Harley, J.B. 1989. Deconstructing the Map. Cartographica 26: 1-20.


The main argument in J.B Harley’s article “Destruction of the Map” is to give the ideas in postmodern thinking in order to “redefine the nature of maps as representations of power” (p. 1). In his article, Harley presents three steps for destruction of maps: first, to review the traditional map as an object of deconstruction; second, to explore the textuality of maps, including their metaphorical and rhetorical nature; and third, to examine the dimensions both of external power and of the omnipresence of internal power in the cartographic representation of place (p. 1).

Harley claims that “The pace of conceptual exploration in the history of cartography —is slow… it would appear that we are still working largely in either a ‘premodern,’ or a ‘modern’ rather than in a ‘postmodern’ climate of thought” and argues on an epistemological shift in the field of cartography (p. 1). Unlike the historian, the cartographers are bound to remain updated, and hence, computer-assisted methods and Geographical Information Systems could be the best approach for them. As the result, Harley claims, the definition of the cartography is changed and there is no ‘art’ in ‘professional’ cartography, for the destruction of map urges to read between the lines and examine how the map represents place into much sharper focus (p. 2-3).  Harley puts lights on the development of cartography, talks about the Western European, North American and Russian cartography and categorizes the cartography into two sets of rules: one set that governs the technical production of maps and the other set that relates to the cultural production of maps (p. 4). “The objective is to suggest that an alternative epistemology, rooted in social theory rather than in scientific positivism, is more appropriate to the history of cartography” (p. 2).  Harley argues that the deconstruction is useful in helping to change the epistemological climate, and in encouraging a rhetorical reading of cartography. He seems more focused on its social and political dimensions, and with understanding how the map works in society as a form of power-knowledge (p. 12).

Harley argues on the manufacturing power of cartographers that, “they [cartogaphers] create a spatial panopticon…map is a silent arbiter of power” (p. 13). For Harley, the notion of deconstruction is also a password for the postmodern enterprise. The interpretive act of deconstructing the map can serve three functions: first, it allows us to challenge the epistemological myth of the cumulative progress; second, deconstructionist argument allows us to redefine the historical importance of maps; and third, a deconstructive turn of mind may allow map history to take a fuller place in the interdisciplinary study of text and knowledge (p. 15).  “By dismantling we build” (p. 15).

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