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Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project: Towards a Critical Geographical Research Agenda

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Critical cartographic scholarship has demonstrated that maps (and geoinformation in general) can never be neutral or objective: maps are always embedded in specific social contexts of production and use and thus unavoidably reproduce social conventions and hierarchies. Furthermore, it has been argued that maps also (re)produce certain geographies and thus social realities. This argument shifts attention to the constitutive effects of maps and the ways in which they make the world. Within the discussion on neogeography and volunteered geographic information, it has been argued that crowd sourcing offers a radical alternative to conventional ways of map making, challenging the hegemony of official and commercial cartographies. In this view, crowd-sourced Web 2.0-mapping projects such as OpenStreetMap (OSM) might begin to offer a forum for different voices, mapping new things, enabling new ways of living. In our contribution, we frame a research agenda that draws upon critical cartography but widens the scope of analysis to the assemblages of practices, actors, technologies, and norms at work: an agenda which is inspired by the " critical GIS "-literature, to take the specific social contexts and effects of technologies into account, but which deploys a processual view of mapping. We recognize that a fundamental transition in mapping is taking 143 place, and that OSM may well be of central importance in this process. However, we stress that social conventions, political hegemonies, unequal economic and technical resources etc. do not fade away with crowdsourced Web 2.0 projects, but rather transform themselves and impact upon mapping practices. Together these examples suggest that research into OSM might usefully reflect more critically on the contexts in which new geographic knowledge is being assembled.
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Social and Political Dimensions
of the OpenStreetMap Project: Towards
a Critical Geographical Research Agenda
Georg Glasze and Chris Perkins
Abstract Critical cartographic scholarship has demonstrated that maps (and
geoinformation in general) can never be neutral or objective: maps are always
embedded in specic social contexts of production and use and thus unavoidably
reproduce social conventions and hierarchies. Furthermore, it has been argued that
maps also (re)produce certain geographies and thus social realities. This argument
shifts attention to the constitutive effects of maps and the ways in which they make
the world. Within the discussion on neogeography and volunteered geographic
information, it has been argued that crowd sourcing offers a radical alternative to
conventional ways of map making, challenging the hegemony of ofcial and
commercial cartographies. In this view, crowd-sourced Web 2.0-mapping projects
such as Open StreetMap (OSM) might begin to offer a forum for different voices,
mapping new things, enabling new ways of living. In our contribution, we frame a
research agenda that draws upon critical cartography but widens the scope of
analysis to the assemblages of practices, actors, technologies, and norms at work: an
agenda which is inspired by the critical GIS-literature, to take the specic social
contexts and effects of technologies into account, but which deploys a processual
view of mapping. We recognize that a fundamenta l transition in mapping is taking
Part of this paper has been written while Georg Glasze was a visiting researcher at the Oxford
Internet Institute (OII) in 2014. We want to thank Steve Chilton (London), Christian Bittner,
Tim Elrick (both Erlangen), various colleagues from the OII and the three anonymous referees
for their advices on aspects of this paper.
G. Glasze (& )
Institute of Geography, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU),
91054 Erlangen, Germany
e-mail: georg.glasze@fau.de
C. Perkins
School of Environment, Education and Development (Geography),
The University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
e-mail: chris.perkins@manchester.ac.uk
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
J. Jokar Arsanjani et al. (eds.), OpenStreetMap in GIScience,
Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-14280-7_8
143
place, and that OSM may well be of central importance in this process. However,
we stress that social conventions, political hegemonies, unequal economic and
technical resources etc. do not fade away with crowdsourced Web 2.0 projects, but
rather transform themselves and impact upon mapping practices. Together these
examples suggest that research into OSM might usefully reect more critically on
the contexts in which new geographic knowledge is being assembled.
Keywords Critical cartography
GIS and society
Geoweb and society
Volunteered geographic information
Social and cultural geography
OpenStreetMap
1 Introduction
OpenStreetMap (OSM) has repeatedly been described as free and as a crowd-
sourced map of the world which enables an opening and democratization of
hitherto elitist practices of cartographic (re)presentations and the collection of
geodata (see, for example, Chilton 2011). Other chapters in this volume offer
detailed descriptions of the project, and the varying functionalities it offers,
detailing the complex variety of application areas for OSM data, but for the pur-
poses of this chapter we focus upon the extent to which OSM delivers a radical
change that is signicantly different from other digital mapping projects. We are
concerned here with the social and political dim ensions of OpenStreetMap, and
with the extent to which the much-trumpeted free and open nature of the project
delivers a democratized and emanc ipatory mapping of the world. We sketch out a
critical research agenda, exploring the xations, hierarchies, conventions and
exclusions, which almost inevitably become inscribed in projects like OSM. This
agenda argues that researchers might attend more to mapping modes through which
OSM is practiced, by focusing on authorship, technical infrastructure, and gover-
nance. We argue that researchers might also deploy mixed and ethnographic
approaches, in order to learn more about particular moments of mapping practice
and illustrate this with a small case study of mapping mosques. In discussing
these aspects, we aim to reect on the dynamic, changeable, and thus open status
of the project.
