Battle of the maps

Books & Ideas has a translated interview with Michel Foucher, ‘A world out of key’, on cartography and geopolitics.

Foucher is a former diplomat and now a professional geographer (though no doubt each requires the skills of the other).  A graduate of the Sorbonne, he was special envoy to the Balkans and the Caucasus (1999), adviser to the French Foreign Minister (1997-2002), head of the Policy Planning Staff of the Foreign Ministry (1999-2002), French Ambassador to Latvia (2002-2006), and Ambassador at large for European Issues (2007).  He is currently Director of Studies and Research at the Institut des hautes études de défense nationale and Professor of Applied Geopolitics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  At the 19th Festival of Geography he took part in a roundtable on ‘Les nouveaux territoires de la guerre’ (below; video here), and repeatedly invokes Clausewitz to insist that ‘the geographer is [the person] who looks over the hill’.

FOUCHER Nouveaux territoires de la guerre

Prolonging that martial note, the current interview is based on Foucher’s recent book, La bataille des cartes.  The analysis is conventional enough – though I like Foucher’s image of a ‘dissonant world’, which could be made to play off Edward Said‘s ‘contrapuntal geographies’ (hence the title of the interview).  It’s a wide-ranging discussion, from the meaning of geopolitics and questions about ‘strategic autonomy’ in our dissonant world, through reflections on territorialisation (and ‘maritimisation’ – works much better in French) and the power of imaginative geographies embedded in maps, to b/ordering and the implications of the Arab uprisings for the imaginaries installed by colonial cartographies.  (You can find an earlier interview on borders, security and identity here). The B&I translation is clunky in places, but it’s a good survey for a public audience.  Above all, Foucher is determined to counter the view that geography is what Jean-Claude Guillebaud called ‘a dead star’.

A Battle of Maps

As Stuart Elden noted, the project from which it derives is available not only as a book but in a digital version for the iPad, A Battle of the Maps, in either French or English. You can try it out free (‘Lite’ – just the first two sections) or download the full version here.

There’s an irony in all this; Foucher notes that ‘in an age dominated by screens’ the market depends on ‘the sham of “it’s true because it’s in colour”, a wordless geography’.  Foucher seeks to undo this cartographic rhetoric through 74 Le Monde Diplo-style  maps and accompanying text, and some of them – even in the free version – are suitably imaginative: ‘The world according to Standard & Poor’s’ or ‘The banker’s mental map’.  As Foucher notes, ‘geopolitical rhetoric enables experts who are neither geographers nor political scientists, still less cartographers, to seize commercial opportunities.’  And as those two maps also imply, many of them aren’t even experts….

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