Digital performative mapping: for society, research, and education


Being a two-dimensional representation, a map is by default an abstract model of space. Decisions that concern the translation of space and its social phenomena into two-dimensions have a direct impact ‘on the ground’, while decisions regarding scale, legend, and frame determine what reality is portrayed, with which other realities are inevitably obscured. Cartography is thus an inherently political project (Crampton, 2004) and decisions that are embedded in this project are, by default, made by cartographers (or their commissioners).

Through the digitisation of maps, a shift in cartographic practice has been initiated that challenges cartographers’ role (or exclusive power) in how maps come into being. With the public appropriation of digital tools and digital mapping technologies, not only formally trained cartographers, but also citizens actively participate in the practice of mapping. This shift towards mass availability, networked connectivity, and interactivity has led to a rise in the number of people who participate in mapping, consequently multiplying the number of maps that are now being contested. This cartographic turn —conceptualised in this dissertation as the performative turn in cartography— has created an opportunity to engage people in public (space) issues in novel ways, leading to potentially more inclusive decision-making processes. Consequently, mapping technologies are increasingly being adopted as a means to seek public participation within urban planning or as a means to empower citizens in public (space) issues in other domains.

This PhD presents and examines the implications that digital mapping interfaces have conceptualising public space and the public domain as a physical-virtual hybrid. For example, the implications that a dependency on navigational systems have on our ability to experience where we are, and the degree to which we experience chance encounters raises questions about when and how the public domain comes into being, whose activities are included or excluded, and who is enabled to have a say in it.

The PhD is situated at the crossing of critical cartography and design research. While the mobile and performative turn in cartography has been presented extensively in literature on critical cartography, no accounts were found of the map app as digital spatial medium to re-examine spatial theories through embodied interaction. The mobility paradigm in digital map use and the continuous altering between the physical and the virtual that map apps afford —being ‘here’ and ‘there’ at the same time— has led to the following main research questions: In what ways can Digital Performative Mapping afford participation in public (space) issues and what kind of knowledge does embodied interaction with the map produce? Through presenting eight case studies and using a Research through Design approach, this bigger question is examined in three subordinate research questions:

RQ1) Which characteristics of map apps have the potential to engage citizens in public (space) issues?
RQ2) Which potentials and/or uses of map apps can be applied as design driven ethnographic research?
RQ3) What kind of learning experiences does Digital Performative Mapping generate?
Each case study includes one or more self-designed map app(s) and seeks to make a contribution to one of the following fields/domains: society (RQ1), research (RQ2), education (RQ3). In serving society, the PhD positions Digital Performative Mapping as formative for participation in public (space) issues. In serving research, the PhD makes a methodological contribution —the examination of the affordances of map apps as a means to participatory ethnographic design research. In serving education, the PhD examines the potentials of map apps as a form of collective learning through embodied interaction with the map and with others via the map.

To enable a relevant comparison between the cases, the PhD makes use of an analytical framework. The framework consists of the map attributes ‘frame’, ‘legend’, ‘time’, and ‘navigation’ (that are used as analytical lenses), and the affordances ‘co-creating’, ‘inter-facing’, ‘playing’, and ‘performing’ (that are used as a reflection on the effects and affects that the different map apps produce). Depending on the area that a case study serves, the affordances will be different. Co-creating is presented as a practice of participatory sense-making (serving society), collective ethnography (serving research), and situated learning (serving education). Inter-facing is presented as a practice of aligning (serving society), juxtaposing (serving research), and de-familiarising (serving education). Playing is presented as a practice of critical thinking (serving education). Lastly, performing is presented as a practice of making public (serving society), enacting (serving research), and embodied learning (serving education).

Through exploring and defining the affordances of Digital Performative Mapping, the PhD proposes uses for map apps as a novel method of knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer, with which both the analytical framework and the interpretive reflection on the case studies form part of the research methodology.



Doctorate type


Year of completion


Case study type

Research through design

Institution details

LUCA School of Arts

Interaction Design, Critical Cartography