2 Geoinformation, Cartographic (Re)presentation
and Society
Geoinformation and cartographic (re-)presentations categorize, de ne, arrange,
locate, designate, and thereby (re)produce certain conceptions of the world. They
powerfully affect our thinking and acting. Critical cartographic scholarship has
144 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
demonstrated that maps can never be neutral: they are always embedded in specic
social contexts of production and use and thus unavoidably reproduce social
conventions and hierarchies (see Harley 1989). Furthermore, it has been argued that
maps also (re)produce geographies. This argument shifts attention to the ways in
which maps make the world (e.g. Pickles 1992). For example, the projection used,
what is shown on the map, what becomes silenced, what is emphasized, and where
the map is centered on to construct a particular world-view. Critical engagement
with the social contexts and implications of geoinformation and cartographic (re)
presentation also has to consider technological changes and practices for the
collection, organization, and use of geographic informationespecially in the
digital age.
2.1 Critical Cartography I: The Social Construction of Maps
From the 1980s a perspective that sees maps as socially constructed started to take
form. In 1985 the Swiss geographer Raffestin proposed a sociology of cartogra-
phy which asked why societies designed specic maps. In 1992, Denis Wood
elaborated on the power of maps in bringing forward the argument that maps are
always deployed to represent interests. The geographer and historian of cartography
Brian Harley interpreted historic maps as documents, which have to be understood
in particular social contexts. In his highly inuential article Deconstructing the
map (1989) he differentiates external and internal power in cartography. External
power refers to the impact of social structures on the ways maps are produced:
Monarchs, ministers, state institutions, the Church, have all initiated programs of
mapping for their own ends (ibid: 12). The internal power of cartographic pro-
cesses refers to the nexus of knowledge and power described by the French
philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Harley lays the basis for a social con-
structivist view of cartography. He suggested an approach inspired by text-based
discourse analysis in order to analyze how maps tend to reproduce specic world
views. In this view, regularities in the design of maps are seen as indices for the
implicit and unstated rules of cartographic practice.
2.2 Critical Cartography II: Mapping as Socio-technical
Practice
Since the 1990s a debate has develo ped amongst scholars of critical cartography,
which focuses on the practices, conventions and techniques of map making and use
and thus goes beyond former concerns with the visual design of the map. This
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 145
research perspective questions how mapping practices shape our socia l worlds
(Pickles 2004) and often draws upon ideas from science and technology studies.
Dodge et al. (2009b), for example, point to the writings of Latour who took modern
cartography as an example to show how specic practices and techniques were
used, to produce scientic knowledge and thus authority in European centers of
power. Latour (1986) argued that these practices, conventions, and techniques
worked to create the preconditions for international trade, territor ial expansion, and
global colonization and thus new geographies, and that maps served as immutable
mobiles, circulating and reifying a particular way of knowing the world.
2.3 Social Science Perspectives on the Transformation
of Geoinformation and Cartography in the Age of GIS
and the Geoweb
Since the 1960s analogue print-based cartography has been rapidly and compre-
hensively replaced by digital cartography. From the 1960s, Geographic Information
Systems (GIS) were progressively developed, to capture, process, analyze, and map
digital geodata. The encounter of GIS and critical social and cultural geography
triggered a discussion of the social implications of the widespread use of GIS (see for
example Pickles 1995; Schuurman 2000, 2009; Harvey et al. 2 005;OSullivan 2006).
This debate on GIS and society not only focused on mapped displays, but also on the
practices and technologies beyond and behind these representations. Three
important aspects of this debate should be highlighted. The major inuence of eco-
nomic and military interests in the development of GIS was an important focus for
research. A second theme concerned disparities over access to production and use of
geographic information arising from the complexity and cost of GI systems. Finally,
the focus of GI analyses was on quantiable and metric information with a consequent
danger of a marginalization of qualitative interpretation. Today, research into GIS
and society analyzes the socio- and politico-economic contexts of GIS, as well as the
impacts of GIS on social structures and processes (Pickles 2004;OSullivan 2006;
Harris and Harrower 2006; Pavlovskaya 2006).
With the development of the interactive internet, the so-called Web 2.0, and the
rapidly growing availability of online-geodata, geoinformation and cartography are
undergoing another fundamental transformation (Haklay et al. 2008;OReilly
2005). Global corporations with no background in geoinformation are developing
new Geoweb applications (on the history of Google Earth see, for example, Dalton
2013). With the proliferation of global positioning systems in smartphones and
navigational devices, the Geoweb is part of mobile and ubiquitous practices.
Alongside commercial players in this eld there are a growing number of open
Geoweb-projects based on crowdsourcing, with OpenStreetMap being the most
146 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
successful and prom inent example. These projects involve thousands of volunteers
in the creation, organization, and use of geoinformation, consequently described as
voluntary geographic information or VGI (Goodchild 2007), leading to what has
been labeled as a neogeogr aphy beyond the established academic eld of
geography (Goodchild 2009).
Research on the Geoweb in the social sciences can build on approaches devel-
oped in critical cartography and GIS and society, but also prot from relations to
the wider eld of critical social and cultural geography and interdisciplinary internet
studies (see Graham 2009; Caquard 2014). Sarah Elwood and her co-researchers
have begun to research different aspects of collaborative and community-based
mapping, to offer a critical interpretation of big data and the Geoweb, reorienting
attention to the power of techni cal and political infrastructures in privileging certain
kinds of information, moments, or affordances, and drawing attention to the
exclusions that are normalized in the apparently neutral specications of mapping
projects on the Geoweb (see Elwood 2010a, b, 2011; Elwood and Leszczynski
2012). This kind of research also draws attention to the importance of the research
discourse around Geoweb projects, that script a boosterist neogeographic agenda
in which VGI remains somehow separate from the powerful forces of commerce that
maneuver around the technology, deploying it as part of their accumulation strate-
gies (see Leszczynski and Elwood 2014). Technical research elides the social and
political context of Geoweb projects and in so doing allows them to advance as
new, without having to think about why or how they are advancing. Other political
economic research focuses on the relationship of depiction and inscription and the
realpolitik of claims to space (see for example Burns 2014). Glasze (2014) suggests
four main questions that might be answered in this kind of research:
(1) How are practices relating to compi lation, processing, analysis, and presen-
tation of geodata that were formerly the responsibilities of public organizations
shifting to other actors? To what extent can this be interpreted as an opening
of geoinformation or should these processes be seen more as a commodi-
cation and commercialization of geoinformation by means of a roll back of
public services?
