The Non-Hierarchical Turn
Hacker Cartography as an Image of the World: the Syrian Civil War Case
Between 2012 and 2014, Syrian rebels have used the crowdsourcing service Map Maker to change the names of streets and geographical places. For example, on the Hafiz Al-Assad highway appeared the name of the dissident musician Ibrahim al-Kashosh, Lake Assad has been renamed Revolution Lake, etc. The event is a significant demonstration of a critical approach to the online/offline relation, exploring the interdependence between the two spheres to question the concept of authority. Paradoxically, this agency is expressed through geolocation technologies that are, as this paper will argue, intimately authoritarian (Mirzoeff 2015).
Though a media-related approach, this essay will interpret this clash in terms of an appropriation, or a sabotage, of offline physical spaces through online virtual practices. By one hand, in historical perspective, it will reflect on how media history has always been a history of the changes in the perception and appropriation of the space (Harvey 1989, Giddens, 1990), modifying the “situational geography” of social life and compromising the traditional relations between physical environment and social situation (Meyrowitz 1985, Thompson 1995). By the other, through the analysis of the aforementioned case study, I will show how digital technologies have promoted an ontological turn of the image environments. Stressing this concept to the extreme, I will demonstrate how this process could lead to a short-circuit between the virtual and the real, highlighting how material reality can be conceived as none but an endless and dynamic overlapping of virtualisations.
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