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The making of the map, the making of the risk: rethinking the bridges in the risk and disaster studies

Charlotte Cabasse
Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées

Abstract: This paper addresses the elaboration of two maps, the USGS National Seismic Hazard Map and the USGS Community Internet Intensity Map. A look at the production of these two widely used documents forces us to rethink the definition of the earthquake risk, adding to the usual elements of definition some unexpected actants. 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 perception play a major role in the definition of the earthquake risk. I argue that these maps’ complex associations and reticular connections make visible a network of risk awareness also at stake in Real World. Creating bridges between forms of actants will help us grasp the multiple 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. Researches from several disciplinary field have shown that risk and disaster have “escaped the control of technocratic managers” (Lakoff, 2006: 5). But then, who should address the question of risk and disaster, and how? November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour (November and al., 2010) reminds 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. In an STS perspective, we will thus study the elaboration of two maps, the USGS USA Earthquake Risk Map and the USGS Community Internet Intensity Map. We will then engage, through the cartographic lens, with a re-definition of the relation to, and between, risk, territory and those who define and live with risk of earthquake.

If we know how to make reefs and stop signs readable on a map, the same is not true for risk[i]. To bypass this limitation, November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour have proposed to focus on what they called a navigational approach of the map; as opposed to a mimetic one[ii], only limited to correspondences between the outside world[iii] and its representations. Relations between map, risk and territory are a braid of ramifications that can fail or succeed to establish – to make visible/accessible, in other worlds, real[iv] – both the territory and the risk. 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 connection between “stepping stones” – signposts, elements of information or, again, actants – previously described, translated, stocked and finally turned into a drawing[v]. Reconnecting the map with the multiple actants of the outside world opens the possibility of rethinking the condition of science production, legitimate forms of knowledge and expertise. As appropriated when dealing with an “uncertain world” (Callon, Lascoumes, & Barthe, 2009),  we will also take into consideration actants[vi] (human or non-human) which had, until now, not been given so much attention.

The USGS USA Earthquake Risk Map is a good example of a progressive instauration of risk by different actants. The map, which displays ground motions for various probabilities level in the different parts of the Unites States, is a reference document that summarizes years of researches, data collecting and crossing. It works like a transmitter, opening a window of continuity, and movement[vii], between the realm of the things and the realm of events, possibilities, scenarios, and fictions. It has been used by private and public institutions for earthquake prevention purposes since its first publications in 1976[viii]. As one of the major instrument of risk prevention policies at the Federal level, it has been included to the design of several federal and state programs[ix]. The map is also a important 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.

The USGS USA Earthquake Risk Map is a good example of a progressive instauration of risk by different actants. The map, which displays ground motions for various probabilities level in the different parts of the Unites States, is a reference document that summarizes years of researches, data collecting and crossing. It works like a transmitter, opening a window of continuity, and movement[i], between the realm of the things and the realm of events, possibilities, scenarios, and fictions. It has been used by private and public institutions for earthquake prevention purposes since its first publications in 1976[ii]. As one of the major instrument of risk prevention policies at the Federal level, it has been included to the design of several federal and state programs[iii]. The map is also a important 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.
Cabasse Fig1

This capacity of data translation and communication makes the map one of the pivotal actant of risk definition. Tracing the condition of its production brings together a long chain of facts and figures, tools, funding agencies, political will, organization that has became the familiar of science making (Lynch, 2012). The National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project (NSHMP) works to combine and evaluate actions of already intricate associations of human and non-human actants: faults, earthquake ground shaking, geodesy[i] and seismicity[ii], seismic soils, near surface condition, energy attenuation. NSHMP relies on the progressive improvement of past earthquake knowledge (paleoseismology), the better understanding of the physic of the earth crust and, recently, the extensive uses of new technologies: GPS and visual technology. The production of the map is a 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. 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. Each version of the map incorporates new elements concerning the model of the fault (like 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[iii].

Interdisciplinary working groups (WG) are the always-moving figure of data production in the earthquake community[iv]. This “earthquake community” [v], as referred by people inside, or “earthquake establishment” [vi], 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). Dealing with so many actants, scientist’s objective is, in their own words, to produce an assessment of the “best available science” (Petersen, 2008). Results are slowly “bought to life”, or established collectively, by organizations crossing the borders of public and private sector and building reticular connections between type of expertise, space, and maybe, interests. How then, can we draw the lines between scientists and non-scientists, experts and non-experts, politics sciences and even emotions[vii]? Making space to this multitude of actants, we need to pay close attention to the ‘socio-technic association’ they are creating: bridges between what we had for too long considered separately as primary and secondary qualities (November, Camacho-Hübner, & Latour, 2010). These associations form a chain around ‘matters of concerns’ (Latour, 2004) and ‘common issues’ which are de facto shaping the contour of the map[viii], and in the same movement, the making of the risk[ix].

