A Response to Barton^2

In the chapter “Ideology and the Map: Toward a Postmodern Visual Design Practice” in the book Professional Communication: The Social Perspective, Ben and Marthalee Barton explore the map’s underlying rhetorical purposes. To introduce this subject, they first declare that all visual graphics have a rhetorical purpose and are trying to convince the audience in one way or another. Except for maps. Maps were supposedly the only type of graphic that had the purpose of simply informing the audience and not trying to convince them of anything. Off of this assumption, Barton and Barton continue to spend the rest of the chapter explaining why this is not true, organized by categories that describe characteristics of maps that can contradict this assertion. For example, one argument they described was that maps used to be attributed to war as map sales increased during wartime. People focused on maps for wartime purposes and thus constructed this stigma. Although, they also use a more opposite example, saying that maps have been criticized for portraying locations in an exaggeratedly positive light. This is most applicable when speaking to tourist maps or maps identifying spots for sightseeing, as stated, since they only include the more glorious features of the place and often times even exaggerate these features through additional graphics.

I do believe that Barton and Barton make a significant point about maps containing bias and its own rhetoric, but I don’t support their claims completely. I agree that there is not a visual graphic that does not, in some way, have rhetorical purpose of persuasion or bias. Although, I think Barton and Barton were dissecting maps to a bit of an extreme extent. I do not believe that peoples’ affiliations and personal biases with the overall genre of graphic should affect the message that is trying to be portrayed and I don’t believe they should have focused on that aspect so heavily.

My question is, which would have a more significant impact on the audience when interpreting a map’s data – the graphical bias created by the map itself or the audience’s predetermined, personal bias? Why?


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