Mapping Interfaces: An Ethnography of Everyday Digital Mapping Practices

Michael Duggan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines everyday mapping practices in our digital age. It builds on an eighteen-month ethnographic study of a diverse group of participants, including walkers, cyclists and drivers, leisure seekers, artists, and amateur and professional map makers based in London and surrounding areas. The thesis responds to two primary aims: firstly, it addresses how contemporary mapping practices are embedded in the cultural geographies of everyday life; secondly, it investigates how digital technologies are affecting contemporary mapping practices, and ultimately everyday experiences of place. Drawing from literature on place, digital technology, critical cartography, cartographic practice, and everyday geographies, the thesis brings both an empirical and theoretical contribution to current studies of maps and map users, socio-technical practice and conceptualisations of place. Overall it highlights the tensions, possibilities and limits of our current socio-technical moment, in which digital technologies are becoming more and more intertwined with our everyday experiences of the world, and traditional mapping technologies.

The dissertation also makes a specific contribution to ethnographic studies of mapping cultures, as well as ethnographically-informed digital methodologies. Ethnographic materials are framed through the concept of interface, suggesting that contemporary mapping practices can only be understood by unpacking the minutia of everyday life, the relational properties of place and the power of maps. The first of the thematic chapters in the dissertation explores how a theory of mapping interfaces can shed light on how practices of navigation have been affected by digital mapping technology. The second chapter focuses on the practices of map making in both an amateur and professional context. The third chapter discusses the performativity of contemporary mapping practices. The following chapter discusses the conceptualisation of place in the digital age and shows how the intertwinement of digital technologies and everyday practices demands novel ways of thinking about place. The dissertation concludes with policy relevant suggestions as to how we might think about maps and technology when considering work relevant to everyday practice and place in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Della Dora, Veronica, Supervisor
  • Crang, Philip, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Maps
  • Ethnography
  • Everyday life
  • digital technology
  • Cultural Geography
  • media ethnography

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