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The Making Of The Map, The Making Of The Risk

Charlotte Cabasse
Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris


Abstract. This paper addresses the elaboration of two maps, the USGS USA Earthquake Risk Map and the USGS Community Internet Intensity Map. A look at the production of these two widely used documents force us to rethink the definition of the earthquake risk, adding to the usual elements of definition some unexpected actants: feelings and perception. Making connections between what is considered scientific ‘knowledge’ and lay people ‘perceptions’ has always been a challenge for risk experts and scholars. The study of the elaboration of these maps shows that experience and perceptions do play a major role in the definition of the earthquake risk and that connections already exist. I argue that complex associations and reticular connections that these two maps make visible are also at stake in Real World. Creating bridges between forms of actants will help us grasp the multiples and moving dimensions of the risks we face.

This paper is an essay into navigational representation and symmetrical co-construction of map, risk and territory. In an STS perspective, we will study the elaboration of two maps, the USGS USA Earthquake Risk Map and the Community Internet Intensity Map. In the meantime, building on November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour (November, Camacho-Hübner, & Latour, 2010), we’ll engage with a re-definition of the relation to, and between, risk and territory through the cartographic lens. November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour have reminded us what sailors, geographers and users of Google Map have known for a long time: whenever entering unknown territories, first, take a look at the map. They also argue that, if we know to make reefs and stop signs readable on a map, the same is not true for risk[i]. To bypass this limitation, they have proposed to focus on what they have called a navigational approach of the map; opposed to a mimetic one[ii], limited to correspondences between the outside world[iii] and its representations. Their perspective reshapes the relation between map and territory, opening in the same movement the possibility of rethinking the condition of science production and legitimate forms of knowledge.

If maps are not just the representation of territory, what does that means for our comprehension of the construction of both territories and risk? Relations between map, risk and territory are more like a braid of ramifications that can fail or succeed to establish – to make visible/accessible, or in other worlds, real – both the territory and the risk. For November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour the navigational approach is a way to re-established both map and territory in a chain of multiple Actants[iv]. Starting from the hazard map, they accurately argue that there is more in a map than the simple correspondence between a material, Euclidian world, and its representation based on the resemblance. And, of course, there is more in the territory that the projection of the map. Introducing the navigational reading is a way to go back to the basic idea of the pragmatist philosopher William James, reintroducing “deambualtion” (November and al., 2010: 586) as a connections between “stepping stones” – signposts, elements of information or, again, Actants – previously described, translated, stocked and finally turned into a drawing[v]. Risk and hazard maps make visible multiple and changing Actants engaged, for instance, in the complex definition of the vulnerability of the city of San Francisco[vi]. The map that becomes the interconnection between several networks is both an object and a phenomenon: mapping and reading a map also creates another dimension to our world.

Earthquake maps are no different. They are the reference document that summarizes years of data collecting and crossing. The map works like an agent, collecting data and sharing it with others. It opens a window continuity, and movement[vii], between the realm of the things and the realm of events, possibilities, scenarios, and fictions. Following the San Fernando Earthquake in 1971, the US Congress voted the creation of the NEHRP which gathers four agencies: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United Sates Geological Survey (USGS). As the following drawing illustrates, organization have been developed to cover different aspects of earthquake risk prevention: research, development and implementation. USGS, and its local Branch the California Geological Survey (CGS), FEMA and its local branch Cal-EMA, the Seismological Laboratory in UCB Berkeley, The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) were among the first to produce fact sheets and earthquake probabilities. Until now, data’s production mostly relies on public funding dotation that provides grants and cooperative agreements [viii].

Figure 1 Charbasse

Presentation of the inter-agencies cooperation (“National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program,” 2013)

The USGS Seismic Hazard Map, which displays ground motions for various probabilities level in the different parts of the Unites States, is a reference document that helps private and public institutions as well as general public, to take better measure of earthquake prevention[ix]. It is a major instrument of risk prevention policy at the Federal level and, as such, had been included into the design of several programs, including the recommendations of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program[x] (NEHRP), the definition of the buildings codes[xi] by the Building Seismic Safety Council[xii] (BSSC), the retrofitting guidelines designated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The map is the main source of information for the finance industry: the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) uses it to define the premiums for the State insurance program and financial companies, like pensions funds, use it to evaluate the risk of their portfolios.

