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Time and Space, Competing Universes

12 June 2002
Denise Pumain
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le temps et l'espace. Des universaux dans la concurrence

Texte intégral

1The first geographical question was:  how to locate oneself on the surface of the planet.  The long quest of the land surveyors, the travellers of the earth and the navigators, not to mention the astronomers and the cartographers, punctuated by the invention of the sextant, the compass and the astrolabe, the discovery of the roundness of the Earth and of systems for projecting coordinates, of radar…appears, if not to be at an end, at least to be reaching a decisive turning point, at this transitional period between the second and the third millennium.  Thanks to the satellites, tracking down objects is henceforth within the reach of everyone, at least for those with the means to acquire the decoding device. Have we said good-bye forever to the necessarily poetic and mythical readings of the starry skies, informed consultations of topographical maps and road maps, the breathless and sporting asceticism of orientation courses?  Once again, we simply press several keys on the machine, and the screen displays all the desired information.

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2The change to digital systems of tracking and positioning is nonetheless only ten years old:  the American network, (GPS) Global Positioning System, date from 19911.  And already, Europe has made the decision to form its own system, with Galileo, which, as of 2008 will put thirty satellites and stations on the ground at the service of multiple users for pinpointing objects (the geometers), for following navigation (fleets of vehicles on land or sea), surveillance of ‘territories’ (agriculture, disaster zones), the synchronization of the telecommunications networks and of financial transactions…The economic stakes as much as the demand for autonomy have doubtless prompted the European Union and its Space Agency to present itself as a rival of the United States in this formidable technological transformation, which sees information relayed by satellites intruding more and more into our daily lives.  In addition, a research programme, the GMES initiative (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), which comes with many European projects, promotes the invention of new uses for information of a spatial origin.

3These are the stakes for geographical information, promised, provided, sensitive and desired, and new research tools whose mastery sometimes eludes the users.  Will the rush for information from outer space be followed, on the earth, by the production of complementary information that will be of sufficient quality to give it a meaning?  Is there a danger that the slow progress of efforts to make available databases for European geographical facts, in spite of the efforts expended at Eurostat and the EEA, the difficulties in mounting the network devoted to the development of the European territory (ESPON), and once again, the extraordinary disproportion in the budgets involved will deepen the divide between a geography from above, that of the physical sciences and the IGN, and that of the social sciences, for behind, and far below?

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Denise Pumain, « Time and Space, Competing Universes », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Éditoriaux, mis en ligne le 12 juin 2002, consulté le 22 juin 2018. URL :

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Denise Pumain

Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne,UMR Géographie-cités, France

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