Introduction to "Cartographic Anxieties"

Guest editor, Franck Billé, University of California, Berkeley
China’s new “vertical map.” Source: Hurun Map Press, Xinhua.

While the term “cartographic anxieties” is metaphorically loaded, it has remained under-theorized and is used to refer to very different situations. A state can experience anxiety when it is subject to the “cartographic aggression” (de Blij 2012) of another. Anxiety can also be found in the gap between state representations and the imaginaries held by the citizens of that state, or between a dominant majority and an ethnic, religious, or political minority (Cons 2016). Further, it can have different temporal resonances in that the gap can index the nostalgic mourning for past territorial grandeur (Callahan 2010; Cartier 2013), evoke a programmatic future (Fortna 2002), or offer poetic and corporealized visions of the nation-state (Ramaswamy 2010).

The five articles in this special issue explore various political and cultural reverberations of cartography, as well as the complex set of discursive practices in which it is embedded. The discussion framing these papers began as a panel at the 2016 American Association of Geographers’ annual meeting, which included four of the authors featured here (Akin, Billé, Roszko, and Saxer). The contributions focus on China and its neighbors from the perspective of different disciplines: anthropology (Billé, Roszko, Saxer), history (Akin), and history of art (Tsultemin). In addition to bringing a cohesive and coherent focus to the special issue, this geographic convergence is timely given China’s recent economic and political trajectory. In tracing and analyzing the cartographic tremors of a geopolitical formation in flux, the different articles offer an outline of the mechanics of “cartographic anxiety” and together contribute to a better understanding of the affective power of mapping.