Figure 2 CharbasseUSGS 2008 National Seismic Hazard Map

This capacity of data translation and communication makes the USGS Earthquake Risk Map one of the pivotal Actant of definition of the risk in the United States. The map is revised approximately every six years by the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project (NSHMP) to be in phase with new developments of researches. The 2008 version is based on successive accumulations of data, corrections and new measures done since 1976, when the first probabilistic Seismic Hazard Map was published. It is the result of the combined actions of human and non-human Actants: faults, earthquake ground shaking, geodesy[xiii] and seismicity[xiv], seismic soils, near surface condition, energy attenuation. It also relies on the progressive improvement of past earthquake knowledge (paleoseismology), better understanding of the physic of the earth crust and, recently extensive uses of new technologies: GPS and visual technology. In regards to the previous version of the map, this most recent one incorporates new elements concerning the model of the fault (in particular the probability of larger earthquakes based on a long term history of earthquake magnitude in the region) and change in the model of ground shaking[xv].

Dealing with so many Actants, scientist’s objective is, in their own words, to produce an assessment of the “best available science” (Petersen, 2008). This “earthquake community” [xvi], as referred by people inside, or “earthquake establishment” as referred by people outside, gathers “state geological survey, university researchers and research consortia, state and local government agencies, and non-profit and others organization of the public sector” (Filson, McCarthy, Ellsworth, & Zorback, 2003). The map, produced by the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, is several steps process. First, the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project (NSHMP) experts gather to “discuss progress on the map, input data and procedures used in the process” (Petersen, 2008: 9). Then, the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities (WGCEP), the California Geological Survey (CGS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) determine the most accurate methodology for earthquake forecast model. Results are slowly “bought to life” collectively, by organizations crossing the borders of public and private sector and building reticular connections of a risk definition. Interdisciplinary working groups (WG) are the always-moving figure of data production in the earthquake community[xvii].

Figure 3 Charbasse

Process for developing the 2008 USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps. CEUS, Central United States; WUS, Western United States[xviii].

These organizations are part of what Stallings, has called the “earthquake establishment ” looking at their media visibility[xix], the nature of their interventions and claims in public space (Stallings, 1995). According to his finding, this establishment is composed at 71% from Californian, both at the state and the federal level; 50% of them had or have an academic position, 40% come from federal agency, 18% of them are social scientists. Representative of private industries (insurance) and non-profit sector (structural engineers) also occupies an important place. In addition, many of the public claims have been made by “party interest”, represented by professional associations[xx], who play a major role as do the National League of Cities, the US Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, etc.… Stallings also shows that politicians have more seldomly been involved in the claim making system (less than 2%). The constitution of this ‘establishment’ of the earthquake risk[xxi] – who are the individual who compose it, there experience and background, how they do their job – opens a window to the articulation and negotiations between collective and individual, human and non-human, but also science, knowledge, experience and perception at stake during the preparation of the map.

Of course, experience plays a very important role in the selection of the relevant Actants selected and combined into a map. “People, I rely in people. I will urge network where people work in network, I listen to their experience”, insisted a respondent, actively involved in the process of the making of risk. “He is the wisest of all of us”, says another referring to a colleague. Direct experience of earthquakes is how you know you live near a fault, but it is also how you get to know the dangers of a possible earthquake. The actual experience of the earthquake – how it felt, where, what damages did it caused – is a personal experience that can make an individual wiser. The perception of the floor, the walls and surroundings moving, the feeling of space disorientation that holds the full body: earthquakes are both an event and a moment; they are a phenomenon as a whole. While living in an earthquake country, the question of the perception is an important one. The feeling of the earthquake depends of the distance from the epicenter, but also the crustal material seismic waves have to travel through. It also depends on the type of building and the attention one it taking into it. But it is, above all in the case of the making of the map, a personal experience of perception, collectively and scientifically considered as a fact.

