Where is the centre of the map?

After I posted my second post on a sense of place  my partner drew my attention to the geometry of my map. Indeed the screen shot of my Google tour was akin to the image of geometry I included from Wikipedia, but what was fascinating for him was the where the centre of the map was/is. Since I started my life in Vancouver Canada and have now returned here for the present time should that not be the centre of my map? I could manipulate the view, as you will see if you visit the tour, but I had selected the screen shot with Europe and Africa at the centre. Was this a conscious decision? Was I projecting into the map my cultural draw or is it simply that all through primary, secondary and third level education maps have been represented to me with Europe at the centre. Must I  delve into a discussion on post-colonial theory and why maps historically were drawn from a Euro-centric? Others have gone before and I will not reinvent the wheel but rather encourage you to explore. It is pertinent to the discussion that we understand how much of an impact being colonized continues to have on how peoples and nations view the world. I had a interesting discussion this past week with a student of mine who comes from a First Nations community in Canada about mapping and indigenous communities. It began as we were discussing a paper which focuses on community mapping, a research tool which has become especially popular in Action and Participatory Research projects. We were addressing whether the exercise of asking communities to draw their perception of their land/community/region was indeed a participatory exercise in the true sense as traditionally different communities/peoples/cultures have very different ways of understanding the world. I know growing up in Africa that there were certainly no street names or directions except those reminiscent of the British colonial rule. A fantastic App has just been developed in Ghana to try and address this issue given the centrality of technology in contemporary times. In Ireland directions are only used in Dublin to understand perceived social class in terms of if you a North Dub or a South Dub. Certainly, I have had to adjust and learn the concept of North, South, East, West here in North America, and am still constantly amazed with how it is used in everyday speak. The discussion brought up by my student made me reflect on how we take certain maps and ways of understanding boundaries of place for granted. Whose map is it anyways? The ability to create our own Google maps or other forms of digital visualization of places is giving us more creative freedom than the Atlases of old where place appeared static.

Returning to my own screen grab of my Google Tour – what if I were to place my place of birth and my current location (both the same) at the centre of the map? The exercise of writing this post brought me to the realization that putting my homes as points on a map simply made the map seem more arbitrary than it already was. When I think about my connections with family and friends in different communities across the globe it is not by the place they are in as a location on the map, but rather as a network of connections not grounded in place with me at the centre reaching out to them. Maps help us to navigate place but we must be aware of how that place is understood differently not only by different cultures and communities but also from individual to individual based on their life experiences.

A Sense of Place – Connections

A sense of Place – connections

On Wednesday a student of mine invited me to give a talk on place and its link to sustainability. She had asked me back in November and at the time it seemed like a long way off and a great idea. As the date loomed I pondered on what I would share with a group of 70 enthusiastic UBC students and especially how I would appeal to their passion on sustainability issues.

When in doubt I believe we should always turn in and reflect on our own perception of the topic or situation we are hoping to converse about. So much of what we believe to be true is influenced by media, both social and news. We each operate in our own communities sharing information and ideas with each other in the comfort that we are in agreement. We only have to look to our own Facebook page or Twitter feed to observe that our peers are reading or sharing similar websites and videos to us, they care about the same issues we do. Do not misunderstand me there is nothing wrong with this, I do it myself everyday – it is my way of knowing and making sense of the world. It is only at times when I am asked to stop and reflect on this that I begin to see the flaws in my perfect comfort design.

I began by thinking about what home meant to me – is it a place? Is it a group pf people or indeed a person? Is it a sense of being of feeling like you have ‘arrived’ somewhere? Is it more sensual a particular smell, a genre of music, your mother’s cooking? I think for me it was/is all of these things and so I began to decipher this relating it to physical place. I created a Google Tour Builder, which is a fantastic website where you can create your own map tour together with images, links and audio. Suddenly my array of physical homes began to take the shape of geometric shape and so I compared it thus

My homes
My homes using Google Tour Builder
Geometry by wikipedia.org
Geometry by wikipedia.org

Doreen Massey’s power geometry suddenly came to life before my eyes – it really is about connections after all and my own life is a visualization of this.

So how does all this relate to sense of place and specifically why am I writing about it specifically in terms of my focus on the Middle East? Well if I could make the dots darker for length of time spent in each place, the core of my geometric life would be focused in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. My heart aches when I look at the picture for all of the items I mentioned, a particular smell, a genre of music, my mother’s version of Sudanese cooking, and much more. As I glanced through my own social networks or analyzed the news I focus on I sensed an undercurrent of Arab culture in how I viewed the world – it was the lens which I used to understand many other things. I think we all have a default space which we go to and I found mine. But it has grown and changed, and now that Middle Eastern core is stretched across the globe added different perspectives and voices to the mix. My sense of place is full of energy and diversity in its geometry and this is what gives it power. It is also what saddens me in these desperate times as we witness the ancients lands, birth places of Algebra, science and agriculture descend into darkness. I am reminded of a poem by one of my favourite poets from the region Khalil Gibran ‘Dead Are My People‘ and of his sorrow at the events in his own birthplace of Lebanon.

There is so much more I could say on the Middle East and the current situations but I will save that for another day. I want you to reflect on your own sense of place and your own connections, it is these that will bring some balance into the world, it is these that will bring awareness to others – you have more in common with each other than you think and that is the key to a sustainable world.