(2) What role do communities of collaborative internet activists play in this
process?
(3) What are the consequences of this shift for the nature, quality, processing and
presentation of geodata, and how do social (and spatial) inequalities become
(re-)produced in this process?
(4) How does the growing extent of geodata enable new possibilities for (Geo-)
surveillance and (Geo-)marketing? And what does this mean for questions of
power, governance, resistance and privacy?
These issues can usefully be examined by focusing on OpenStreetMap, and we
argue can most clearly be a rticulated if researchers adopt a concern with modes,
moments and methods (see Dodge et al. 2009b) wrapped up in this project. By
modes we mean the ways technologies, culture, and socio-economic organization
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 147
come together to inuence mapping practices; by moments we mean the banal
taken-for-granted instances of practice on the ground; and by methods we mean
how researchers might investigate such issues.
3 OpenStreetMap: Opening and Democratizing
Geoinformation and Cartography?
OpenStreetMap was founded in the UK in 2004 by software developer Steve Coast.
It offers a collaborative geodata project and cartography in which users capture,
upload, edit, and tag tracks and points of interest, progressively building a global
open and free geodatabase and map. Within the discussion around neo-geography
and volunt eered geographic information (VGI) it has been argued that this kind of
crowd-sourcing offers a radical alternative to conventional ways of geoinformation
and map making (e.g. Goodchild 2007, 2009), challenging the hegemony of ofcial
and commercial cartographies. In this view, crowd-sourced Web 2.0-mapping
projects such as OSM might begin to offer a forum for different voices, mapping
new things, enabling new ways of living (Perkins 2013).
OSMs web-based architecture facilitates many different kinds of involvement
(see Ramm and Topf 2010). Users can create data, enhancing and growing many
aspects of the project, and, in so doing, build a collaborative geodata project. The
different OSM wikis document established practices. Different rendering styles
have been developed to map the database. Code is revised and the functionality of
the interface changes over time. Tools have been created by the community, to
check the quality, coverag e, and veracity of mapped features. Tagging standards are
debated in talk lists. A community of users progressively adds to the project and
meets online and in fora such as annual conferences and Mapping Parties.
From the outset, OSM offered a wiki-based capaci ty to share tasks. The Project
offered something new to users, and the novelty lay in the notion that OSM was
open and free. Its culture of participation is a central feature. Any registered user
has the capacity to overwrite other peoples wor k. Throughout the documentation
about the project it is frequently repeated that practical needs of doing the project
take precedence over more hierarchical rules governing behavior. An early impetus
to estab lishing OSM was the desire to challenge the corporate and proprietary
monopoly of national mapping agencies. In the early days of OSM the Ordnance
Survey (the ofcial cartographic authority in the UK) operated cost-recovery pol-
icies, and protected its products by aggressive policing of copyright. By way of
contrast, OSM initially ran under a Creative Commons licensing regime, and from
September 2012, under an Open Data Commons Open Database license, that
encourages reuse of OSM data (see Chilton 2011). In contrast to commercial VGI
services, such as Google Mapmaker and Navteq Map Rep orter, volunteers con-
tributing data do not hand over ownership of the data to a prot-making corpora-
tion. Over the past decade the sophistication and coverage of OpenStreetMap has
grown apace. As of July 2014 there were 1,699,115 registered users, with
2,425,437,945 nodes and 242,404,181 ways in the database.
148 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
4 Mapping Modes: The Social and Political Dimensions
of OpenStreetMap
The idea of a mapping mode builds on work by historian of cartography Edney,
who suggested in 1993 that mapping might best be seen as an assemblage in which
technologies, people, knowledge, culture and politics come together, and through
which particular ways of doing mapping are enrolled. A mapping mode is thus
variegated and situated in a particular time and place. It is transitory and constantly
changing. At any one time, different mapping modes might coexist; there is no
inevitable progression from one mode to another. The paper map survives in the
digital era; the national mapping agency continues to produce maps in the face of
competition from crowd-sourced alternatives; the touchs creen-based mobile inter-
face coexists with xed desktop screen-based displays, etc. (Dodge et al. 2009b).
Here we focus on three key inuences upon contemporary mapping modes:
authorship, infrastructure, and governance.
4.1 Authorship: The Socio-cultura l Embeddedness
of OSM Practices
Authorship of OSM is collaborative. The project celebrates its open and shared ethos
and tools exist to allow potentially anyone to drill down to identify who has been
responsible for the creation of which parts of the database (see for example Fig. 1 ).
Empirical investigation of the OSM community suggests, however, that the
nature of this collaboration is uneven, and that participation in OSM is, like all
Fig. 1 The collaborative authorship of Tripoli Libya immediately after the overthrow of Colonel
Gadda. Note mapping of the compound dates from 21st August 2011, and was mainly carried out
by User IS Freedom and Peace and that almost all the immediate area has been mapped in the period
since March 2011 (© ITO World, mapping data from © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA)
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 149
crowd-sourced projects, very unequal. A small and elite group end up taking most
of the important decisions, which effectively determine project impetus and
directions. The vast majority of OSM users do not register for the project. Of those
who do register the majority does not stay with the project for long or contribute
much to the database (Neis and Zipf 2012).
