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February 2017 Vol. 54 No. 6

Ohio University Press/Swallow Press

The following review appeared in the February 2017 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Social & Behavioral Sciences
History, Geography & Area Studies - Africa

MacArthur, Julie. Cartography and the political imagination: mapping community in colonial Kenya. Ohio University, 2016. 340p bibl index afp ISBN 9780821422090, $80.00; ISBN 9780821422106 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9780821445563 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The concluding sentence of this study of the construction of identities in Kenya is that “geographic imaginations” produced “a way of seeing and embracing the plurality and dissent inherent in all mappings of political communities.” MacArthur (African studies, Univ. of Toronto) summarizes the creation of a plural and civic-minded Luyia identity situated in geographic space, place, and community, expressed cartographically. Three intertwined lines of argument are central to the study: “imagined communities” constructed out of perceived concepts of ethnic, religious, linguistic, and genealogical links; the emergence of a particular form of ethnic patriotism consisting of the complex interplay of nativism and cosmopolitanism in African political thought; and how the mobilization of geographic identities rendered the development of “cartographic political imaginations.” The author also addresses the role of maps as process, metaphor, and science in several contexts: as tools of management and poetic imagination; their role in ethnogenesis, historiography, and language; their role in the representation of land, mobility, and gender issues; and the rendering of territoriality as a tool of dissent and imagination. MacArthur suggests that the “triumph” of the map promoted alternative visions of political community and suggested alternative cartographic political imaginations. Over 100 pages of footnotes and references and, predictably, an abundance of relevant maps support the text.

--B. Osborne, Queen's University at Kingston

Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.