Mapping society: an ingenious but today outdated map

Edoardo Boria


Today the scientific world shows great interest in visual culture. This is a transversal phenomenon to
national disciplines and contexts, given that the same tendency to reorient knowledge and organize it
around visual paradigms is to be found in different areas of contemporary western thought.
In this reevaluation of the visual culture is collocated the present rediscovery of the heuristic value of the
geographical map, the use of which today has undoubtedly crossed the narrow ambit of geographical
studies to find growing use with specialists of other disciplines too, attracted by the capacity of maps to
synthetically highlight significant spatial correlations of the phenomena being studied.
Nonetheless, like every scientific instrument it comes up with processes of adaptation to the changing
scientific contexts, just as the traditional Cartesian configuration of the map needs to be updated in order to
be in line with the new post-modern scientific paradigms and with the reality of the contemporary world.
The analysis of these dynamics of contemporary cartography is here traced back to the case of a specific
cartographic method: the choropleth map, or mosaic diagram. This represents one of the most fortunate
intuitions in the history of cartography, introduced by Charles Dupin in 1826 and is an exemplary
application of positivist scientific thought. Even though the introduction of the choropleth map was the start
of a fruitful period for the subject with the ceaseless development of statistical cartography, today it seems
inadequate for the understanding of the multi-faceted contemporary reality.
After highlighting the reasons for the success of the choropleth map, this paper makes a number of
considerations on its present limitations and the need, as far as cartographical studies are concerned, to
press on beyond the frontier of innovation. In particular, stimulating starting points to reason on the future
of the geographical map are offered by the recent success of the anamorphic maps.

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Sapienza Università di Roma University of Helsinki Università di Torino Western Michigan University


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