The overwhelming majority of users are male. Stephens (2013) compared gender
participation in VGI projects and concluded that Women are less aware of OSM
than their male counte rparts, and those who are aware of OSM are signicantly less
likely to contribute spatial data. As a result of low female participation, the features
and attributes on OSM reect a mal e view of the landscape. She highlights the
gendered nature of the tagging process that has allowed men to exercise their
democratic rights to vote down a detailed classication of amenities that do not
meet their immediate needs, such as childcare facilities, whilst supporting the
inclusion of tags relating to stereotypically male sexualized spaces such as brothels
(see also Steinmann et al. 2013).
Other inequalities are charted in empirical studies of participation such as Neis
and Zipf (2012) and Budhathoki (2010 ). These reveal that most OSM users are
wealthy and educated. Most come from the northern hemisphere (see Fig. 2).
Also within urban areas there are signicant disparities of geodata-density. For
example in the case of Jerusalem, Bittner (2014) shows that the data density is much
higher in the neighborhoods mostly populated by secular Jews, compared to the
quarters predom inantly inhabited by Orthodox Jews and Palestinians (see Fig. 3).
The world mapped by the OSM community reects its interest s. Urban and
wealthier areas tend to be more densely mapped (see Haklay 2010 ) Areas of rapid
change or under crisis get mapped (see Bittner et al. 2013; Zook et al. 2010; Burns
2014) on emergency/crisis mapping.
Fig. 2 Distribution of active OSM contributors per day and per population (1 August31 October
2013) (Source Neils and Zielstra 2014)
150 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
Many of the mappers that stay with the project have specic technical skills. The
majority of participa nts drift out of OSM instead of continuing to map. So, instead
of becoming a genuine peoples map it has been argued that the project represents a
new kind of expert knowledge (Perkins 2013).
Fig. 3 Data density of OSM within different quarters of Jerusalem compared to demographic data
(Source Bittner 2014)
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 151
4.2 Algorithms and Other Blackboxes: Unpacking
the Technical Infrastructure of OSM
The infrastructure of OSM is of central inuence for the performance and devel-
opment of OSM. Dodge et al. (2009b) use the term to highlight the role played by
underlying social foundations: the often unseen and taken for granted structures
through which work is done. They observe that critical studies of infrastructures
are made more difcult because of the ways in whi ch institutions deliberately
structure them as black-boxed systems to keep people from easily observing (and
questioning) their design and operational logic (ibid: 227).
People interacting with OSM infrastructures mostly do so via interfaces. Interfaces
en-frame and exclude, working as mediating windows onto the world (Dodge et al.
2009b, p. 222) They deliver different mapping functionalities. These screen spaces
usually hide the apparatuses and processes through which online navigation takes
place. Their layered potential confers a navigational logic that is usually unquestioned
by users (Verhoeff 2012). The default OSM interface strongly impacts on affordances.
The operation of OSM depends upon the operation of algorithms and code that
come together to make the map and its interfaces possible. Algorithms are hidden
and often inaccessible in geoinformation and mapping systems. Although OSM
makes its API freely available and the OSM wikis help to access algorithms as well
as codes and, last but not least, the codes underpinning OSM are there to be shared
or changed by community members, the required technical expert ise limits the
ability to change and redirect the algorithms and codes of OSM to a small but
inuential group of people [see the discussion on levels of hacking in Haklay
(2013)]. Here we highlight three examples of code and draw out some of the ways
in which they impact mapping practice.
Firstly, the project rests upon editing software, which allows users to amend or
extend mapping coverag e. Editing software suggests classications of the world to
users, implicitly encouraging things that might be included into the OSM data-
base or excluded. Its form and conguration arguably inuences whether a user
actually changes the database and channels day-to-day mapping practices (Weber
and Jones 2011).
Secondly, rendering software allows features tagged in the database to be
symbolized. It structures the world, leaving many tags un-rendered, and through a
visual display enables or disables different uses and evokes different feelings for the
map. Chilton (2011) documents the development of the default and widely praised
Mapnik style, showing how a meeting between a single coder, two cartographers,
and the project founder led to a style that has impacted beyond OSM and which
incorporated subsequent comm unity enhancement of the data.
Thirdly, software to check the quality of the database has also proliferated as
the project matures (see the Wiki-page: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Quality_
Assurance). This tends to focus attention upon coverage and standardization, by
highlighting inconsistencies and directing attention to faults that might be recti-
ed in the database and thus risks blocking from view more fundamental questions .
152 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
4.3 Governance of OSM: DoocracyMeritocracy
TechnocracyBureaucracy
It is difcult to specify who actually runs OSM. Ramm (2013) examined the
question of who the boss of the project actually is, and rejected any simple
answer. However, a rich documentation of infrastructure exists on the OSM wiki,
and is also described by Eckert (2010). The project employs no staff. It is
answerable to the OSM Foundation, which currently has 480 members: anyone can
pay to join this group, which is dedicated to encouraging the growth, development
and distribution of free geospatial data and to providing geospatial data for anybody
to use and share (OpenStreetMap Foundation 2013). Foundation members elect a
Board that currently includes six members. There are also eight Working Groups
focusing upon: communications, data, lice nsing, operations, local chapters, engi-
neering, the State of the Map Conference, and strategy. A management team
implements day-to-day decisions.