The “Did you feel it?” program (DYFI) by USGS collects real time information and measurement from witnesses of earthquake. With the help of distance versus intensity calculations, theses testimonies are translated into a Community Internet Intensity Map. The program exists since the early 1990’s and was set up to allow better assessment of the scope of earthquakes frequencies and impacts, especially in areas not well covered by seismic stations. On October 20, 2011 at 2:41, an M 4.0 earthquake rattled the Bay Area, followed by M 3.8 aftershock at 8:16. The events generated real concerns– Haitian and Japanese earthquake still being in memory, as well as past disasters that have hit the Bay Area [xxii].

Figure 3

Community Internet Intensity Map for October 20 M4.0 Berkeley earthquake

The same day, more than 15 000 people reported their observations within three hours of the quake. The map, which records people’s perceptions of earthquake, is a device used to visualize and organize a knowledge derived from collective feelings, perceptions and observation of the event. Talking about feeling, in this context, says more about impression than emotion: the map does not scales states of indifference or freight of the witnesses, but the characteristics of the shaking, from weak to and extreme. As a tool, the map allows a representation of the event easier to record, stock and display that the scattered accounts of literary personal experiences. But the map is also making clear that, as an object of science, the earthquake needs to be felt to be appreciated and experienced to be understood.

The USGS’s interfaces have changed the way residents understand and react to earthquake as well as the way scientists consider lay people’s account. With the impulse of the multiple portable and interconnected devices – cell-phones, tablets and other computer – sharing information about earthquake has been transformed. While, some time ago, people would turn up the radio after a tremor and wait to know more, they now connect to USGS website to share their own experiences and help in the making of the map. Of course, people still listen to the radio and read newspapers, but more as a confirmation and for additional details than for a first account. For seismologists, the instrument allows to display more accurate data about real strength of the earthquake and rather than indicated by instrumental records. In addition, like in the case of the 2011 California earthquakes, the number of response largely exceed the number of seismic station and considerably refined the potential of scientific clarity. The space of risk has been changed.


The map, as the rest of the world, is a space of chosen, conflicted or negotiated relations that combine a multitude of Actants. As an object that can be folded and unfolded, but also as a process-of-making-visible, it establishes a reality[xxiii] composed by different form of Actants as described by the French philosopher Souriau[xxiv] (Stengers & Latour, 2009). Practice of Internet in the XXIst century has confirmed what the philosopher James suggested in the XIXth century: we live in “multiverses” and risk and hazard maps are helping us to see the bridges between them. For long time, only poets had kept a trace of this multiple correspondences. As Baudelaire[xxv] and Rimbaud[xxvi] wrote, there are not only two endpoints between correspondences generated by theories, instruments and calculations, or by experience, memory, impressions and creation. The complex multi-steps production of the USGS maps shows that the distinction of objective and subjective /material and perception is not anymore entrenched in a “bifurcation of Nature”. Working in the continuity of non–representational geographers (Thrift, 2008; Anderson & Harrison, 2010), reintroducing time and space, human and non-human, emotions and perception, this perspective redistributes the possibility of “making space”, “making territory” and, also, “making the risk”. Taking our distance, so to speak, with what was before defined as primary and secondary qualities; we can start to look at one moving world endlessly re-composed with difficulty and hesitations thanks to always surprising associations.

Works Cited

Anderson, B., & Harrison, P. (2010). Taking-Place: Non-Representational Theory and Geography. Ashgate.

Boxer, B., & Feinstein, D. Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011 (2011). Senate and House of Representatives of the United Sates of America.

Deep Under Berkeley. (2011).Seismo Blog. Retrieved April 3, 2013, from

Earthquake Organizations. (2013).Western States Seismic Policy Council.

Filson, J., McCarthy, J., Ellsworth, W., & Zorback, M.-L. (2003). The USGS Earthquake Hazard Program in NEHRP – Investing in a Safer Future. Retrieved from

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. (2013).FEMA. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from

November, V., Camacho-Hübner, E., & Latour, B. (2010). Entering a risky territory: space in the age of digital navigation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(4), 581–599. doi:10.1068/d10409

NSF Funds Earthquake Research Centers in Calfornia, Illinois and New York. (n.d.). (p. Press Release 97–059).