Of course earthquake are more than a friction of tectonic plates[x]. In the Bay Area, the earthquake community – or ‘earthquake junkies’, as they like to call themselves – showing their strong attachment to the object of their attention (Gomart & Hennion, 1999), have been articulating sciences, experiences, moral, politic and emotion as a drive for the definition of the earthquake risk. Earthquake map, as well as 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 of course personal. But, in the case of the making of the map, it is a personal experience of perceptions, scientifically considered as a fact. Maps are brought back to their multidimensionality: both rational and non rational, spatial and temporal, they deploy a multiplicity of experiences and correspondences. Recognizing the different operations that build a map – anticipation, participation, reflectivity and feedback, according to November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour – the USGS “Did you feel it?” program (DYFI), collects real time information and measurement from earthquake witnesses. 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 sufficiently 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. Both events generated real concerns – the Haitian and Japanese earthquakes were still in everybody’s mind[xi]. 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 that visualizes and organizes 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 scale the witnesses’ states of indifference or freight, 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[xii]. 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.

Cabasse Fig 2

The multiple portable and interconnected devices – cell-phones, tablets and other computer – have transformed the operations of information sharing, making more visible the navigational relationship that exist between the map and the territory. First, the USGS’s interfaces have changed the way residents and scientific understand and react to earthquake, opening the possibility to take into account new forms of ‘public’[i]. In the same movement, these interfaces have made visible the socio-technic association which have transformed a “res publica” (public thing) into a “periculum publica” (public danger). These two successive turns imply to take into account what we could call a ‘network of risk awareness’. 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. 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 is a space of chosen, conflicted or negotiated relations that combines a multitude of socio-techniques associations. As an object, it can be folded and unfolded, but it also establishes or instaure a reality composed by different form of actants, as described by the French philosopher Souriau[ii] (Stengers & Latour, 2009). Practice of Internet of the XXIst century has confirmed what James suggested in the XIXth century: we live in “multiverses” and risk and hazard maps are helping us to see the bridges between them. In this movement, localization of knowledge and its definition[iii] have also been transferred with a cascade effects[iv]. These shifts are more than a change of paradigm: they mark a notable “change in domains of knowledge as well as of social organization and behavior” (Jasanoff, 2010: 19). They are based both on the incredible development of our calculations capacities and on the transformation of the definition of risk and disasters as new categories[v], questioning again the legacy of the Enlightenment[vi].

For long time, only poets had kept a trace of this multiple correspondences[vii] . 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[HM1] [viii]”. 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”. As Mialet (Mialet, 2012) notes, scientists and scientific institutions have been on the hedge of becoming schizophrenic by means of trying to compose an image of science, and we will ad of a maps, in accordance to principle they expressed[ix]. But we now have a toolbox to navigate in one moving world, endlessly re-composed with difficulty and hesitations, thanks to always surprising associations. A small step into the progressive establishment a DSTS.


[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] Will built here on the concept of instauration as defined by Latour, in his reading of Souriau: “Instauration and construction are clearly synonyms. But instauration has the distinct advantage of not dragging along all the metaphorical baggage of constructivism – which would in any case be an easy and almost automatic association given that an artwork is so obviously ‘constructed’ by the artist. To speak of ‘instauration’ is to prepare the mind to engage with the question of modality in quite the opposite way form constructivism. To say, for example, that a fact is ‘ constructed’ is inevitably (…) to designate the knowing subject as the origin of the vector, as in the image of God the potter. But the opposite move, of saying of an artwork that it results from instauration, is to get oneself ready to see the potter as the one who welcomes, gathers, prepares, explores and invents the form of the work, just as one discovers or ‘invent’ a treasure.” (Latour, 2011: 310)

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

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

[viii] 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).

[ix] The recommendations for the creation of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), the definition of the buildings codes – the building code has been adopted by 37 states, including California – and by the Building Seismic Safety Council (BSSC) – established by the National Institute of Building Sciences develops and promotes building earthquake mitigation regulatory provision for the nation – and the retrofitting guidelines designated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 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.

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

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

[xii] 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.

[xiii] 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.

[xiv] 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). 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 regular meetings, including 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)

[xv] Looking at their media visibility, 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, who play a major role as do the National League of Cities, the US Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, etc.…Stallings results are very closed to our owns.