In addition, OSMappers come together in various State of the Map conferences
and in Mapping Parties. Their ideas for project trajectories are played out online in
blogs and user diaries and in the project wiki, and ideas are debated in numerous
discussion lists. Spinoff consultancies progress the project whilst also deriving
prot from the crowd.
The implicit ethos of OSM is frequently descri bed as open, democratic, and anti-
establishment. In practice, however, new mappers are encoura ged to follow
established ways of doing the project. Ways of doing OSM impact signicantly on
progress, and whilst the culture of OSM delivers what has been described as a do-
ocracy (see for, example, Perkins 2013), in practice the project works as a mixture
of a do-ocracy, meritocracy, technocracy, and bureaucracy (see Fig. 4). The gov-
ernance is meritocratic in the sense that voluntary work is rewarded by community
esteem, or by external nancial reward. It is technocratic in the sense that technical
coding skills are most valued. These skills x and blackbox classications and
practices in editing and rendering software and strongly inuence the development
of the project. The bureaucratic aspect of governing is less signicant in OSM
compared, for example, with Wikipedia (see Ramm 2012 and several contributions
in Lovink and Tkacz 2011). The OSM Foundation tends to enable rather than steer
and the OSM community itself has few formalized organizational structures; there
is no ofcial and formalized hierarchy of users as, for example, in Wikipedia. There
are some mechanisms for building a consensual view, with procedures for voting
about the creation of new tags, for example. In comparison to Wikipedia, however,
these mechanisms are much less formali zed and used.
As in all collaborative projects edit wars can take place. For example, in
contentious areas such as Cyprus, Jerusalem, or Crimea different place names and
borderlines have been recorded, and overwritten.
1
It is, however, interesting that in
1
http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Data_working_group/Disputes (23.07.2014).
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 153
contrast to text -based open projects, such as Wikipedia, there seems to be much less
interaction between different editors (Mooney and Corcoran 2013) and much less
controversy over the status of objects (Wroclawski 2014). This may be attributed to
the ethos of an on the ground truth with the basic idea of OSM representing an
objectively veriable, and knowable wor ld.
So falsifying is strongly discouraged. Vandalism, whether for artistic or com-
mercial purposes, is carefully policed (see Ballatore 2014).
5 Methods: Analyzing OSM
A shift towards a research focusing on social and political dimension as highlighted
in our introduction has clear methodological implications. Dodge et al. (2009a)
suggested that approaches drawn from Actor-Network Theory, Science and Tech-
nology Studies (STS), ethno-methodology, and non-progressive genealogy might
usefully be adopted to advance our explanations of these social and political
dimensions of geoinformation and cartography.
5.1 Data-Driven Research on OSM
Almost all the research on OSM reported in the meta study carried out by Neis and
Zielstra (2014) deploys data-driven tools to answer practical questions about OSM.
Fig. 4 Governance of OSM [based on an idea of Ramm (2013), supplemented and changed by
Glasze/Perkins]
154 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
The remit and format of the project delivers data to the research community in a
much more transparent fashion than in other proprietary databases. The crowd
leaves traces behind, that reveal things about mapping, in ways that are hidden in
projects such as Google.
Neis and Zielstra (2014) highlight research into OSM that largely relies upon
archived tracks and traces. This research predominantly adopts progressiv e scien-
tic ways of knowing the world. Data quality analysis inevitably looms large in this
eld. Road networks have received signicant atte ntion and there has also been a
focus on the quality of different points of interests (POIs) in the database. This kind
of research inevitably compares OSM to other proprietary databases. Recent
attention has also begun to focus on questions of trust and vandalism, but again
largely as practical measures to investigate quality.
A second trend has been an increase in the amount of research investigating
contributors, in terms of temporal trends, areal distribution, and gender balance.
Methodologies deployed to chart differences depend upon large-scale generaliza-
tion from big data sets, instead of detailed processual investigation of individual and
qualitative data. Haklays(2010)inuential investigation of the social composition
of the database is typical and foundational here. Neis and Zielstra (2014) also
designate a nal category of research, focusing upon other work, that does not t
into quality evaluation or participation studies, and highlight work on routing
packages, 3D mapping, and application areas relating to access mapping and
disaster management.
The implication from this meta-study is that the shift towards a crowd-sourced
model has not so far encouraged the kinds of methodological shifts signaled by
Dodge et al. (2009a). However, a careful analysis of the published literature reveals
work that is beginning to approach OSM in different ways, and focusing in par-
ticular on ethnographic work on mapping practices, and on the application of
multiple methods to case evidence.
5.2 Ethnography and Auto-ethnography
There has also been an increasing interest in using anthropological approaches to
mapping, and in phenomenological ways of understandi ng mapping practice. Long-
established ethno-methodological tools have begun to be applied to people
deploying OSM in real-world contexts, to code up apparently banal day-to-day
mapping. This kind of focus on everyday politics with a small p underpins for
example Hinds (forthcoming) work on OSM and protest mapping. Other ethno-
graphic work has been carried out in spaces where OSM has been deploy ed, and
explicitly stresses the performativi ty of mapping, instead of any inherent meaning
[see, for example, Gerlach (2014) on everyday mapping practices]. Kitchin and
Dodge (2013) draw upon these kinds of ideas in their analysis of OSM as emergent
processual knowledge. Other examples of research also focus on the contexts in
which the map is situated. For example, Lin (2011) attended State of the Map
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 155
Conferences in order to understand and explain how open source communities
function. Perkin s (2013) reports on various spaces where OSM is deployed,
highlighting the differences that emerge according to sociality, and Perkins and
Dodge (2008) report an ethnography of an early Mapping Party.