Paxton, J. (2004). Earthquakes: San Francisco at Risk. Spur NewsLetter, August.

Stallings, R. A. (1995). Promoting Risk: Constructing the Earthquake Threat (Social Problems and Social Issues). Aldine de Gruyter.

Stengers, I., & Latour, B. (2009). Le sphinx de l’œuvre (pp. 1–75). Prese Universitaires de France.

Thrift, N. (2008). Non-Representational Theory, Space, Politics, Affect (International Library of Sociology). Routledge.

[i] “Geographer insist that their colleagues in sociology, economics, anthropology, and psychology place their interpretation of risks on top of a base map, which is supposed to ground the most fundamental, the most material, and above all, the most physical reality. Such collaboration has the great drawback of making impossible to go beyond the distinction between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ risks.” (November et al., 2010: 384)

[ii] Mimetic is defined according to the degree of resemblance of a virtual or secondary image, from an original or primary image.

[iii] “What is commonly called the `outside material’ world, the one more or less accurately `represented’ by the maps, is entirely a by-product of the imagination, an aesthetic view of technical practices that have been put in the back-ground. There is nothing especially `material’ in this Euclidian space inside which Galilean objects would flow effortlessly without undergoing any transformation.” (November and al, 2010: 595).

[iv] Like databanks, data’s building interfaces dashboards, etc. (November and al, 2010: 583).

[v] See the “the six steps of the production of map” (in November and al. 2010: 584); acquisition of data, management of data, recalculation of data, printout, signposts and navigational usages.

[vi] “The city’s older, downtown neighborhoods (especially Chinatown, South of Market, the Inner Mission, and the Tenderloin) are expected to suffer disproportionate consequences from future earthquakes-but for other reasons. Together, these neighborhoods provide the bulk of the affordable housing in the city. People who live in these neighborhoods include many who are most at risk if they are made homeless by an earthquake: they are largely low-income, rely heavily on social services, and are less capable of finding alternative housing and support. Today these neighborhoods have the highest population density in the West. And the residential buildings in these neighborhoods are among the oldest, most poorly maintained, and most susceptible to damage from seismic events.”(Paxton, 2004)

[vii] This movement is also active connection between form of knowledge, methodological epistemologies, and disciplinary field of researches.

[viii] The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a fundamental player in the development of the earthquake research in the USA and has provided more than USD 30,000,000 budget dotation for risk and natural hazard researches. In 1986, it awarded the State University of New York at Buffalo’s a five-year grant to establish the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER). The grant was renewed in 1991 and another five-year grant awarded to establish the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California. In 1997 NSF funded three earthquakes centers to conduct join researches: The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Center (PEER) at the University of California, University of Illinois, and the State University New York in Buffalo. Acknowledging the challenges of earthquakes in urban area, NSF invested 2 million a year for five years in each of the three centers. Research founding is still important today. After the Haitian, Chili and Japan earthquake, NSF awarded three Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants to gather more information about the quakes. Most of these researches were made by consortium of institutions, including, for instance, Ohio State University, California Institute of Technology, University of Hawaii, University of Memphis, and UNAVCO Inc., in Boulder, Colorado. NSF also supports others programs like the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) who also participate to the important research efforts. One of the most important funding providers is the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), which focuses on earthquake and tsunami losses reduction of our nation’s civil infrastructure. NSF had also a major role in the founding of the National Earthquake Reduction Programs. (NSF Funds Earthquake Research Centers in Calfornia, Illinois and New York, n.d.).

[ix] The map objective is to provide “the scientific basis of seismic provision in building codes enacted throughout the United Sates to prevent loss and life and limit damage during large earthquake.” (Filson et al., 2003).

