The Cosmopolitanisation of Cartography Raising The Specter of Legitimacy in Geography

This work is about arguing that the maps of the world should be reconsidered in a global dialogue: in a process that opens the dispute of boundaries between union-states, regions, zones, or other similar geo-political terms. David Marquand, in his important opus The End of the West (2011) reminds us that West and East perhaps never existed and in the case wherein we are told that they do, have, and are: such are parochial and illegitimate claims.


800px-World map pol 2005 v02.svg

We shall have to put the (Indian) inventors of Arabic numerals in our pantheon alongside the Greek inventors of geometry, and Ibn Rushd alongside Aristotle. We shall have to abandon our self-centred and patronizing belief that democracy and free discussion were exported to a backward “East” by a progressive “West,” and reconstruct our mental universe to take account of the indigenous Indian tradition of public reasoning and religious toleration that long antedated the “Western” presence in the subcontinent. More generally, we shall have to recognize that the familiar “Western” narrative of global history, in which uniquely precious and, in evolutionary terms, uniquely successful “Western” values moulded the modern world in our great-grandparents’ image, is a parochial distortion of a far more complex truth. (Marquand, 2011: 176-77)

His argument, I feel, is important because it challenges what many in this world have come to take for granted. In the case of this paper, it is the maps we are familiar with, the design of the globe that we have on our desks or which are offered to our children, which are parochial and relics of imperial abuses. This discussion is a needed one, as we have for example, no clear indication as to where Europe stops and that indigenous peoples for example have not had the inclusive and legitimate chance to contest the territorial boundaries which often split their nations. It is an attempt to bring a democratic legitimacy to cartography which is patently lacking.

This will be done firstly by discussing in a broad and simple way why current maps are parochial and relics of imperial domination. We will then follow this argument up with another broad argument detailing how we could begin a global dialogue designed to spark debate over maps and to form a call for the democratic reform of cartography. Essentially, it argues that we must give people and groups a chance to define their boundaries and not have them imposed on us by those holding the Maxim Gun. Lastly, we will engage this discussion in relation to China’s territorial claims.


  • The Imperial History of Maps

Depending on climatic conditions, hunter-gatherer societies have a population density from 0.1 to 1 person per square kilometre, while the invention of agriculture permits densities to rise to 40-60 per square kilometre. Human beings were now in contact with one another on a much broader scale, and this required a very different form of social organization. – Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order, 2011

A new work by Francis Fukuyama has established a logical understanding of the way in which human beings probably came to organize themselves politically through evolutionary terms. Should we consider Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau for example, their conceptions of the social contract began with the heuristic device of a “blank slate.” From this blank slate (or state of nature) human beings were theorised to have joined for a variety of reasons. Fukuyama takes the aforementioned evolutionary approach and argues rather that it is perhaps improbable to trace wherein we exactly developed our methods of socio-political organization (those parameters which even underpin hunter-gatherer humanoids). Rather, we were perhaps born into already established systems and contributed to them over millions of years.Because of this potentiality, we perhaps never had a chance in our history to collectively decide in non-violent democratic processes not only how we should like to organize ourselves politically, or what our deepest desired long-term goals are, but also (for the purposes of this paper) how our union-states or nation-states are bounded territorially.


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downloadbutton3Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 3  No. 1

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