Maps are omnipresent, and with new technologies the number of actors is growing who produce more or less impressive visualizations of social facts and interactions (from the most diverse data sets) that have the appearance of a map. Although government agencies in various countries individual and coordinated at the international level are still responsible for creating "official" maps, the number of private undertakings has been growing steadily since Google Maps first appeared in 2005. In the meantime, private providers are also using armed conflicts to demonstrate their greater flexibility and are reversing the relationship between military and civilian map production in an impressive manner as the recent conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated. The relative ease of transforming serial information into georeferenced data suggests that the hunger for causal effects, the appetite for more or less plausible correlations, and the extrapolation of the known into predictions can be expressed in maps. Mapping is becoming a ubiquitous practice even among actors who previously did not count it as part of their core business.
This pluralization of mapping has somewhat stolen, or at least cast doubt on, the central argument of critical cartography as it has unfolded since the late 1980s above all else. Mapmaking and the presentation of information coagulated into maps is still an instrument of domination, as Denis Wood convincingly summarized in "The Power of Maps" (1992), but it is just no longer available only to a limited group connected to the state. Counter-hegemonic mapmaking is possible and widely practiced. Thus, it is no longer only the power of the maps that counts, but also their distribution channels, their connection to social narratives and ideologies, the institutionalization of their use, which determine the effectiveness of the rule exercised with them.
After several decades of watching human geography gradually lose its appetite for cartography and become passionately devoted to the deconstruction of map messages, the present volume is manifestly part of a turnaround that is perhaps caused by the fact that the glut of maps in the public sphere cannot be stopped by deconstruction alone. Wicked findings such as that of the "revival of the failed promise of the quantitative revolution" or the "revenge of positivist geography" suggest that this turnaround is not fed by triumphalism but must be an invitation to thoughtfulness in an age of ubiquitous datafication of the sciences. The lessons that map deconstruction has offered are not lost in the process, but "critical mapping," unlike "critical cartography," is also interested in the possibility of mapping differently and, in any case, of producing maps. There are many ways to do this, as one can read in the 20 essays of the volume under review, which open up a space for experimentation rather than filling a manual with any claim to completeness.
The editors have assigned the essays to four major complexes. The first addresses the pluralization of actors and the demand for participation. This is a logical consequence of the claim that the positionality of mapmakers is essential, but in practice it is not so easy to apply. Making the unheard heard has been a concern of feminist, postcolonial, or postmigrant agenda-setters in many sciences since the 1970s and is now being vigorously pursued in geography as well. The essays demonstrate convincingly that maps look different when made from the perspective of so far neglected and marginalized groups in society. Necessarily, traditional cartography's claims to neutrality and objectivity are also being undermined with attempts to map emotions.
The connection between (mapped) visualization and narratives is addressed in the second part of the collection and includes artistic attempts as well as those emanating from activists. The transitions to other visualization formats (such as comics) appear more fluid than in some conventional cartography. One could add here that some national schools of cartography have been more open to such grey zones than others and it might be that German cartography is among those who have the longest way to go.
This juxtaposition of new approaches and conventions is also the subject of the contributions in the third section, which not coincidentally focus on the educational sector and mapping with children. For once a point of view has been practiced, it cannot be shaken so quickly by critical mapping, and here the effectiveness of the many tests of new procedures must be proven - do they really lead to a new, more pluralistic perception of the world, to more awareness of one's own positionality, or do they remain on the fringes of spatial literacy in our societies?
Finally, the contributors also quite productively take up the challenge of the flood of data that has become available for mapping through digitization and will continue to become available. The essays in this section ask how to work quantitatively and critically at the same time.
The vast majority of the essays in this volume are distinguished by the fact that they use examples to drill down into the claims made. This has the advantage of great clarity and immediate plausibility. It stimulates learning by example. At the same time, the theorization of critical mapping that goes beyond the individual subject matter may still be lacking or remain underdeveloped, but the editors have set up an impressive guidepost that quite convincingly indicates the direction(s) in which one should orient oneself.