[x] “The activities of the Program shall be designed to: (…) research and develop effective methods, tools, and technologies to reduce the risk posed by earthquakes to the built environment, especially to lessen the risk to existing structures and lifelines; (B) improve the understanding of earthquakes and their effects on households, businesses, communities, buildings, structures, and lifelines, through interdisciplinary and multi- disciplinary research that involves engineering, natural sciences, and social sciences; and (C) facilitate the adoption of earthquake risk reduction measures by households, businesses, communities, local, State, and Federal governments, national standards and model building code organizations, architects and engineers, building owners, and others with a role in planning for disasters and planning, constructing, retrofitting, and insuring buildings, structures, and lifelines through: (i) grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, and technical assistance; (ii) development of standards, guidelines, voluntary consensus standards, and other design guidance for earthquake hazards risk reduction for buildings, structures, and lifelines; (iii) outreach and information dissemination to communities on location-specific earthquake hazards and methods to reduce the risks from those hazards; and (iv) development and maintenance of a repository of information, including technical data, on seismic risk and hazards reduction.’’112th Congress 1st Session, S.646 To reauthorize Federal Natural Hazards Reduction Programs and for others purposes, In the Senate of the United States, March 17, 2011. (Boxer & Feinstein, 2011) The National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) had focused an important part of it resources on the production of Seismic Hazards maps, which, has considerably improved the possibility of bringing together multiples actants of the establishment of the risk of earthquake.

[xi] The building code has been adopted by 37 states, including California.

[xii] The BSSC, established by the National Institute of Building Sciences develops and promotes building earthquake mitigation regulatory provision for the nation.

[xiii] Geodesy is a branch of earth science that deals with the question of measurement of the Earth. They among other work on crustal motion.

[xiv] Seismicity refers to the geographic and historical distribution of earthquakes.

[xv] The 2008 version includes new data on subject of fault slip rates, paleoseismologic data from fault trenching studies, earthquake catalogs, and strong-motion recordings from global earthquakes.

[xvi] Some of the major organizations and groups involved in the creation of knowledge and prevention of the risk of earthquake are: EERI, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, USGS, the United States Geological Survey, ABAG, Association of Bay Area Government, Cal-Ema, PEER institute, URS Corporation (“engineering, construction and technical services for public agencies and private sector companies around the world” as described in their website (, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL),  They also have their publication Earthquake spectra. For the private sector: Pacific Gas and Electric  (PG&E) as well as EBMUD East Bay municipal and Utilities District, SPUR, san Francisco Planning and urban research Association, The bay Area Council Economic Institute. Representative of these different organisms have regularly meeting on different occasions, and among them the Working Group on California Earthquake Probability from which most of the following data comes from. As will see later the collaboration goes way beyond the wall of the university. The earthquake models developed by Caltech have been very much used to develop into collaboration with UCB and Stanford. In addition the Seismo Lab has developed closed researches collaboration with University in Europe (ETHZ, Switzerland). Risk Management Studies (RMS), Furgo consultant, California Earthquake Safety Foundation, California Earthquake authority (CEA), The California Emergency management Agency, Shakeout- The drill, The Earthquake Country Alliance, The National Sciences foundation, The National earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (“Earthquake Organizations,” 2013)

[xvii] The Next Generation Attenuation Relation (NGA) was implemented by Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, PEER and conducted to ground breaking (so to speak) discovery in ground motion.

[xviii] Source: Petersen M., and al., 2008, Documentation for the 2008 Update of the United States National Seismic Hazard Maps, Open-File Report 2008–1128, U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey

[xix] Also the study is not recent his result correspond to our own.

[xx] In the Bay Area, Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) plays this role.

[xxi]  As the definition of risk is also the putting into action of an important network.

[xxii] “It was early Thursday afternoon, at 2:41 pm to be exact, when the Earth shook under Berkeley. Nothing was damaged, but the jolt was widely felt. At this time of the year, people here in the East Bay are always somewhat on the edge. Almost exactly 22 years ago, on October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta quake hit and dozens of people died during the collapse of the double-decker Cypress Structure carrying freeway 880. Two years later, on October 19, 1991, the Oakland Hills firestorm claimed many more lives, and several thousand houses burned to oblivion. No wonder then, that long time residents of the area took cover when the latest temblor hit the area, even though it was mild compared to other temblors.”(“Deep Under Berkeley,” 2011)

[xxiii] “C’est la signature du mode d’existence pure réique que de produire un temps et un espace avec réticence et difficulté.” (Stenger, Latour, 2009)

