First Monday

FM Reviews

Jeremy W. Crampton.
The Political Mapping of Cyberspace.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
paper, 214 p., ISBN 0–226–11746–4, US$25.00.
University of Chicago Press:

Jeremy W. Crampton. Political Mapping of Cyberspace.

At a college state accreditation meeting last spring (for a Massachusetts Criminal Justice Program), a gnomish inquisitor appointed by the Commonwealth’s Board of Higher Education (with a terminal All–But–Dissertation status) swung between a noisy enthusiasm for the practice of "crime mapping," via GIS/GPS systems, and an equally vocal scorn for any program that did not uncritically embrace his primal passion. Given the money and politics around state accreditation, this summer, the institution placed ads for two tenure–track lines, specifying competence in GIS applications, in the major academic "help wanted" venues. As we collectively bent to political expediency, more than one of us asked ourselves the larger question: "How do we begin to think about this?"

The great virtue of The Political Mapping of Cyberspace is Crampton’s success in adapting pre–existing frames for productive thought and conversation around crime mapping and other activities that produce a significant portion of cyberspace. From Foucault, Crampton adopts a method, problematization, applied to his object, the spatial politics of cyberspace. (Specifically, Crampton defines problematization as examining how and why cyberspace is an issue, how cyberspace, as an issue, emerged, and how we evaluate truth claims around cyberspace). He begins by defining cyberspace as the "mutual process of production between physical space and virtual space," rejecting any reification of cyberspace (Crampton, p. 12). Then, he analyzes cyberspace through specific Foucauldian frames. Among them are the tracing genealogies (non–linear histories) by tracking the emergence and distribution of discursive (that which is said) and non–discursive (that which is done) practices around such activities as crime mapping, geo–surveillance and blogging. Crampton asks such questions as (closely paraphrasing): What are the material relations that constitute cyberspace? What are the power–knowledge relations that are exercised in that venue? How are subjects "produced" in cyberspace? Responding to the tension produced by the dualities of early Twenty–first Century technologies (in such pairings as privacy v. data access, globalism v. local resistances, or security v. freedom, etc.), Crampton offers up his definition of governmentality. It can be conceptualized as the "point of contact" between disciplinary technologies that regulate the masses, and the micro–technologies that the individual may use (or be used upon the individual) to shape and reshape the self.

Governmentality analysis is supplemented with ideas from Heidegger. Crampton adopts Heidegger’s distinction between ontic knowledge (knowledge of things as they are) and ontological knowledge (knowledge about the pre–conditions that produce the ontic) as a primary analytical frame. For example, most U.S. Criminal Justice enthusiasts of crime mapping are ontic. For while they pursue accuracy, they omit examining how such practices are a response to larger political problematizations, and how they both reveal and conceal such problematizations. For Crampton

"It is not a question of ‘looking for’ the political in maps ... the project is rather to investigate and reveal how mapping necessarily produces the political, and how rethinking mapping can lead to a rethinking a questioning of the political. This ... is both a definition and a call to a critical politics of cartography" (Crampton, 2003, p. 64).

By way of example, enthusiasm in the U.S. for crime mapping often reproduces and ignores pre–existing class and race biases in the U.S. criminal justice system. Excised are the many troubling questions about the validity of the federal Uniform Crime Statistics that form the basis for such maps. Mapping enthusiasts uncritically strengthen onerous American practices of incarceration. However, if I had made this statement, during the accreditation meeting, (discussed above) the reaction of state accreditators would have been roughly equivalent to a phrase frequently used to silence "politically incorrect" speech on Murdoch’s Fox News: "Shut up!"

This question of the political is revisited in "Disciplinary Cyberspaces." The chapter’s strength comes from an analysis that meshes contemporary geo–surveillance with the history of statistics (from the Nineteenth Century onward). However, Crampton’s analysis would have benefited by using recent insights from Richard V. Ericson and Nicholas Rose. For Ericson, actuarial/insurance practices have become routines in most Western institutions, including the police (Ericson and Haggerty, 1997. Policing the risk society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 23–24). Ericson also points out that the vast majority of police reports document personal and property damage and loss, not violent interpersonal crime. Such reports are used as indemnification records, for present loss and future calculation of profit and loss, by insurance companies and other actors (such as car manufacturers). Crime mapping is insurance mapping.

From Rose comes the idea that there are two forms of mapping applied to differently situated subjects. "Low risk" subjects are part of circuits of inclusion (which consists of spatial and virtual surveillance geared to qualifying subjects for benefits, such as cut–rate credit, good health care, and general access to privilege). Then, there are circuits of exclusion. In the latter circuit, disqualified subjects are mapped by more onerous forms of surveillance. Venues for this type of mapping include welfare offices, day reporting centers, methadone clinics, jails and prisons. Some sites work to provisionally re–qualify probationary subjects for later entrance into circuits of inclusion, while others (such as maximum security prisons) enforce permanent disqualification. Mapping movement in (through and out the circuit’s spaces) is a key part of producing identity in circuits of access and exclusion (Rose, 2000. "Government and control," In: Garland and Sparks (editors). Criminology and social theory. pp. 187–208).

The larger point is that Ericson and Rose examine notions of security (a key feature of the governmentality project) with greater depth and nuance.

Crampton canvasses other developments of interest to cyberspace analysts. These include exploring acts of self–invention via blogging, and the mapping of the "digital divide" in metropolitan Atlanta in the 1990s. Most intriguing is Crampton’s exploration of the distinction between "the authentic" and its near disappearance into digital practices of "authentication" (used to verify ID and passwords to gain access to resources, soon to be enforced via biometrics). This insight is worth further development.

