The constitutive power of maps in the Arctic
Helena Gonzales Lindberg
Doctoral dissertation
Lund University Open Access
Year published:
As maps are widely used, circulated, and recognised, they have consequences for how people view and understand the world. They mediate political meaning-making and frame the conditions for political alternatives to emerge or to be silenced. In contrast to dominant approaches to the study of the power of maps that consider their political influence on the basis of the intentions of the map-maker, this thesis emphasises the constitutive power of maps and the visual representations prevalent within them. Moreover, it attempts to further conversations between the fields of visual politics and critical cartography by investigating the power of maps in international politics. It does so by developing three theoretical assumptions about the constitutive power effects of maps: cartographic truth-claiming, cartographic naturalisation, and cartographic materialisation. To illustrate and examine these effects, a two-step analytical framework for interpreting and deconstructing maps is presented and applied to the study of three contemporary maps: a world map using the Web Mercator projection, a map of the changes in Arctic sea ice, and a set of two maps depicting the oil and gas potentials in the Arctic. The analysis focuses on the ways in which maps limit and enable certain conceptualisations of ‘the Arctic’ and politics within the region. The thesis concludes by contending that maps perform the political by shaping generally held assumptions about the ‘reality’ of the Arctic, both in terms of its ‘challenges’ and ‘opportunities’, and therefore serving particular interests as well as giving rise to ideas and visions about the region’s future.