[xvi] Stallings (Stallings, 1995) has showed that career politicians have more than seldom been involved in the claim making system (less than 2%).

[xvii] Re-defining maps is also redefining space, as November, Camacho-Hübner and Latour noted: “ Once mountains and valleys, capes and rivers have been laid out, and you have transmogrified them into so many Galilean Objects moving into an Euclidian Space, it is very cumbersome to fit in human industry, economics, risk, travels, and so on, since you pretty well know that they do not ‘reside’ in Euclidian space and share more relations than the three sacrosanct ones of height, width and length.”(November et al., 2010: 594)

[xviii] ”Disasters are both socially constructed and experienced differently by different groups and individuals, generating multiple interpretations of an event process. A single disaster can fragment into different and conflicting sets of circumstances and interpretations according to the experience and identity of those affected. Disasters force researches to confront the many and shifting faces of socially imagined realities. Disasters disclose in their unfolding the linkage and interpenetrations of natural forces or agents” (Oliver-Smith, 1996: 26).

[xix] Asked about his motivation for doing his work, one respondent explained: I was in Iran standing in front of a school where 600 children died. You know, its give new meaning about your original question, what is risks, what do we do about it. You know you can look at a building and say you know Typical Unreinforced masonry building in stone…floors not tied together and during shock in case of shock, you know. The floor has collapsed, that is an interesting mechanism. The floor has collapsed, the problem was it was 15 mn before lunchtime and there was 600 children in there. You know, ground up.”

[xx] “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)

[xxi] Building on the concept of modern reflectivity, Beck anchors his project in the in the on going metamorphosis of our environment in relation with the evolution of our categories of though. “In place of the seemingly self evident key concept of nature, ecology, and environment, which have their ground in an opposition to the social, this framework start beyond the dualism of society and nature. Its central themes and perspectives have to do with fabricated uncertainty within our civilization: risk, danger, side effects, insurability, individualization, and globalization.” (Beck, 1996: 2). This ongoing movement that Beck has grasped so well does not concern only the disappearance of externalities but conducted to the creation of  interrelated which extended the concepts of vulnerabilization and fragilisation to biographic history.

[xxii] One of the more famous example is the associations that have emerged around the question of the climate change (Latour, 2010)

[xxiii] 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)

[xxiv] Jasanoff built this table from a critic of the psychometric paradigm which has been very successful in the many fields of expertise opened by the proliferation of the risk discourses during the past decades. “Central to this approach is the distinction between risks as they actually are – often equated with ‘rational’ or expert assessment of risks – and the risks as lay people perceive them to be.” (Jasanoff, 1998: 91). Based on the grand development of the cognitive, behaviorist (and later neurologists) sciences in the United States, this approach has worked on the heuristic bias that usually narrow the capacities of understanding of lay people: for instance low understanding of mathematical notions of statistics and their correlatives questions of chance, samples, etc. and to the over representations of common, prototypal fears (like in the example of plane accident versus the car accident at less than 20 minutes from a familiar place).

[xxv] Power is mainly the one of associations or aggregations in which things, phenomena, actors cumulate their weakness. Power does not exist by itself, it is a combination that may or may not hold. “Because of this notion of network, we can see how a point, which was isolated, becomes a control point for a large number of others points, and become a place of power. We can both follow the composition of power and its decomposition” (Callon & Ferrary Michel, 2006).

[xxvi] Quarantelli was among the first to focus on the question of definitions, arguing that our understanding of the concept shapes our reaction toward it. Two volumes of “What is a Disaster” (Perry & Quarantelli, 2005) have questioned the definition proposed by some of the most influential researchers in the field. During this decade of research, R. Perry noted that a consensus has been made on the fact that disasters are “social events in social time”, that they are “disruptive to social intercourse” and that they “should be understood in a context of social change (human and institutional adaptability)” (Perry & Quarantelli, 2005: 310). But controversy still surrounds the “(1) vision of the context of the phenomena of disasters and hazards, (2) the question of whose perspective is used as a definitional referent: the public the victims, researchers, and policy makers; (3) the definer vision of social sciences, and (4) issues that should be addressed in terms of taxonomy and definition” (Perry & Quarantelli, 2005: 313). These discussions, these exchanges, have defined the line of a “disciplinary matrix”[1] (Khun, 1996:182)

[xxvii] “Social analysts often took the fact of risk for granted: for them it was the distribution of risk in society, and the distributing implication of risk for human autonomy and solidarity, that require investigation or exploration. (…) The “Risk Society” Beck described seemed no longer able to rely unproblematicaly on science, the cornerstone of reason in public life since the Enlightenment.” (Jasanoff, 2010: 20).