For me, the least satisfying part of the book is the tension, in the concluding chapter, between three ideas: Declaring his distaste for the idea that technology is just a tool, the positive emphasis on the importance of self–creation and pleasure though activities of mapping, and a restatement of how mapping "clears the ground" (p. 187) for politics. These three themes remain less than fully integrated.

Caveats aside, The Political Mapping of Cyberspace is of real and enduring value in thinking about which questions need to be asked and what approaches are useful in demystifying the "silver bullet" spin found in uncritical GIS/GPS promotion. — Dion Dennis End of Review


Tim S. Roberts.
Online Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice.
Hershey, Pa.: Idea Group Publishing, 2004.
cloth, 336 p., ISBN 1–591–40174–7, US$74.95.
Idea Group:

Tim S. Roberts. Online Collaborative Learning.

This is a compendium piece from Information Science Publishing which aims to provide a resource for both practitioners and researchers. It contains thirteen contributions by people from around the world — Australia and Europe feature heavily alongside a variety of contributions from the U.S., thus ensuring that the book does not speak to just one culture.

Most of the contributions are practice–based, describing in detail a variety of case studies on which their conclusions and discussions are built. One of the best is the discussion by Nason and Ruff of online collaborative learning of maths in which children are asked to produce alternative sets of Olympic medals tables, which had this reviewer reaching for his spreadsheet to prove that Great Britain topped the table at Athens 2004. There is also a variety of settings — supporting collaborative project teams, computer–mediated progressive enquiry, learner centred e–learning, learning how to learn, online communities and others. A wide variety of theoretical viewpoints also get exercised, to the extent that there will be something for everyone. Most also carry out a literature review of some portion of the growing literature available on the subject. Either the fast moving nature of the field, or its ephemerality, or both, is shown by the unfortunate number of Web pages referenced by the various contributors which are now no longer accessible.

There is always a risk of a compendium like this becoming something of a scattergun approach, but this is avoided in this selection by a general sense of direction that emerges from much of the work. This is interesting as most of the contributors emphasise how new the field is, how much we lack understanding and how much research still needs to be done. But it is rare nowadays to find research that does not suggest that more research needs to be done. In this case the interests of the research community are probably aligned with the needs of the teaching profession, though we can, I think, be more confident about our practice than some of the contributors seem to suggest.

The contributors work within some variety of constructivist theory, all assuming the benefits of student participation and control, while noting that many teachers and students prefer more hierarchical methods. This is most strongly stated by Dirkx and Smith, though I suspect they do not differentiate clearly enough between learning and assessment. Students take more readily to collaborative learning if it is clear to them that assessment is dependent on their own efforts and not somebody else’s.

The whole field is still young enough to give most of us working in it the pleasant feeling of being able to call ourselves pioneers, but there is a steadily growing body of generally accepted knowledge or wisdom, and a number of authorities to whom more and more people look. There are some referred to by several contributors in this volume, and it is interesting to note that some of those most referred to are quite old by Internet standards. Among these Panitz’s views on the nature and meaning of collaboration and co–operation are rightly referred to often. Brescia and Scardamalia also come up in several different contexts. Collis is quoted on the effects of Internet access on distance learning, Bateson is used to underline the pedagogy and Schon for support on reflection as a learning tool. There are others, whom I dare say some of the contributors to this volume will eventually join. It is quite a dense and demanding read, but the breadth of material, and the variety of ways which the contributors find to test their theories make it a worthwhile foray. — Rob Parsons. End of Review


Richard Thieme.
Islands in the Clickstream: Reflections on Life in a Virtual World.
Rockland, Mass.: Syngress (distributed by O’Reilly & Associates), 2004.
paper, 336 p., ISBN 1–931–83622–1, US$29.95.

Richard Thieme. Islands in the Clickstream.

Thieme is an ex–Episcopalian pastor who started writing a monthly Internet column at the invitation of a group of engineers — this book is a collection of those writings.

Europeans may not recognise the name but Alistair Cooke’s "Letter from America" is a close analogy. As pointed out in the introduction these pieces were written to be read on–screen and transferring them to print risks changing them. It should be noted that, because of the period they span (January, 1997 — March, 2004), time and technology and sensitivities have also changed in some areas.

With those caveats in place I have to say how much I enjoyed this book. Some pieces simply didn’t work for me but as each is small and written in a clear and readable style it wasn’t long before I was onto something which resonated. The writing style clearly shows the author’s background — here is a man of faith and in touch with technology but the style is not "preachy," the ideas are there, clearly articulated, for the reader to assess and value and accept or reject as they choose. He isn’t looking for converts but offers some valid, cogent perspectives on the World and technology and how we deal with both.

He uses stories from many sources to illustrate his stories, "Digital Civility" starts with a line I find myself using often (before reading it here) — "Technology isn’t about technology. Technology is about people" and closes with a lovely piece of Zen philosophy. "Failing into success" — written in 1997 — compares the Dot–Com bubble with the Alaskan gold rush of 1898 and reminds readers that the people who made money during the gold rush were the people who sold the shovels rather than the people who used them.

This isn’t a technology book per se, nor is it a book on faith beyond a faith in humanity. In fact I really don’t know how to categorise this book but I’m glad I had an opportunity to read it. Don’t pick this up if you want to better understand TCP/IP or CSS or SSL. This book will not make you a better cracker or hacker or Project Manager or IT Director. What it can do is make you think, it raises issues about how we implement and use the technologies we develop, it poses questions about how our global reach affects us and others but, most of all, it grounds our advances in humanity. — Nigel Gibson BSc (Hons)(Open). End of Review

Contents Index

Copyright ©2004, First Monday