Leave it to the user: collectively shaping taxonomies to express plurality of narratives

(Gualter Barbas Baptista) #1

The aim of Transformap of making visible that “there are Plenty of Alternatives” and it’s promise of being “The Mother of Many Maps” makes it an ambitious and challenging endeavour. The alternatives are plenty and diverse, making it non-trivial to find ways to consistently collect and represent the geographical information and metadata associated to all of them - and hopefully contributed from a multitude of people and initiatives, from raw sources ranging from hand-written notebooks to input forms allowing for different categorizations. On top of this, a layer of complexity is added by the diversity of approaches, sets of values, narratives for economic transformation from movements and streams so intertwined and imensely diverse.

So, how do we create a mapping commons, that enables useful and legitimate representations of these narratives? One that makes sense of existing information that is currently dispersed elsewhere, allowing us to visualize, navigate and extend the narratives for economic transformation? One, that rather than attempting to build an universal truth about what the transformation looks like, promotes a peer process of critical dialogue between the diversal transformations?

At the Berlin marathon, while looking at the data available from SSEDAS and the different processes of taxonomy and ontology design (Transformap taxonomy group proposal to OSM community, SSEDAS, ESSglobal), we were getting very troubled on how to enact a process capable of engaging the community and not becoming exclusively an expert/technician/professional exercise (for context see also post on Erlenmayer flask model. Basically, we were exploring how the social process of designing taxonomies (and through it providing meaning on the data) can be supported, rather than limited by the technological developments of Transformap. The outcome was an engineering the following separation of concerns:

  1. the API allows for bulk import and basic transformations of the data, allowing for basically any points, as long as they are valid geodata, to be stored on the Transformap DB (achieved with the first API release.
  2. anyone - from collective efforts of networks or organisations, to single individuals - and, to the extent possible, independently of the technical affinity, can shape the information that is displayed, by working on filter sets (basically an aggregate selection of criteria of properties the filtered objects such have, such as e.g. specific categories, tags, sources of data, etc.)

This separation allows us to get a clear picture on where we have mostly a technical development (1) and where the social and politcal process takes place (2). Apart from simplifying and separating concerns on the technical and social development requirements, this approach brings an exciting aspect to the process of making meaning of geographical information: by putting the emphasis on how data is visualized and combined (through the filters) you are allowing a community of users to collaborate in generating meaning, in a sense portraying a story, a narrative, an interest or a set of values of an individual or a community. We are only starting to dream of how much collective intelligence and collaboration can be harnessed by allowing users to play with existing filters, and generate new ones on-the-fly, using simple visualization tools.

This is work in progress, and comments are most welcome.

Alignment with Real Economy Lab
Mapping party in Kassel - documenta (14) / docutopia
Community Report #2: 14 April 2016
Pragmatischer Geotagging-Workflow
Theodoros Karyotis @Teo
Research on maps for other economies -- anyone up for interviewing?
🌻 Invitation of tenders
Charter for Building a Data Commons for a Free, Fair and Sustainable Future
What's on the various maps: Green, Political, Regional, Organic, etc?
Mapping similar to Digital Social Innovation
Community Report #3: 27th April 2016
(Josef Kreitmayer) #2


am I right, that this would mean, that each community, as e.g. the SSEDAS partners would have the possibility of easily defining the filter categories of their interest and implementing them with little technical assistance?

For the 26 SSEDAS partners, there is going to be one category system embedded in the website www.solidarityeconomy.eu, which is the “SUSY-Map”.

Apart from that, individual partners would like to implement substes of the filter-system of the overall map, as they have particular interest in a subset of the topics, that are presented in the overall map.

(Jon Richter) #3

5 posts were merged into an existing topic: Mapping similar to Digital Social Innovation

Mapping similar to Digital Social Innovation
(Jon Richter) #8

A post was merged into an existing topic: Mapping similar to Digital Social Innovation

(Gualter Barbas Baptista) #9

Yes. The embeddable map viewer should make it easy to simply pass a filter object (which will be an API endpoint) as an argument.

(Gualter Barbas Baptista) #10

I find the concept of the Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek, extremely good in grounding the importance of this approach:


To the attention of the @Scrumteam1

(Jon Richter) #11

The conversation above is a remarkable example of how TransforMap struggles to find a voice and how technical ambitions are easily mistaken as development directions. What I am reading there, neglecting the rushed appearance, is a mélange of primarily appealing, easy-to-digest language which, at first sight, sounds well enough to pass uncriticised, and secondly the reinvention of basic geodata processing related concepts, which are continuously skipped in technical discussions, as most of us are unaware of them. Please allow me to further differentiate these claims.

At first, there is the more philosophical argument that introduces a multitude of mapping commons creating representations of narratives. Unfortunately it mixes the political perspectives of the social movements with a representational theory that condensates narratives in textual artefacts. Yet what is called representation here is just data, a little more structured than mere information, but nonetheless far from being representative knowledge of an assumed substantial reality. By talking of representations, we implicitly reaffirm the notion of some truth in the world which only needs to be uncovered, thus expressed, hence represented.

Instead I want to argue for a non-representational understanding of text, which code and data ultimately are, that allows us to conclude those formal languages and grammars as outcomes of social forces and reduces their semantic dimension to being statements about the world, which are still to be validated or falsified. To conclude this part of the discussion, we would do good in trying to find, or at least frame, a shared understanding about how we assert meaning to data and how we identify the limits of their semantic expressiveness.

Then there is the technical geodata domain, which constantly challenges our understanding and possibility to act. Since we are, mainly due to lack of research and thorough investigation, constantly rediscovering basic geographic, informatics and, in combination, geoinformatics concepts, which appear as revelations to our individualised selves, the directions of development activities often remain in vague, dream-like articulations. This aspect of our working style leads to insufficiencies in terms of comprehensibility and comparability.

What we can conclude from the essay in the original post is (1) there is diverse geographic data and (2) we are longing for interactively visualising their properties in a way that hopefully allows us to compare the inherent dimensionalities. These are not only TransforMap’s questions and our associated communities contain many approaches to dealing with these facts. But we also have to visit and query them for their experiences, instead of assuming being a central point of communication for these issues and reverting back to self-sufficiency.

Given technical capabilites and resources, I am not sure how we can sustainably make sure philosophical designs don’t overshadow the actual next step.