The power of maps in shaping visions about the Arctic
Helena Gonzales Lindberg
Academic article
The Arctic Yearbook
Year published:
Maps have the ability to make abstract information visible and real to their audiences. They provide humans a way to conceptualize and understand places and issues that otherwise might seem both distant and abstract. This article argues that maps influence what issues are visible and knowable and what issues are silenced and disregarded, often giving prominence to dominant understandings. As such, maps help constitute what is considered politically possible in terms of governing problems such as climate change or pressing ahead with new policy initiatives pertaining to economic development. Specifically, this article seeks to understand the power of maps in the context of the Arctic region, where maps can be seen as central to constructing imaginaries and indirect experiences of the Arctic. I suggest that Arctic processes and possibilities are difficult to communicate to audiences, let alone imagined, without the use of maps. To illustrate the constitutive power of maps in the Arctic, I deconstruct a set of two maps depicting oil and gas potential in the Arctic coming from a fact sheet by the U. S. Geological Survey. The analysis focuses on the ways in which these maps enable and limit certain conceptualizations and visions of ’the Arctic’ and politics within that region. I contend that maps are powerful because they shape generally held assumptions about the Arctic, often serving already dominant interests and visions about the future.