5.3 The Need for Mixed Methods Approaches
Different insights ow from direct participation in an event, to those that can be
inferred from quantitative analys is. For examp le, Hristova et al. (2013) also focus
on mapping parties, but deploy data sourced from the OSM web site to explore the
effectiveness of the party as a device for encouraging participation. By way of
contrast, Budhathoki and Haythornthwaite (2013) rely upon questionnaires in their
analysis of motivations of individual OSM participants, but neither of these sources
provides case evidence about cultural practice.
In the rst decade of the new millennium, scholars concerned with critical
approaches to GIS and the Geoweb increasing ly came to realize that a mixture of
qualitative and quantitative evidence can be important and can document general
patterns as well as individual processes (see Kwan and Schwanen 2009). Projects
like OSM offer huge potential for such mixed methods approaches (see Elwood
2010b; Elwood et al. 2013; DeLyser and Sui 2012 ; Crampton et al. 2013). In OSM
all edits in the database and the wiki, and all discussion in the email-lists are
recorded and can be traced back to individual participants.
2
This enables analysis of
mapping practices and collaboration within the community (see, for example,
Kremer and Stein 2014; Elrick 2014). OSM databases make it easy to combine
quantitative approaches with qualitative inte rviews (see, for example, Bittner 2014).
Individual tracks can be documented and the history of the unfolding map can be
unpacked. Big data can actually great ly facilitate critical multi-method approaches
to the project.
6 Maps and Mosques: A Case Study on the Transformation
of Techniques, Practices, and Conventions Within OSM
The tension between openness and xation revealed in OSM practices will be
exemplied by a short case study on the depiction and non-depiction of mosques in
OSM.
2
See for example the How Did You Contribute to OpenStreetMap tool available at http://hdyc.
neis-one.org/ deploys charting and tabulation and mapping to document individual user name
participation in the project, and the user diaries attached to the site.
156 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
6.1 Concealed Mosques in State-Based Cartography
In the late 1980s, Brian Harley charted what he described as silences, highlighting
many of the social reasons why maps omit, simplify, and homogenies landscapes
(Harley 1988). The social context of map making establishes accepted ways of xing
what is included or left out (Harley 1989). A striking example of such impacts is how
maps choose to depict and include (or not include) places of worships (Glasze 2009).
A quick overview of the topographic maps currently produced by state-run carto-
graphic organizations in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom reveals, for
example, that none of the topographic map-styles offers a symbol for mosques.
However, all of these topographic maps include symbols for places of worship,
and in the whole of Western Europe the iconography of a Christian tradition is
deployed for these sites (Kent and Vujakovic 2009). The religious tradition in
Western Europe normalizes current cultural diversity, and mapping styles respond
only very slowly to social and cultural change, leading to an effective cartographic
concealment of mosques (see the example of a cartographically concealed purpose-
built mosque in Mannheim, Germany; Fig. 5).
Fig. 5 The Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque and the Liebfrauenkirche in Mannheim (Germany) as (not)
shown in the ofcial topographic map, in Google Streetview and in different OSM rendering styles
(Sources Landesamt für Vermessung Baden Württemberg; Google, OSMcontributors/Geofabrik)
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 157
The interesting question is whether this silencing of Muslim sites of worship
continues in the crowdsourc ed world of VGIand whether the possibilities of
OpenStreetMap enable new mapping moments.
6.2 Newly Open but Fixed Practices in OSM
OSMs database structure enables some practices, and limits others. Open questions
and conicts are discussed within the community; results of such discussions are
codied in the OSM Wiki. With the success of the project more and more appli-
cations interpret and use OSM data (e.g. software for render ing and for routing),
other applications try to facilitate and analyze mapping practices (e.g. software for
editing and analyzing OSM data). As an inevitable consequence, OSM mapping
practices become conventionalized and xed.
In order to understand these processes and moments we take the example of
mapping Mosques and highlight four themes that contribute to openness or
xation.
6.2.1 Dat a Structure and the Wiki
The OSM Wiki suggests tagging places of worship in the database as nodes with
the amenity value place of worship, and to further differentiate religion and
denomination. The respective Wiki-page was set up as early as in 2007 by one of
the key gures in the OSM community (Fig. 6).
Since 2008, there have been distinct Wiki pages to explain religion and
denomination, which recommend increasingly detailed categorization of religions
and religious denominations. However, these lists are not the only way to classify
religious afliations.
3
There have been lively discussions in the OSM community
on the attribution, acceptance, and integration of different categories.
4
While the
majority of the tag values follow the categorization suggested in the Wiki, the OSM
database (still) includes other tags. The wiki offers guidance, but ethnographic work
suggests practice by individual mappers does not always follow these procedures
(Perkins 2014).
3
As an example the Wiki suggests to classify druse as a denomination of religion = mus-
lim”—a classication which is contested for example by many Druze living in Israel who see
themselves not as Muslims but as a proper religious group.
4
See for example the broad discussion on places of worship in OSM triggered by the debate on
the Pastafarians (https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/2010-Ja nuary/046620.html; 10.07.
2014).
