Hacker Cartography: Crowdsourced Geography, OpenStreetMap, and the Hacker Political Imaginary

  • Alan McConchie University of British Columbia


In this paper I trace the origins of “neogeography” (a constellation of new mapping practices and populations on the geospatial web) to its roots in computer hacker culture, notably through early mapping mashups, known originally as “map hacks”. I argue that a return to the figure of the hacker—via the proposed concept of hacker cartography—offers a productive lens for understanding the affordances and limitations of participatory knowledge production on the geoweb. Drawing on theorizations of hacker communities and the “hacker ethic” in the literature, I explore how hacker politics (and their critiques) can be observed on the geoweb, using specific examples from OpenStreetMap. I argue that the figure of the hacker—a highly expert individual who nonetheless frequently contributes labor without financial compensation, often producing software and data for his or her own use—presents a fresh way to rethink the expert/novice, professional/amateur and producer/consumer axes that have frustrated geographers' theorizations of participation on the geoweb. I show how the utopian ideals of the hacker ethic offer a promising yet problematic answer to the desires of Critical GIS and Participatory GIS to create more empowered users of geospatial technology.

How to Cite
McConchie, A. (2015). Hacker Cartography: Crowdsourced Geography, OpenStreetMap, and the Hacker Political Imaginary. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(3), 874-898. Retrieved from https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1237