From mapreading to mapmaking: Civic learning as orientation, disorientation and reorientation

Gillian Cowell*, Gert Biesta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Space represented on geographical maps is ordered and navigable, allowing one to 'know' features and layouts of places before visiting, and finding landmarks, pathways and spaces of importance that connect you from one point to another, reducing possibilities for disorientation. Maps 'work' because they represent a reality already ordered and structured. We argue that this order could be considered a form of Biesta's (2011) socialisation conception of civic learning, where the map reader can know in advance where they are going and what they will find. However, regarding interactions with derelict, historical, new or 'missing' spaces, the use of maps with residents can create different understandings of place. The map within these engagements stimulates the unexpectedness necessary to disrupt space as seen 'from above'. These ground-level disruptions, we argue, are a necessary part of subjectification processes (Biesta, 2011): the map reader becomes map-maker in the creation of an alternative engagement with their landscape. In our paper we report on an empirical study involving two cases: a historical society in a post-industrial location with an invisible history, due to the decline of its heavy industry since the 1980s, and an environment group in an official Conservation Area with a history broadly stable and visible today, both in Scotland. We utilise a psychogeographic methodology that deconstructs the mapreading and mapmaking 'order', exposing it to re-explorations by individuals, who in turn construct layered spatial and temporal maps - through their civic actions - towards their subjectification and emergence as political agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-451
Number of pages21
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number4
Early online date21 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Cartography
  • Citizenship
  • Civic action
  • Civic learning
  • Democracy
  • Gert biesta
  • Maps
  • Psychogeography
  • Public space
  • Subjectification

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