158 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
6.2.2 Render ing and Editing Software
The OSM database b ecomes visible in cartographic presentations through ren-
dering software. There have been discu ssions in the OSM community since 2007
regarding appropriate rendering of places of worship and the respective symbology.
Until 2007/2008 the most important renderers (OSMarender and Mapnik) translated
all places of worship as a cross, which triggered several critical statements in the
OSM discussion listsespecially with regard to the rendering of mosques with a
cross.
5
As a direct reaction to this discussion one of the central actors of the British
OSM communi ty added specic symbols for religion = muslim, = jewish and = sikh
to the current default renderer Mapnik in 2008. New symbols have been sugges ted
since, for example for Bud dhist or Hindu places of worship, but these have not been
integrated into the rendering software (see Fig. 7).
Most OSM mappers do not deal directly with the database, but use editing
software. The classications offered by these tools are often not completely in
accordance with the categorizations in the Wiki , and largely structure mapping
practices, which gives developers of successful editors enormous inuence (see the
classications proposed by the new ID editor, Fig. 8).
Fig. 6 First version of the OSM Wiki on places of worship in 2007 (Source OSM Wiki;
20.07.2014)
5
See for example: http://gis.19327.n5.nabble.com/Rendering-places-of-worship-in-Mapnik-
td5379077.html (10.07.2010).
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 159
6.2.3 Community Practices
A case study of places of worship within OSM for the federal state of Bavaria
reveals that OSM contains several non-Christian places of worship (see Fig. 9)in
contrast to the ofcial governmental geodatabase, which lists only Christian places
of worship.
Fig. 7 OSM Wiki on key-religion (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:religion; 16.07.2014)
160 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
A more detailed look at OSM data in Nuremberg reveals that by the end of 2012
the OSM database contained almost as many Christian places of worship as the
governmental geodatabase
6
, as well as two mosques. However, the German map
mashup Moscheesuche (an application intended to help practicing Muslims to
nd mosques) listed 10 mosques in Nuremberg. There appears to be syst ematic
Fig. 8 Online editing of OSM
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
5000
6000
7000
8000
9000
10000
Points of Worship in OSM: the example of the Federal State of Bavaria
unknown
other
protestant
catholic
christian
jewish
muslim
Denomination
Data: OSM; Desi
g
n: Glasze, Elrick,Plennert
Fig. 9 Places of worship in Bavaria in the OSM database until 12/2012
6
The governmental database contains 124 places of worshipall Christian. OSM contains 119,
the biggest part with 106 being qualied as Christian (mostly protestant and catholic), 8 unknown,
2 other, 2 Muslim, and 1 Jewish.
Social and Political Dimensions of the OpenStreetMap Project 161
under-representation of mosques in the database: smaller and non-purpose-built
mosques are often missing. The classication systems in the Wiki, the rendering
and editing software each support inclusion of Muslim sites, so the difference stems
from everyday mapping practices and cultural preferences of OSM mappers.
Mosques can be contentious features in Western European urban life (e.g.
Schmitt 2004). They are frequently opposed by Islamophobic and right-wing
groups who exploit Not in My Backyard-like opposition to projects. Many of the
mosques that appear in the Moschee Suche are visually less prominent than huge
recently constructed, purpose-built central mosques. They may share functions with
other elements of Islamic life that t uneasily into OSM classications, such as
Cultural Centers or Madrassars. They are also often transitory, occupying tempo-
rary spaces converted from buildings with a previously secular function and have
been designated backyard mosques. These sites play an important role in the life
of the faith community, but may be less signicant to mappers who tend to tag
prominent POIs or follow up the detail of something that is of direc t relevance to
their interests. We might further speculate that in Western Europe few members of
the Islamic faith community are actively involved with OSM.
6.2.4 New Openings and Fixations
Our example shows that OSM offers openings and xations. There are certainly
new voices being articulated in the project, with evidence of open and transparent
discussions, and rapid and self-evident change in the urban fabric gets mapped by
the grass roots OSM community. Places of worship are separated out in feature
classications and symbolic rendering attached to buildings offers a more timely
and appropriate depiction of these sites than that still delivered by ofcial state
mapping.
However, the case also reveals newly xed codication in the wiki, and stan-
dardization in editing and rendering software, as well as cultural biases of the OSM
community. The on the ground mapping rule
7
tends to emphasize physical
structures, and under-represents practices of faith communities using mosques. This
leads to a reproduction of traditional cartographic patternsfavoring concrete and
other physical structures over use and meaning. As a consequence, less prominent
backyard mosques quite often still wait to be integrated into the OSM database.
8
Last but not least, mapping practices are heavily inuenced by personal prefer-
ences, knowledge, and habitsleading in the case study on Nuremberg to an under-
representation of mosques in OSM, compared to Christian places of worship.
7
See: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Map_Features (20.07.2014).
8
The tagging structure with its separation of use (e.g. amenity = place of worship > religion = *)
and building = * in principle enables the separation of use and physical structure and thus is more
sophisticated than many tagging schemes in state-based topographic cartography.
162 G. Glasze and C. Perkins
7 Conclusions
This chapter offers a critical angle supplementing other work in this volume. It
argues that mapping is a socio-technical practicea socio-technical practice which
is embedded in specic and often unequal socio-spatial structures, and which runs
the risk of reproducing old and producing new inequalities. These social and also
political dim ensions of mapping need to be studied in novel ways. We have sug-
gested a research agenda that addresses these concerns by focusing on aspects of the
mapping modes through which OSM is practiced, highlighting the importance of
authorship, technical infrastructure, and governance. Methods for analyzing these
modes have so far largely relied upon quantitative analysis of data relating to the
project. We suggest that research might protably deploy more mixed approaches
to data, incorporating case evidence into analyses, and also placing a greater
emphasis on ethnographic studies of mapping practice. We illustrate the potential of
this agenda with a limited case study of the mapping of mosques and suggest that
this broadening of research interests might help OpenStreetMap to deliver the
promise offered in its free and open ethos.
