Whither the BCS?

If you’re going to rant, do it at length. Kenneth Field takes 16,000 words to lay out his concerns about the British Cartographic Society.

BCS is failing. Let’s ask the hard questions that need asking and make the Society actually mean and offer something going forward for UK cartography … or reconsider the very purpose of the society and seek an alternative. I’d like to see profound change in what is offered; a society that makes me want to belong and which is the place I go to for my daily cartographic shot. I want to go beyond the scant reward of a re-branded society who think newly monogrammed pencils, pens and rulers will keep me interested. At the moment I see an error-strewn and content-less web site, a late Journal which is getting thinner, a conference that is costly and not particularly interesting and a rhetoric that says everything is rosy and dynamic. It really isn’t.

My fundamental pitch is that I’m convinced BCS is on its last legs. We (as in the community of cartographers and map-makers) should look towards forming a new society. The best approach in my mind is one that merges BCS with the other cartography society—the Society of Cartographers. BCS and SoC need to get round the table, cast aside personality and work towards a solution for the betterment of cartography as a whole. Form a brand new society that brings everyone together and starts afresh with a blank piece of paper rather than everyone’s well-worn prejudices. Deal pragmatically with the contested issues. Cartography has changed so much that the question has to be asked why shouldn’t the professional organisations that are clinging to some desire for relevance just disband, reform and go again?

It’s a mix of institutional critique and airing of personal grievances. I’m not a BCS member, nor can I assess the veracity of Field’s claims (the BCS itself has a rather formal rebuttal here). But what he describes—too many committees (especially for society with only around 700 members), too much dysfunctional ossification (the Iron Law of Institutions may also be applicable here)—is rather common, even endemic, in organizations. But I’ve also seen organizations reinvent themselves and be the stronger for it.

(Field’s work has been featured here previously: Kenneth Field’s Map of MarsGreen MarsEnd of the Line: A Tube Map of Tube Maps.)

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.