[xxiv] “Le phénomène de Souriau ne se trouve plus pris en tenaille entre ce qu’il y aurait derrière lui —les qualités premières— et ce qu’il y aurait devant lui —les qualités secondes. Ce qui va définir ce mode complètement original et rarement qualifié comme tel par la philosophie, c’est sa patuité : Il est présence, éclat, donnée non repoussable. Il est, et il se dit pour ce qu’il est. On peut sans doute travailler à l’exorciser de cette irritante qualité de présence par soi. On peut le dénoncer ténu, labile et fugace. N’est-ce pas là simplement s’avouer dérouter devant une existence pure, d’un seul mode? (p. 113)” (Latour and Stenger, 2009: 32)

[xxv] “Nature is a temple in which living pillars /Sometimes give voice to confused words; /Man passes there through forests of symbols /Which look at him with understanding eyes. Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance /In a deep and tenebrous unity, /Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day, /Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond./There are perfumes as cool as the flesof children,/Sweet as oboes, green as meadows/— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,/With power to expand into infinity,/Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin, /That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.” Correspondence Baudelaire, .C. in Aggeler W., 1954 The Flowers of Evil, Academy Library Guild.

[xxvi] A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels/I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins/

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies /which buzz around cruel smells/Gulfs of shadow/whiteness of vapours and of tents/ lances of proud glaciers,

E white kings, shivers of cow-parsley/

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips /in anger or in the raptures of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas/the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows/which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds/ silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]/O the Omega! The violet ray of [His] Eyes! Rimbaud, Vowel, 1883.

Charlotte Cabasse is PhD Candidate at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris. She is affiliated to the Geography Department at the University of California Berkeley. Her work focuses on the symmetrical approach of the construction of the risk of earthquake in the Bay Area of San Francisco. 

  1. sociotechno permalink

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for sharing such an excellent essay on risk mapping. I am struck by the way you use actor-network theory implicitly to explain an extremely interesting story of participatory mapping of risk and hazards. I think what you present here represents the most advanced version of risk governance in which a variety of social groups and individuals have come together to define and to locate earthquake risks using a multiplicity of scientific, psychological, cognitive, and cultural resources that make up the map.

    What intrigues me is the way this process took place. I am quite certain that mapping risk is always contentious because risk is a concept that has social and political dimensions in which power and structures are present in risk definition and management. So I was wondering if you can shed light on the tensions and conflicts that appeared the making of the map and how they were overcome or managed by these different groups.


  2. Laura Beltz Imaoka permalink

    I enjoyed reading your insights, especially with my own interest in the advancements in geospatial technologies. Understanding how the space of risk as a category of scientific knowledge and public knowledge is changed by these new maps and Actants is a notable endeavor with many layers to define, and I applaud you for digging into it.

    Your discussion of the Community Intensity Map struck me. This new use of human-as-sensor model in earthquake spatial data generation undoubtedly causes both potentials and concerns for scientific research. Potentials in cost-efficiency and expansion of data; concerns over provenance, unreliability of citizen sources, generalization of requests, and how to synthesize data ideally in real time so that when an earthquake or other emergency happens, there is access to relevant information. I think key to this is how you describe this map: as a “device used to visualize and organize a knowledge derived from collective feelings, perceptions and observation of the event.” The request of asking one to share their “feeling” of the event is one of the approaches of “Web 2.0;” where users/audiences are enticed to join in the building and customizing of services and messages rather than companies being the sole creators of them. Entertainment and educational programs have already migrated and situated themselves into the cultural logic of Web 2.0 participatory social media; the Community Intensity Map is a good example of the scientific establishment having done the same. I wonder how data from these experience maps are correlated against traditional seismic station-gathered data. Does it disrupt or simply add a different dimension to scientific understandings of risk, while it is the public understand that is truly changed through a different means of interacting with disasters?