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... This effect also has been discussed as "Self-Focus Bias" by Das et al. (Das et al., 2019). In sum, there is a relationship between socio-economic characteristics of the contributing users and their contributions (and in consequence the data itself) (Arsanjani & Bakillah, 2015;Bittner, 2017;Das et al., 2019;Duggan, 2019;Glasze & Perkins, 2015;Perkins, 2014). ...
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Traditionally, OpenStreetMap (OSM) has been recognized as a volunteered geographic information (VGI) project. In recent years, many corporations have enlisted teams of mappers to edit data on OSM. These teams of corporate editors (CEs) can quickly edit large swaths of data using a variety of methods. Consequently, there are new tensions over possible community bifurcations where editing and map stewardship disagreements may occur between the CEs and non‐CEs. To characterize CE and non‐CE editing interactions, we focused on six locations with varied types of corporate editing activity. We created six temporal (2015–2020) editing networks for each location, resulting in 36 total networks. We found a continual increase in the number of editors, with more growth in places with CEs. There was significant co‐editing between the two groups, with CEs showing more in‐group editing patterns, both in terms of number of edits and time between edits. We conclude that currently the CE and the non‐CE communities continue to co‐exist and co‐produce open geospatial data in apparent harmony, even though the size of the CE community and volume of contributions have grown significantly. Finally, we discuss implications for OSM as a VGI project in light of our corporate editing trends.
... First, it favours mappers operating on the ground: local experts who contribute spatial data about places and regions they are familiar with. Second, ground truth indicates that things should be mapped according to their (physical or political) appearance on-site (Glasze and Perkins 2015). This effectively means that OSM reproduces the rationale of topographic maps. ...
... This interest in unequal geographies inspired a broad range of research on OSM which cast light on inequalities in its production of geographic knowledge on the global (Glasze & Perkins, 2015;Graham & De Sabbata, 2015;Neis et al., 2013) and urban scale (Ballatore & De Sabbata, 2020;Bittner, 2014Bittner, , 2017Quattrone et al., 2014). Scholars also subjected the notion of participation and the concept of ''the crowd'' in OSM (Bittner et al., 2016;Neis & Zipf, 2012;Turk, 2020), alongside the gendered division of participation and representation therein (Gardner et al., 2019;Stephens, 2013), to critical examination. ...
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... We call the obtained (end empirically validated) prediction model for the EERI from OSM data the Open Resilience Index (ORI). As the used OSM data includes not only evidence of the physical world, but also information about the socio-economic status (Glasze and Perkins, 2015;Jokar Arsanjani et al., 2015), the social component is included. ...
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The phenomenon of volunteered geographic information is part of a profound transformation in how geographic data, information, and knowledge are produced and circulated. By situating volunteered geographic information (VGI) in the context of big-data deluge and the data-intensive inquiry, the 20 chapters in this book explore both the theories and applications of crowdsourcing for geographic knowledge production with three sections focusing on 1). VGI, Public Participation, and Citizen Science; 2). Geographic Knowledge Production and Place Inference; and 3). Emerging Applications and New Challenges. This book argues that future progress in VGI research depends in large part on building strong linkages with diverse geographic scholarship. Contributors of this volume situate VGI research in geography’s core concerns with space and place, and offer several ways of addressing persistent challenges of quality assurance in VGI. This book positions VGI as part of a shift toward hybrid epistemologies, and potentially a fourth paradigm of data-intensive inquiry across the sciences. It also considers the implications of VGI and the exaflood for further time-space compression and new forms, degrees of digital inequality, the renewed importance of geography, and the role of crowdsourcing for geographic knowledge production.
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This book addresses the role of GIS in its social context. Contributors assess ideas and practices that have emerged amongst users of GIS, demonstrating how they reflect the material and political interests of certain groups. The contributors also discuss the impact of new GIS technologies on the discipline of geography and evaluate the role of GIS within the wider context of the free market. The chapters include detailed case studies of the societal and disciplinary roles being played by the various technologies of surveillance currently deployed. The ethical implications of the dissemination of electronic imagery and spatial representation are also discussed. The decentralising effect of mass electronic communication in terms of social and political control is highlighted. Specific chapters cover: GIS and geographic research; computer innovation and adoption in geography; the strategic discourse of geodemographic information systems in a modern marketing context; the redressing of South Africa's historical political ecology through participatory GIS, and a concluding chapter which envisages the development of an economy dominated by electronic representation and the virtual image. -after Editor
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OpenStreetMap has grown rapidly into an exemplary ge-owiki, where contributors collectively build an open map of the world. Official 'mapping party' events are organized on a regular basis to invite users to socialize, map and to engage new-comers locally. Here, we measure the direct and indirect impact of mapping parties on user contributions in both the short and long terms. We question whether this social mapping is a cause for users to become highly committed through a social bond, or is an effect of the mappers' need to find a common social ground. We show that mapping parties have distinct effects on different types of users, with a more profound direct impact on weaker contributors and a longer term effect on heavy contributors. Copyright © 2013, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (www.aaai.org). All rights reserved.