Mapping, Re-Mapping, and Counter-Maps
Mapping can be defined as the practice by which boundary lines are established between people and places. These boundary lines often categorize and create analytics by which these groups that are separated interact and are related to one another. Put simply, maps are a way for humans to understand who they are in relation to the “other.” Most often, “normative mapping” is done by those in power and through a colonial gaze. Maps are not always physical. We create maps in our daily life and continuously perform them. For example, one might normatively map themselves as female by wearing female coded clothing and makeup. In this way, they create a boundary between themselves and a male identity and are performing the role of “woman.”
Many scholars believe that these kinds of maps can be deconstructed through performance and, thereby, “re-mapped.” Re-mapping is essentially a transformation of perception. It challenges assumptions that people have made about the boundary lines and power structures that exist in society. Let’s go back to the mapping of “female.” One could decide to intentionally perform their female gender identity contrary to the way society thinks about womanhood; they could wear male coded clothing, cut their hair short, or express mannerisms in a way that is typically masculine. All the while, they may verbally reaffirm their femininity. This is an example of the way in which one can re-map normative cartographies. The result of this re-mapping is a “counter-map” which has the potential to challenge societal structures and expectations.
Power Structures of Normative Mapping
As I mentioned above, normative mapping is most often done by those in positions of power. In our society, this often means white, cisgender, heterosexual men. These are the people who have the power to form boundaries. They are also often the ones who police these boundaries and make sure that the “other” stays on the outside.
The way in which those in power police these boundaries is through the use of “check-points.” These are interactions which either affirm someone’s inclusion within normative boundaries or place them on the outside. For example, one commonly contested check-point for many US citizens in terms of who belongs within the normative US boundary lines is the ability to speak English fluently. Oftentimes, those who do not speak English with perfect precision are placed outside of the map of the United States and labeled as foreigners.
“Through the Mechitza” and Maps
I would classify my process with “Through the Mechitza” as an attempt to re-map something that, in my personal opinion, has been normatively mapped. Rather than taking photos from a birds-eye view or from the front of the space, ways which would give the spectator a complete view, I chose to narrow that field of vision to what a woman would be able to see based on how she has already been mapped into the space. Through this process, I’ve created a counter-map for female experience in an Orthodox space. I’ve shown the spectator the map that they would witness as a woman in the space; this map included the journey into the sanctuary space, the seat they would sit in, and their view of important landmarks (such as the bimah). I believe that, from this photo story, one can ascertain the boundary lines and check-points that are created for women in Orthodox spaces.
Robles Moreno, Leticia, Lecture during the Fall 2017 semester, Cartographies of Performance in the Americas, Muhlenberg College
Smith, J. (1978). Map is not territory : Studies in the history of religions (Studies in Judaism in late antiquity. v. 23). Leiden: Brill.
Taylor, Diana. “Remapping Genre Through Performance: From ‘American’ to ‘Hemispheric Studies.’” The Modern Language Association of America.