    Laura Beltz Imaoka (University of California, Irvine)

  3. Charlotte permalink

    Dear Sulfikar and Laura,
    Thank you for your insights and comments. Your perspectives are truly making important points emerging from my paper.
    Sulfikar, from the interviews I have conducted with members of these Workings Groups; what really struck me is they seem to have organized their processes taking seriously the necessary emergence of internal controversies/tensions between interests (including question about science itself) as well as discussions outside their field, with urbanists and structural engineers. The rather short intervals in which these Working Groups meet and the type of modifications they do, which can be pretty significative, tend to go in this sense. I guess this is one of the point that interest me: you have a group of experts that – on certain occasions– do not act like experts are supposed to do! They call themselves the “earthquake junkies” and they seem to be driven by their attachment (not to say addiction) to their subject of research, which create different type of relation with others actants of the field. I found – not surprisingly – that power relations are more present when going outside this small community and dealing with economic questions of insurance and recovery or national/federal organizations.
    Laura, it was also a nice surprise for me to see that innovations have circulated and get appropriated, creating new paths that need to be explored. I would say that this map is a example of the – at least partial – acknowledgment by the seismo community of the presence of multiple actants (and resulting tensions between them), and the rationality of, at least some, non-experts. An important shift in the risk management perspective! This device has also a more pragmatic dimension: covering California with sensors is – of course – extremely costly and in this particular case, human can replace machine pretty well! If you want to know more about the scientific elaboration of the map you can check I would add that one of the motto of risk managers is “know your risk”, when so many people begun a participatory project about seismicity, that might not say that they have a scientific knowledge about the the many dimensions of earthquake, but that means they feel concerned and they are ready to re-act and participate to a collective project. My project explore this rather elusive dimensions of risk, between attachment and concerns…
    I hope I have answered your questions. I did not go too much into the theoretical elaboration but I would be happy to, if you have any interest for that part. Thank you for reading my essay.

  4. Marja Ylonen permalink

    Hi Charlotte,

    The topic of your paper as well as approach are fascinating. It seems that in the USGS case both the lay and expert knowledge have been successfully combined to produce more exact information about earthquakes. However, the picture can be different in cases which information and maps are produced by experts, such as in forecasting of direction of fire in Australia. The more people (experts) are involved in predicting fire the more interconnected practices need to be coordinated. In addition, the maps can be taken iconically that may lead to misinterpretation and also to fault warnings and actions because intervening factors, such as wind may change the direction of fire. Therefore maps co-produce risks and uncertainties.

    Latour’s navigation approach obviously builds on actor network theory that has been criticized for flat ontology that combines different actants to the same network. Furthermore, it has been criticized for not taking into account different power relationships inside the network. These are relevant as far as the practices and outcome of practices (maps, risks) are concerned. Possibly one would need to combine some other frames in order to analyze the power relationships inside the network.

    In any case, material semiotics and pragmatism are interesting approaches. Good luck with your study!
    Marja Ylonen

  5. Quite an impressive essay, indeed! I really like how you’ve drawn on the new literature by November, Callon and others that bring to life these maps in a new and interesting way. Given the considerable amount of attention that has been paid to DIY initiatives and Mapping in Fukushima, including by Yasuhito Abe during the first 3.11 Virtual Conference (and at the SHOT workshop), I wonder what similarities and differences you see in the different mapping initiatives, and especially on the question of citizen engagement. Thinking also of the way in which the US Weather Bureau uses volunteers to do storm reporting (in their case, they run special training sessions for “spotters”), there’s the question of how institutions shape and domesticate citizen input in a way that circumscribes their role as actors. What I recall from our earlier conversation about Safecast and other such initiatives was that there was a greater sense of citizen self-censorship—that the goal had been to hold government accountable for its data, the ethical dimensions of the obligation to generate data and for its transparency, but that in the end, the citizens wound up operating within the confines of acknowledged structures of what constituted scientific knowledge and expertise. I realize you are pointing to something different—a subjective sentiment on the part of researchers that doesn’t fit the normal construction of objectivity among experts. It has the feel of an open-source community (and hence some possible direct linkages to the Web 2.0 community that Laura mentions), especially as grounded in a body of practice that might value community-generated data isolated from its broader political and economic uses (for risk and insurance calculations and the like).

    To the extent to which actor-network theory has been criticized for its flatness, which is mirrored in some of the remarks above, I am also curious how you wind up in the end navigating through the political terrain that nevertheless remain obscured through these representations. Thanks for this really great essay.

    Atsushi Akera
    Department of Science and Technology Studies
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    Troy, NY USA

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