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Rotating maps and readers: praxiological aspects of alignment and orientation

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A longstanding topic in our notions of what geographic knowledge could be is the mental map, or, in its most recent form, mental spatial representations. In this paper we draw upon ethnomethodological critiques of cognition, and mind more generally, to re-specify navigation, orientation and alignment in terms of human practices of navigating, orienting and aligning in particular settings. Our ambition in the paper is less to dismantle notions of cognition still present in geographers’ studies of map use; instead we offer the beginnings of a way of analysing ordinary practices of wayfinding that treats matters of reasoning as publicly available in gestures and conversation rather than indirectly accessible inner processes of mental map consultation. To do so we describe what occurs during two video fragments involving consultation of maps in commonplace situations. The first is a group of tourists on foot trying to find an old building in Edinburgh and the second daytrippers travelling out for a day in the countryside locating some recommended places to visit in a road atlas.

Keywords: cognition; ethnomethodology; navigation; orientation; video-analysis

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, Email: 2: Department of communications, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gillman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0503, USA, Email:

Publication date: 2008-04-01

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