A Spectacle of Maps

Cartographic Hopes and Anxieties in the Pamirs

Reflections on map-making and curation at large.

by Martin Saxer

Old US tactical pilotage chart.


Over the past 150 years, a great number of cartographic anxieties and hopes have shaped lives and relations in the Pamirs. The Great Game over imperial spheres of influence was followed by Soviet and Chinese anxieties over territorial integrity and the loyalty of their borderland populations; after the end of the Cold War, settling the remaining demarcated borders became a primary concern in Central Asia; meanwhile, mining companies are anxious to claim territories for mineral extraction, and the maps of national parks and nature reserves aim at mitigating ecological anxieties and claim spaces for conservation. The result is a veritable spectacle of maps.

Following Kitchin and Dodge (2007), I argue that maps are “ontogenetic” rather than representational—they foster realities on the ground. Map-making projects derived from cartographic anxieties are embedded in particular visions of the future, and thus they can serve as a vantage point to explore the changing modes of outside engagement in the Pamirs.

Related Events

Mar 2016

A Spectacle of Maps

Paper presented at AAG San Francisco in the panel “Cartographic Anxieties”, organised by Franck Billé



A Spectacle of Maps. Cartographic Hopes and Anxieties in the Pamirs

30 December 2016
Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, 21:111-136

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
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