how they draw together different data within assemblages of producers and users. To illustrate how this model works, the chapter examines ‘crisis mapping’ as online collaborations where volunteers create maps to help understand and respond to natural disasters and political conflicts. It shows how these projects, like bubbles in foam, depend upon internal substance; contingent relationships with assemblages of actors; and the quality of their interface, for their continuing utility through time.

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Time for mapping

Cartographic temporalities


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