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When Maps Become the World


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Map making and, ultimately,map thinking is ubiquitous across literature, cosmology, mathematics, psychology, and genetics. We partition, summarize, organize, and clarify our world via spatialized representations.Our maps and, more generally, our representations seduce and persuade; they build and destroy. They are the ultimate record of empires and of our evolving comprehension of our world.

This bookis about the promises and perils of map thinking. Maps are purpose-driven abstractions, discarding detail to highlight only particular features of a territory. By preserving certain features at the expense of others, they can be used to reinforce a privileged position.

When Maps Become the World shows us how the scientific theories, models, and concepts we use to intervene in the world function as maps, and explores the consequences of this, both good and bad.We increasingly understand the world around us in terms of models, to the extent that we often take the models for reality. Winther explains how in time, our historical representations in science, in cartography, and in our stories about ourselves replace individual memories and become dominant social narratives—theybecomereality, and they can remake the world.


  • analogy
  • cartography
  • creativity
  • environmental sciences
  • genetics
  • mapping
  • philosophy of science
  • physics
  • psychology
  • space