Friday, January 16, 2009

I have been co-editing a theme issue in the journal Geoforum with Chris Perkins. The title of is 'The view from nowhere? Spatial politics and cultural meanings of satellite imagery'; it emerged from sessions we organised at the AAG conference in 2007.

The papers for the theme issue are now all coming together and the first article by Paul Kingsbury and John Paul Jones III has recently appeared online in the journal's 'in press' section. (You can download an copy from here and it is also available the on Geoforum site for those with access.)

We hope the full theme issue will be out officially by the end of the year.

Walter Benjamin’s Dionysian Adventures on Google Earth

Paul Kingsbury
Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada

John Paul Jones III
Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, United States

Received 16 October 2007; revised 4 September 2008. Available online 24 December 2008.

This paper argues, following Friedrich Nietzsche, that recent evaluations of Google Earth uncritically privilege the product’s Apollonian determinations at the expense of its Dionysian uncertainties. Specifically, when we understand Google Earth as a virtual globe composed of surveyed panoramas, sober rationalization, dystopic control, and transparent order – or, even, as a tool for participation and empowerment – we undersell its capacities as an alluring digital peep-box, an uncertain orb spangled with vertiginous paranoia, frenzied navigation, jubilatory dissolution, and intoxicating giddiness. We argue that the former interpretations not only risk foreclosing our theorizations about how Google Earth is actually used in various ways and different contexts, they also reproduce a one-dimensional and conservative reading of technology that can be traced back (at least) to the writings of Theodor Adorno. By drawing on the work of Walter Benjamin (Adorno’s critic and pen pal for more than a decade) we aim to ‘go beyond Apollo and Adorno’ by illustrating the extent to which Apollonian order and Dionysian love makes Google Earth go round. To do this, we examine Google Earth as a “digital peep-box” with an online collective that revels in its “Spot the Black Helicopter” competitions; illuminated profanities; alien and giant insect invaders; naked sunbathers; and crashed transport planes in Darfur.

Keywords: Google Earth; GIS and society; Participatory GIS; Critical cartography; Walter Benjamin; Friedrich Nietzsche


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