[xxviii] “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 flesh of 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.

[xxix] For Hache, following Whitehead and taking our distance with this bifurcation of nature have consequences “politic and moral of our starting hypothesis, at the same time theoretical and ontological: we have never been modern, in other words, ‘nature’ does not exists. Which means that we do not have (anymore) a spatio-temporal framework, which was what nature used to be for – Law of Nature-, on which we could project our representations and those of the Others.” (Hache, 2011: 142)

[xxx] “Thanks to Popper I knew that scientists had dreams and phantasms; from Merton I learned that they could be immoral; and I understood from my reading of Kuhn that they, like everyone else, were subject to emotional crises. But as far as these authors were concerned, what was given to the scientists (a certain form of humanity) was immediately taken away for the sake of science. Thus they invented elaborate systems to contain the scientist’s subjectivity: hence for Popper, the distinction between the context of discovery (the realm of imagination) and the context of justification (the realm of method); for Merton, the distinction between “normal” institutions and “scientific” institutions ruled by universal norms; and for Kuhn, the distinction between a conflicted philosophical pre-paradigmatic science and the calm and orderly settled scientific paradigm, etc.” (Mialet, 2012).



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Charlotte Cabasse is PhD Candidate at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris. She is affiliated to the Geography Department and appointed visiting scholar at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society 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. Kath Weston permalink

    “As an object of science, the earthquake needs to be felt to be appreciated and experienced to be understood”: I think you might find interesting, if you haven’t come across it already, Charles Wolfe’s and Ofer Gal’s 2010 The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. The collection focuses on the history of empiricism in early modern European science; I’ve been bending the editors’ concept of “embodied empiricism” to rather different purposes, but the collection as a whole speaks to a kind of lost history of science and “the need to re-embody our understanding of empiricism.” It’s quite interesting to read your paper in that light. I wonder how you would relate community-generated intensity maps to instrument-generated intensity maps like the ones produced by the Japan Meteorological Agency’s seismic intensity scale. Also, how might the “reticular connections” made to earthquake hazard maps differ if you talked to people in a zone designated low hazard rather than people in a place like the Bay Area, where earthquake risk is the stuff of legend? After experiencing the 3.11 earthquake in Japan, I returned home to Virginia, where no one had experienced a (perceptible) earthquake in memory. The August 2011 Virginia Earthquake registered at 5.8 on the Richter scale, but people had quite different ways of framing their experience while it was happening: Was it a train? An explosion? (Me, I initially thought, “Post-traumatic stress imaginings after going through 3.11??) That part of Virginia fell in the second lowest risk category on the USGS hazard map, so for many, “earthquake” didn’t come to mind. Now, of course, the insurance agencies want to redraw the map. So perhaps it is not just that the results of various studies and collected inputs are “brought to life,” as you so beautifully point out, but also that the maps are in some sense alive, longitudinally speaking, in their relationship with people.

  2. Jen Schneider permalink

    I enjoyed this paper, and also Kath’s comment. It makes me wonder in what ways maps like these are “living,” but also in what ways they are always already artifacts, dead in a sense–meaning there are elements of risk or lived experience that cannot be captured or which are always changing, and which therefore render the maps obsolete almost as soon as they are created. Thank you for the food for thought.

  3. Charlotte permalink

    Kath, Jen
    Thank your for your very interesting comments. I did not know Charles Wolfe’s and Ofer Gal’s book, thank you for drawing my attention to it. I am very interested by research on empiricism and my work focus on the symmetrical approach of the risk definition by experts and non-experts.
    Kath, I agree with you: there is a very interesting movement of what Souriau calls “instauration”. The risk of earthquake, like the work of art (that was Souriau example), can fail to be “brought to life”. What these maps show is that the relations we have with risk are not only at the image of the “God the potter” – a very top down approach experts/the people – but a more complex construction of the risk, space, subject at risk, and finally politic. These maps are a good example of the creations of hybrid communities.
    I also agree with you Jen, that if maps are a “beings” they can also stop to exist. Following Souriau’s steps, we could say that maps have an “existence” as “being” – or “thing” as would say the contemporary object-oriented-theory. They are both engaged and engaging in the definition of the world. ‘Beings’ can be transformed, survive in another forms, like a collection of data that’d be used to create others maps, a false theory debunk, or an individual memory which has a role to play in the construction of a subject.
    From what I know, the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale is constructed according to the same principle that the modified Mercalli Intensities scales used in the US since 1931. The seismicity measures the power (like the watts in the lamp) and the intensity map defines the shaking and damages. Just FYI, I found the anecdote interesting, before in the Communities Internet Intensity Map, information was collected through questionnaires send to the Post Offices in earthquake area.
    I don’t know how the map is built in Japan, what are the instruments, what are the questions asked to the public… I have not conducted comparatives studies between the Bay Area and others places either. But what I found, is that in the Bay Area, the Community Internet Intensity Map have been easily adopted by residents, who – for those who feel concerned about earthquake – think mostly in term of their own vulnerability.

