Here be dragons: Exploring Cartography in Educational Theory and Research


  • Claudia W. Ruitenberg



In the literature on complexity theory it has been noted that the increasing interdependence, non-linearity, and adaptiveness of social and other systems require forms of representation that can accommodate such complexity. In this essay I argue for examining the possibilities of cartography (mapmaking) in and of educational theory and research. Cartography offers alternative forms of representation that are better suited to capturing complexity. The performativity of cartographic representations, moreover, produces different knowledge. I present four features of educational theory, research, and practice that suggest the relevance of cartography. The first is the widespread use of narrative models of representation and interpretation. Narrative discourse typically emphasizes temporality; maps are an alternative or complementary discourse that visualize and help to examine the spatial character of educational experience. The second feature is that spatial metaphors abound in educational discourse, including the recently ubiquitous metaphor of the web or network. Cartographic discourse is well suited for representing, interpreting, and critiquing these metaphors. The third feature is the increased use of hyperlinked information in educational theory and practice. Maps are better suited to capture and to enable the questioning of the rhizomatic interconnections of hypertextual reading and writing practices than more linearly organized discourse. The fourth feature of education is that it is a social institution that plays a central role in the social positioning of subjects. When the discursive and physical mechanisms through which students and teachers are separated, categorized, ranked, and assessed are cartographically represented and analyzed, new questions can emerge about these mechanisms of power.

Author Biography

Claudia W. Ruitenberg

Claudia W. Ruitenberg is assistant professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her primary areas of interest are poststructuralist philosophy and speech act theory, identity and identity politics in education, gender issues and queer theory, aesthetic education, and intersections of education and cultural studies. URL:






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