Mind the gap: The London underground map and users' representations of Urban space

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This paper explores the effects of iconic, abstract representations of complex objects on our interactions with those objects through an ethnographic study of the use of the London Underground Map to tame and enframe the city of London. Official reports insist that the 'Tube Map's' iconic status is due to its exemplary design principles or its utility for journey planning underground. This paper, however, presents results that suggest a different role for the familiar image: one of an essential visual technology that stands as an interface between the city and its user, presenting and structuring the points of access and possibilities for interaction within the urban space. The analysis explores the public understanding of an inscription in the world beyond the laboratory bench, the indexicality of the immutable mobile's visual language, and the relationship between representing and intervening. It further suggests fruitful crossovers between Science Studies, Urban Studies, and Human-Computer Interaction by approaching the individual as a 'user' of a city and its graphical interface, applying the technique of cognitive mapping to overlapping virtual and analog spaces, and exploring the social and practical effects of strong and standardized visual languages on further narratives and interactions with scientific, technological, or everyday objects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-35
Number of pages27
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Cities
  • Imaging
  • Immutable mobile
  • Maps
  • Representing and intervening
  • Visual language
  • Visualization


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