Frontiers in Google Maps: Commodification and Territory in the Borderlands

Abstract

From carving up empires to enclosing the commons, the history of maps has long been caught up in creating, legitimising and representing borders. As a product of these historical processes, Google Maps now claim to have one billion users per month. Given this unprecedented audience, how the multinational corporation represents the world is very significant, for it shapes the way a vast number of people imagine the earth and their place in it. It also affects social practice, with these cyber-spatial images facilitating people’s physical movement through space. This paper argues that Google Maps can be understood as a cultural and spatial representation of globalization. Far from implying a simplistic and ideological ‘borderless world’, globalization here implies a material and symbolic process of intensifying social relations and consciousness across global space-time. The question of borders in Google Maps raises a tension between the imagined community of the nation-state and the rising global imaginary. This tension will be explored via Google’s contradictory policy for depicting controversial borders, using the examples of Liancourt Rocks and Jerusalem. These examples demonstrate how Google Maps attempts to pass itself of as politically neutral, objective and legitimate, and yet it is persistently political, cultural, and ideological. Unpacking Google’s claim that ‘the need for information crosses all borders’, this paper concludes with a reflection on the shifting borderland between online and offline, as the frontier of corporate cyberspace further encroaches into the realm of embodied experience.



Author Information
Timothy Erik Ström, RMIT University, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2014
Stream: Cultural Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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