  4. Laura Beltz Imaoka permalink

    Hi Charlotte, I thought I would reply to your reply to my comment on the virtual conference version of this paper when we were discussing these mapping innovations as presenting an interesting shift in risk management perspective. I think the motto you mentioned of the risk manager (“know your risk”) makes a particularly compelling case to also think about these participant maps as reflecting new modes of governmentality – as government becomes more privatized and dispersed, governing becomes more about teaching individuals to take responsibility for a range of lurking risks, from bankruptcy to weather emergencies. As a cultural technology, such maps invoke a rationality of governing that emphasizes self-“empowerment” as a condition of citizenship – to “know your risks” so to speak. This goes beyond feeling and concern to political structures. In my own research, I have been thinking about how these maps govermentalize by making individuals and populations objects of assessment and intervention by soliciting their participation that helps cultivate certain habits, ethics and skills. I do have a more political economy interest in this type of crowdsourced data, so it would interesting to discuss this further with you!

  5. To add a bit to Kath’s comments, I think that in the US we tend to report only the maximum magnitude. In Japan, however, a single event is likely to result in multiple messages streaming across television screens showing the varying intensity of a temblor over the affected region. I suspect that this is in part a function of general sensitivity to earthquakes that has led to establishing a broad blanket of monitoring sites.

    On the issue of body as an instrument of measurement, it has always been something of a disappointment to me that every earthquake in the U.S. that I “should” have felt, I did not. I either slept through it (one in Philly in 1972) and a couple here in Ohio (some associated with fracking). So, while I like the idea of incorporating human response, I would like to also ask if there is an effort to include responses from those who did NOT feel the quake as well as the responses of those sensitive souls who did.

  6. Bill Kinsella permalink

    Thank you for this thoughtful essay, Charlotte, which opens up a number of phenomenological questions. It reminded me of how medical practitioners sometimes use a very simple scale for measuring their patients’ experiences of pain, such as: “on a scale of one through five, with five being the worst you ever felt, how bad is your pain?” When I first encountered this approach, my inner scientist thought “how could this possibly be a useful scientific measure–everyone feels pain differently.” But apparently, practitioners find this measurement tool quite valid and useful. And one might say. I don’t know whether or to what degree this measurement system has been incorporated into the governmentality of medical practice–for example, is it used for diagnosis, is it used in deciding what medications insurance plans will pay for, etc. But somehow, I see a possibly useful analogy to your interrogation of the practices and epistemologies of mapping.

    Another though your essay provoked for me is: do the two maps you;ve studied talk to each other at all, or are they two disjoint modes of knowledge. In one direction, are peoples’ experiences of an earthquake informed by prior knowledge of the predictions made by the seismic map? In the other direction, are the results of the internet map used to refine the seismic map? I recognize that the scales of the two maps are very different, and one is meant to be predictive while the other is post facto, but I’m curious about the degree to which they communicate (if they do at all).

  7. Tamiyo Kondo permalink

    I am interested to know how peoples risk perseption will be different between seeing USGS sesimic hazard map and community intensity map.
    Have you conducted any survey to demonstrate this kind of difference?

  8. Charlotte, this is a very smart paper and I’m looking forward reading your PhD thesis!

    In a very elegant manner, your (intensive) use of Latourian literature etc brings an in-depth reflection on what is a map. This especially important as the recent proclaimed “geographical turn” of social sciences is often limited to a techno-mania for GIS and the like (am I true saying so?).

    You make a very nice shot with periculum publica / res publica!

    Perhaps should you also include into your analytical grid the “collecting of real-time information” and “information sharing”: I think these are now commonplaces of the Internet age.

    Regarding Japan, I guess you know them already, but you may find further inspiration in the works of Augustin Berque and Philippe Pelletier, two very smart French geographers specialist of Japan.

    (Petersen 2008, p.4, is not in your list of references)

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