Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Matthew W. Wilson


Throughout history, maps have held a particularly potent ability to inform and persuade their users. Recognizing the power maps and their modes of productions possess, participatory mapping has been celebrated for its capacity to empower systemically disenfranchised communities by way of establishing inclusive pathways for influencing collection and representation of spatial information. What has remained largely periphery to considerations of participatory mapping, however, has been discussions of map design. Decades of scholarship in both traditional and critical veins of cartography, however, argue that it’s the careful execution of design choices that grant the map its power. Without attention to design, cartographers warn, the map will not be able to successfully communicate its intended message. However, even with little direct discussion of map design being reported, participatory mapping has a proven track record in an expansive range of locations and contexts of successfully supporting communities in advocating for their rights.

As such, this dissertation takes up this disciplinary dissonance to explore what, ultimately, makes a map effective. Through content analysis of cartographic education materials, interviews with leaders of participatory mapping projects, and participant observation at national and international professional gatherings for cartographers, this research reveals an underlying tension between what informs the established understandings of effectiveness and how that effectiveness is achieved. Such tension can result in instances of disciplinary shaming and gatekeeping which, in turn, limit exchange of information and consequently prevented an evolution of the understandings of effectiveness. This dissertation calls for an expansion of the discipline’s framework of cartographic efficacy. I ultimately invite cartographers to allocate resources for understanding forms of efficacy that expand beyond traditional modalities in addition to making space for those who are not professionally trained cartographers to assert their ability to make effective maps and explore design principles with aplomb.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (award no.: 1247392) from 2015-2018.