Boardgame by Suviko on Flickr

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m reading spatial theorist Michel de Certeau for an account of spatial practices. De Certeau emphasises the inadequacy and restrictiveness of abstract representations of place as administered by authority (land owners, city planners, architects), and exposes the everyday lived experience of space which is enacted beyond it. The abstract conception of place is held by those with established, demarcated territory, who attempt to control and survey it. He calls this action Strategic. In contrast to this is the Tactical; the everyday poaching of space as we move through the city, working subtly and intuitively against the logic of the Strategic model, while jaywalking or short-cutting across the grass or squatting.

The central point he makes is that the Strategic representation loses it’s responsiveness and insight as it becomes distanced from the actual context of experiences. The Strategic attempt to survey the “bigger picture” invariably creates this distance by cleaving out anything outside of its “scope”.

One area beyond its scope is the mythic/affectual relationship to space. Mechanistic analysis of people in ordered economic/productive places are unable to account for or capture psychogeography. The personal idiosyncrasies of a walker’s path from A to B form a sort of poetry of space; utilising a standard vocabulary, but in an way that is evocative beyond its representable meaning:

“[Tacticians] trace ”indeterminate trajectories” that are apparently meaningless, since they do not cohere with the constructed, written, and prefabricated space through which they move. They are sentences that remain unpredictable within the space ordered by the organizing techniques of systems. Although they use as their material the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspaper, the supermarket or city planning), although they remain within the framework of prescribed syntaxes (the temporal modes of scedules, paradigmatic organizations of places, etc.), these ”traverses” remain heterogenous to the systems they infiltrate and in which they sketch out the guileful ruses of different interests and desires.”

– de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (p35)

Here an illustration of how “lived reality” is lost-in-translation into abstract representations (maps, statistics, concepts such as the City) would be to imagine poems summed up literally: “A man walks alone around the hills, then sees some flowers“.

However, far more concrete elements are also lost in the process of being integrated into a surveillance view. The context of any event – crucial to understanding it in its specificity – is also reduced away in a Strategic view.

“Indeed, this ”representation” is insufficient, [because] time and movement are reduced to [something] read in a single movement. However useful this ”flattening out” may be, it transforms the temporal articulation of places into a spatial sequence of points. […] It is thus a mark in place of acts, a relic in place of performances: it is only their remainder, the sign of their erasure. Such a projection postulates that it is possible to take the one (the mark) for the other (operations articulated on occasions).”

So it is interesting to see an article in Directions Magazine (“an online magazine covering geospatial technology”) regarding recent trends in Law Enforcement’s use of spatial knowledge that seemed to indicate Authority is becoming more Tactical. The article lists “10 Trends Driving More Effective Law Enforcement”:

  1. Borderless mapping: “Many analyses today are based on pre-existing boundaries that have nothing to do with real-world behavior. In practice, criminals will strike on both sides of a street regardless of whether they are in different towns or postal codes. With hotspot mapping, which is not based on pre-defined zones, analysts can easily identify trends that go beyond standard map borders. In one case, a police force discovered a pattern of crimes along a rail line that spanned six jurisdictions…”

    I’d argue that this is just shifting the border to the next biggest context. At some point there is the level of nation, or the end of surveillance or access to statistics.

  2. Social landscape: “Spatial analysis paired with demographic data allow crime analysts to easily consider the affluence, buying patterns, age, traffic patterns and demographics of those involved in criminal activity – comparing the relationship between victims and offenders. In big-picture terms, location intelligence adds a quantifiable element to strategic planning.”
  3. Temporal analysis: “The social landscape of certain geographies may change over the course of a day. A financial district may attract a workforce by day and club goers by night, factors that are not captured in traditional map applications.”
  4. 3-D mapping: “In some areas, police are looking at criminal activity on a third dimension…”,

    The article is even kind enough to remind us what this dimension is: “height”, that pesky 3rd dimension that maps have been generally ignoring since their invention, so far up to and including Google maps et al.

  5. Public data sharing
  6. Real-time connectivity: “events are captured and reported via live data connections”

    Works against de Certeau’s description of Strategic systems; “these points form on a space that is supposed to be synchronic or achronic. The idea that in a map all points are both without time, and synchronous. This would be analogous to the coloured pins in a wallmap referenced in the article.

  7. Ubiquitous access.
  8. Community cooperation: “The ability to publish data via the Internet can facilitate cooperation between police and local civic groups, improving communications and making it easier for communities to participate in crime prevention measures”

    The inter-university group called project EPIC have written about this a fair bit. They point out the immense power of peer-to-peer emergency response, mediated through social media networks, and indicate the difficulty that government command-and-control systems generally have in handling information and help from these sources.

  9. Environmental analysis.
  10. Cloud-based collaboration.

Perhaps this is the trend: new technology extending the depth and granularity of the surveillance. Enframing the world in a few more dimensions, and across a few more vectors of meta-tag information. This is always still the point at which something is represented and the non-representable (for now) is left behind. Still the line in the dirt between “our territory” and the emotions and mythos, rumours and beliefs or feelings. Let’s say that when the microscopic world was discovered, the slides of life teeming in water were as much a testament to the unperceived nano-scale.