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Listening to the tube map: Rhythm and the historiography of urban map use

Hornsey, Richard


Richard Hornsey


This paper is in two parts. In the first half I consider the challenge posed by the recent performative turn in critical cartography to the urban historical geographer. If maps come into being only within the diverse moments of their use, then how can we compensate for the absence of such events within the historical archive? Building on Tim Ingold's work, I suggest that one approach is to make an analogy between printed maps and musical scores, as decentred technologies whose instructions for performance are always mediated by environmental contingencies and the historical particularities of their performers. Returning a map to its original setting and 'listening' to the rhythms inscribed within it might enable us to uncover the specific spatial practices it once sought to produce. I then consolidate this approach via a study of Harry Beck's 1933 map of the London Underground. By locating it within the rhythmic dynamics of interwar London, I uncover the Tube Map's covert cybernetic impulse; in gesturing towards its own redundancy, it proffered a mode of cartographic practice that might impel the user toward an environmental docility that accorded with the dynamics of monopoly capitalism. Beck's map thus stands revealed as a watershed technology within attempts to orchestrate 20th-century urban life. © 2012 Pion and its Licensors.


Hornsey, R. (2012). Listening to the tube map: Rhythm and the historiography of urban map use. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30(4), 675-693.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2012
Journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
Print ISSN 0263-7758
Electronic ISSN 1472-3433
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 4
Pages 675-693
Keywords cartography, rhythmanalysis, musical scoring, mobility, London Underground, cybernetics
Public URL
Publisher URL


HORNSEY_listening to the tube map (for repository).doc (129 Kb)

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