Why we can read maps

F.-B. Mocnik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Maps, like other types of extensive data collections, are usually created and maintained by a larger number of individuals. The number of individuals using the map is even larger in most cases. Considering the complex interaction of these people, the question arises as to why maps can be used meaningfully. Ultimately, the represented geographical reality can rarely be perfectly reconstructed from the map, and misunderstandings are inevitable when using the map. This article sets factors into context that facilitate the readability of a map as well as factors that can lead to misunderstandings and non-interpretability. The creation of a map is thereby considered a complex system the stability, coherence, and heterogeneity of which can be explained by its attractors and, in the temporal context, by means of disruptive behavior and autopoiesis. To this end, a coherence theory of map making and reading is proposed. This allows for a broader perspective on the map-making process and a deeper understanding of a map’s affordances. In particular, the considerations made can serve as a starting point to develop better measures of data quality and fitness for purpose. Finally, a more reflective behavior and active influence on the map-making process is made possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalCartography and geographic information science
Issue number1
Early online date19 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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