MAPS ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS THAT WORK POLITICALLY
Maps are graphic representation of the real and natural world. Though they are objective, they are simultaneously symbolic abstractions of reality. Maps are visual and silent narrative text. This dichotomy between the real and the symbolic, with display of cultural and physical features of geography, opens up the corresponding system of signifiers and signified, into the world of motivation and meaning. . There is semantic power in the way countries are projected as “centers” of the world and viewers are presented with images of land masses distortion and disorientation, depending on the cartographers’ political manipulation or motives. In colonialism, epistemic violence, rooted in racialism, are often committed in land disputes. Mapping geography and location in spatial connections are linked with Foucault’s trinity of knowledge, power and culture. The relations are thus social constructions that work politically.
With that introduction, we proceed to analyze the lie of “Terra Nullius”. Captain Cook and his team of convicts viewed the place as “uninhabited”, for there was no “settlement population”, powerful and organized enough, for him to negotiate deals on land rights .In the words of Frantz Fanon, the black aborigines had “no ontological resistance”, no identity to relate with white colonizers. Historical data revealed there were almost a million people in the continent then, with about 600 tribes, and each with a different language and indigenous sacred rites. It was the knowledge of maps and their mimetic perception and representation that initiated the colonial process of expanding territories, and subjugation of the colonized. The colonialists invented the white man’s “rules of the game” and expected the colonized to play by their rules, often backed by military or political might. Cartography, a powerful tool, worked liked a panoptic mechanism, in a hidden social construction that functions politically.
Incidentally, the British did not declare the Falkland Islands as “Terra Nullius”, for the French were there before their arrival, and therefore, the people there could be seen. Maps influence the way we understand the world and in international relations, and they construct meaning and are infused with political choices. We live in a spherical world, where top and bottom, east and west, ocean or land, depends on how it is presented and perceived. If they fail to support your views, discard the “objective and natural depictions”, chose whatever social or political construct to dominate. There are no longer innocent or objective, and can be manipulated. The voyage depends on the viewers’ gaze, his map reading skill and knowledge, and the way the eyes are drawn to the map and globe.
Political maps, liked the McMahan Line between Sino-Indian border, served colonial purpose of divide and rule, or subject contenting states in perpetual conflict. It is no longer wise for States to believe in the objectivity of maps and to hold on to their borders rigidly, for we know nations and civilizations change in the time and space. It may be best to negotiate and compromise and avoid the risk of mutually self -destruct or end in “clash of civilization”. Piers Fotiadis warned that covert power was often hidden in overt objectivity without our awareness. We must, therefore, understand the dominant narrative; deconstruct it to detect the falsity or truth of the maps. The media on both nations and international often contribute to the confusion, and they are part of this social construct, which have their own respective motives politically.
2.Cheryl McEwan. ‘Dismantling the Master’s House’?: Towards a postcolonial geography , School of Geography, University of Birmingham. http://www.mtmlinguasoft.com/the-world-turned-upside-down/ Cited 03-03-2014