July 12, 2011

Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, Part III: Zombies in the Academy

So you're probably wondering why we've resurrected the zombie series... we've got zombies on the brain (get it?! zombies?! resurrected?! on the brain?!). Well, we've just finished a chapter for a book called Zombies in the Academy which is scheduled to be coming out by the end of the year, is edited by Andrew Whelan, Chris Moore and Ruth Walker.

Our chapter entitled "Mapping Zombies: A Guide for Digital Pre-apocalyptic Analysis and Post-apocalyptic Survival" is relatively short (3000 words) but intellectually rich -- exactly the kind of material we like to put on FloatingSheep.

...and let's be honest, the past two weeks have been a bit slow with original posts -- almost congealing in a sticky pool of guest maps and Hungarian folk dancing.


The publisher and editors of Zombies in the Academy are willing to let us post some excerpts from the chapter in serialized (as opposed to cerealized form, which would actually be a nice project for our DIY readers), and somewhat adapted, form. We'll also be posting some maps and analysis that didn't end up making it into the submitted chapter. This post, however, sets the stage for the maps to come, as well as parts I and II of this series from a few weeks ago. So, gentle reader, enjoy.....

Mapping Zombies: A Guide for Digital Pre-apocalyptic Analysis and Post-apocalyptic Survival

by Mark Graham, Taylor Shelton and Matthew Zook

Zombies exist, though perhaps not in an entirely literal sense. But the existence, even the outright prevalence, of zombies in the collective social imaginary gives them a realness, even though a zombie apocalypse has yet to happen. The zombie trope exists as a means through which society can playfully, if somewhat grimly and gruesomely, discover the intricacies of the humanity’s relationship with nature and the socially constructed world that emerges from it.

In this chapter, we present an analysis of the prevalence of zombies and zombie-related terminology within the geographically grounded parts of cyberspace, known as the geoweb. Just as zombies provide a means to explore, imagine and reconstruct the world around us, so too do the socio-technical practices of the geoweb provide a means for better understanding human society. In short, looking for geo-coded references to zombies on the Internet provides insight on the memes, mechanisms and macabres of the modern world. Using a series of maps that visualize the virtual geographies of zombies, this chapter seeks to comprehend the ways in which both zombies and the geoweb are simultaneously reflective of and employed in producing new understandings of our world, albeit with a slightly more references to blood, gore and decapitation than is the norm for academic publications.

Just as the zombie metaphor has been deployed in recent years to explain everything from epidemiology to surviving graduate school, neoliberalism to colonialism, even the themes of life, death and resurrection in Christian thought. Needless to say, zombies are a flexible metaphor that can be adapted to explain any number of social phenomena. And while virtual, rather than metaphorical, the user-generated content of the geoweb represents a similarly flexible means of understanding and representing the world.

Because this content can be created by anyone connected to the internet, the geoweb is theoretically open to a myriad of representations of the world, creating palimpsests of meaning in these hybrid material/virtual spaces. Due to the mutual constitution of the material and virtual spaces in the geoweb, termed cyberscapes, these virtual representations are often reflective of elements from our material lived realities, albeit often in highly distorted ways.

To better illuminate the relationships between the material and virtual, this chapter uses the trope of the zombie as an entry point into debates about the Internet, the spatial diffusion of culture, and the hybridization of online and offline spaces. The undead offer a powerful lens for understanding the spatialities of the information age without the gory details of their material manifestations.

By mapping the virtual geographies, or ‘cyberscapes’, of zombies we are able to understand not only the digital and geographic contours of a hugely popular trope, but also the ways that those digital mappings of zombies are reflective of cultural augmentations encoded onto lived, material spaces. In addition, the cyberscapes emerging from the zombie trope itself offers a useful narrative for understanding the ways in which the publics of the Internet produce and reproduce objects of attention and bias and differentially augment lived realities.

Stay tuned for the maps....

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